What comes to mind when you encounter the term “sensory design”? Chances are it is an image: a rain room, a funky eating utensil, a conspicuously textured chair. But the way things actually feel, smell, even taste, is much harder to capture. This difficulty points to how deeply ingrained the tyranny of vision is. Might the other senses be the keys to unlocking broader empirical truths? Does the ocular-centric bias of art, architecture, and design actually preclude a deeper collective experience?
What can’t be done on the dance floor? Not much, said the 1960s Radical Design collective Gruppo 9999, which argued that discos should be “a home for everything, from rock music, to theater, to visual arts.” Other artists and designers—including New York bad-boy painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, architect Peter Cook of Archigram, and Manchester’s “cathedral of rave” creator Ben Kelly—saw the dance floor as a more subversive setting: one where boundaries could be blurred and thresholds crossed, where partying and politics could be woven together in the dark to channel a cultural revolution. Night Fever at the Vitra Design Museum stitches together this conception of the nightclub as a social Gesamtkunstwerk.
The sun is setting fast over a half-frozen hill about five miles west of Oslo. Named Kikkut after a now-demolished villa, the site neighbors Ekely, the old estate of Edvard Munch (itself now half razed), and save for some graffiti-covered detritus and an early crop of spring wildflowers, its peak is totally barren. Squinting northward to Munch’s Winter Atelier some 500 feet in the distance, it’s hard to believe this is the proposed site for A House to Die In: one of the most controversial building proposals in recent Norwegian history.
The brainchild of Norway’s enfant terrible artist Bjarne Melgaard, the proposal for “A House to Die In” is a luminescent, UFO-like living sculpture that doubles as a studio and home for Melgaard and his parents. With financial backing from two of the most powerful property developers in the country, the Selvaags and Sealbay A/S—longterm friends of the artist who also supplied the plot of land on the outskirts of the city—the Oslo-based Melgaard approached local Norwegian firm Snøhetta in 2011 with his idea for a combined artwork, studio—and final resting place.