House of the Suicide and House of the Mother of the Suicide

Edit profile
House of the Suicide and House of the Mother of the Suicide

The House of the Suicide and the House of the Mother of the Suicide are the only surviving examples of a series of twenty-six large-scale, ephemeral architectural structures realized after designs by John Hejduk. They hold a special place within the history of architecture; smaller than buildings, larger than models, more than sculpture, they combine aspects of all three. Many of these constructions came about when students, teachers and others fascinated by Hejduk’s work approached the architect with their wish to build. Hejduk’s structures have been constructed and presented in cities worldwide, including Berlin, Milan, Boston, Oslo, Philadelphia, London, Buenos Aires and Prague.

The House of the Suicide and the House of the Mother of the Suicide were inspired by the death, in 1969, of Prague University student Jan Palach, who died after setting himself on fire in Wenceslas Square to protest the Soviet invasion and the occupation of his native Czechoslovakia. Hejduk first conceived of this work in the form of drawings, as a response to the poemThe Funeral of Jan Palach by Hedjuk’s friend and colleague, David Shapiro. These two “characters” then appeared as actors in Hejduk’s Lancaster/Hanover Masque of 1982.

Beginning in 1986, a group of students at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, led by Professor James Williamson, began collaborating with Hejduk on the construction of the two structures, which were fully realized four years later. Each painted steel and wood structure measures 2.7 × 2.7 × 7.3m and comprises forty-nine sixteen-gauge steel “spikes,” the longest of which is more than four meters.

The two structures are locked in a dance; they are meant to be installed facing one another at a distance of four or five meters. The suicide’s house (angled spikes) is sealed so that the viewer can only imagine the experience of its entombed inhabitant. Entry to the mother’s house (vertical spikes) is possible via a small opening at its base. Inside the cramped, womb-like space a raised platform permits a single visitor to peer through a small aperture and thereby to contemplate the facing House of the Suicide, the only possible view, the view that haunts the mother.

The structures were displayed temporarily in the College of Architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1990 before being disassembled and stored at the college. In 2003 the works were presented as part of the exhibition Sanctuaries: The Last Works of John Hejduk, at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, before coming to the CCA.

In 1991, at the invitation of then Czech president Václav Havel, another edition of the two structures was constructed and temporarily installed in the Royal Garden at Prague Castle, where they were photographed by Hélène Binet.


7 photos

Building Activity