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Conquering new territory: Kolkoz build a swiss chalet for Miami
December 6, 2013 Events

Conquering new territory: Kolkoz build a swiss chalet for Miami

For Kolkoz, as for many other artists of their generation, art is meant to be a tool to conquer new territories


The Miami Marine Stadium, built in 1963, was for almost three decades the epicenter of one of the most spectacular motorized sports—powerboat racing. This grand stadium created a setting for drivers akin to Ben Hur on nitro, in a structure by the Cuban architect Hilario Candela. It was also used for concerts, boxing matches, and other sporting events before falling into disuse after Hurricane Andrew, in 1992. Now the roar of motors and hysterical crowds has given way to silence. The smooth surface originally conceived of as the aquatic equivalent of asphalt has slowly transformed into a ghostly sea, as peaceful as a lake.

In the center of this “lake” today is a structure that, at first sight—dare I say, on the surface—seems roundly out of place in this context: a chalet. The chalet, with its snow-covered roof, floats in the middle of the watery stage. It is a chalet composed not of wooden logs and a shingle roof in the traditional style, but of an inflatable structure. The closer we get, the more we realize that it resembles a synthetic image of a chalet (its faux-wood surface is designed to look like it has actual texture). From far away, the illusion of the picturesque chalet is still plausible. Viewed up close, however, it looks more like a video game.

Although the presence of a snow-covered chalet in Miami’s tropical waters is initially incongruous—even more so when we realize it is an inflatable reproduction of a chalet—does its artificiality really come as such a surprise? A brief glance at the history of the chalet reveals that its architecture is of uncertain origin, modest dimension, and rustic character. It escaped the alpine meadows in the mid-18th century for valley floors, lakeshores, and urban gardens (1).  The 19th century witnessed the rise of this type of construction: “Miniaturized or oversized, ordinary or eccentric, the chalet managed to impose itself as a set form of a particular kind of home. Naturalist writers saw it as the architectural expression of bourgeois individualism imprisoned by its own conformity…. [The chalet] relies on the idea that the individual makes his own happiness: to be at home everywhere and nowhere at the same time.” (2)  And as Georges Sand has reminded us, “Switzerland can be replicated anywhere it wished to be.”  (3)

In the mid-19th century, the popularity of the mobile chalet (i.e., one that can be grafted onto any landscape) as an architectural concept suddenly spiked with the invention of the band saw, in 1842, and during the second phase of industrialization, starting in 1848. The chalet’s mobility, nomadism, and practicality made it a key ingredient of cosmopolitan architecture, inspiring one journalist at the time to write: “This habitation is complete, it offers all the necessary commodities and seduces us with its cachet. Can’t you see that mobile homes are desirable in case of fire, epidemic, flood, and war? Quickly, you move your home away from the disaster and you can … say: I am bringing everything with me. Who knows? Mister Waaser [the mobile chalet’s inventor] who only saw … economic progress might also have brought us social progress: cosmopolitanism. The person who sets his tent wherever he wishes in the four corners of the world claims no nationality, and is instead a citizen of the world…. I foresee and welcome with open arms this peaceful revolution.”  

Chalets became increasingly popular at the end of the 19th century. By that time, the term chalet was employed interchangeably with villa, cabin, bungalow, and even lodge. Today, we see chalets in seaside resorts in Egypt and Kuwait, and in ski resorts in Lebanon. In North America, the chalet can describe any building that houses tourist infrastructures, such as ski resorts, country cottages, or vacation getaways.

  • Conquering new territory: Kolkoz build a swiss chalet for Miami
  • Conquering new territory: Kolkoz build a swiss chalet for Miami
  • Conquering new territory: Kolkoz build a swiss chalet for Miami

Given its nomadic and worldly characteristics, it is not a stretch to say the chalet is associated with the idea of conquering new territory. Easy to assemble and disassemble, chalets went hand in hand with the expansion of the railroad in 19th-century Europe. They were also erected by pioneering explorers in the West. The artist duo Kolkoz—in partnership with Audemars Piguet and Perrotin Gallery—had the idea of “conquering new territories” in mind when they envisaged this inflatable chalet on the serene surface of the Miami Marine Stadium.  The artwork’s title, Curiosity, is an homage to the NASA Exploration Rover of the same name, which was deployed in 2012 to the planet Mars. Loaded with ultra-sophisticated materials, built to resist a Martian winter and to scale rocks and climb 45-degree slopes, NASA’s Curiosity can be considered the paragon of contemporary mobility, and even extra-terrestrial mobility.

Can a low-tech, earthly equivalent of this mobility champion exist? Especially one that allows for encounters with ordinary mortals? With this inflatable artwork, the Kolkoz duo simultaneously pay homage to the Martian pioneer craft and offer a possible answer to what mobility might mean in today’s world. Nowadays, blow-up structures are among the most common forms of mobile architecture. They adorn sporting centers, restaurants, banquet halls, and other temporary spaces. Light and easy to assemble and store, they function not unlike a plug-in that uses a host platform for the duration of a computer operation. An inflatable structure cannot be weighed down with details. It must have only the essentials. This is why Curiosity is a template of a chalet, a kind of computer-generated image. Totally functional—we can visit the inside, sit around a fake fire below a fake chimney—this simplified representation still fulfills our quintessential notion of a snow-covered chalet in the mountains.

The work evokes a traditional chalet’s vernacular architectural qualities but anchors its vocabulary in contemporary cultural influences: specifically Pop, which in the 1960s deemed the inflatable structure a fundamental architectural element. Video games, which profoundly influence the way we understand our reality, are another important reference. They have trained us to navigate multiple universes, where the real and fake intertwine seamlessly. In fact, the very function of video games is based on the idea of the fake: The player knows that he is entering a fake world and does so willingly, eager to believe in its existence, for the duration of the game, anyway. This existence is not only contingent, but it also enables us to delve into new territories created from multiple templates and computer-generated images, much like a Martian rover module conquering new worlds, albeit in lower resolution.

For Kolkoz, as for many other artists of their generation, art is meant to be a tool to conquer new territories. The territories beyond the Western frontier and on the planet Mars rely on the particular conviction that the real and the virtual together form one single unity, or rather that their unity isn’t even in question. Such a form, such a world, such a system, is unreal and real at the same time. Art today invites us to abandon selective logic (something being one thing or another, white or black) for an additive logic (something being one thing and another, being white and black). This shift enables us to navigate a world that never stops fragmenting into parallel universes, and to understand that, far from excluding one thing or another, we can construct a system of alternatives that opens up new horizons of territories not yet seized.

Marc-Olivier Wahler

(1)The following sentences are in large part inspired by Michel Vernes’s excellent study “Le chalet infidèle ou les dérives d’une architecture vertueuse et de son paysage de rêve,” in Revue d'histoire du XIXe siècle, Nr. 32, 2006.
(2)Michel Vernes, 117.
(3)Idem, 122.
(4)Auguste Chirac, quoted by Michel Vernes, Ibid, 130.