Insulation: The Man Behind the Scenes

Monday evening isn’t typically considered the best night for live music, but this is Minneapolis, and I’ll be damned if something as arbitrary as a day of the week can keep a crowd from experiencing something good.  And here I am, right in the middle of one of them.  See, I love music.  The problem is, I hate crowds.  Especially when they prefer talking over the music rather than listening to it, or desperately capturing images rather than watching them.  Exit: me.  And here, in a tiny little pocket no one else wants to be, I find myself, watching not the band, but the man behind the scenes, coordinating the light show.  And what a wonderful man he is.

Photo by: Dan Swenson

In my newly discovered island of undesirability, I watch the show no one else came to see, including myself; the energetic craft of one man, invisible in a sea of human bodies.  Here in this place, I came to the realization that all to often, when discussing innovative building materials, we tend to focus on the readily visible rather than the unseen.  But in most cases, it’s the performance of the unseen that allows that in which our attention focuses to truly shine.  In Francois Perrin’s “Guest House for an Anthropologist” located in Brentwood, California; a typically “unseen” material – insulation – is revealed.  Then it’s hidden again (dammit).  Much like a bird, which uses its feathers to trap a layer of air around its body to insulate themselves from the elements, the house uses air in the cavity between the interior structure and its translucent exterior skin that (supposedly) protects the interior from hot and cold weather.

Guest House for an Anthropologist
Francois Perrin

Perrin explains that it “is a Guest house for an anthropologist to store the collection he gathered during 20 years in Asia and host visiting Buddhist scholars.”  I don’t know what that means or why this solution is the answer for the client and his Buddhist friends, and quite frankly, I don’t care.  It doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that he took a pretty good stab at an innovative material application.  What’s more interesting is that he has chosen to showcase an often forgotten part of the show.  But at the same time its exposed, it becomes invisible, creating an “unseen” insulation that simply exposes the cavity in which it typically resides.  Whether or not Perrin’s unseen “air” insulation does what he claims it does is still up for debate, and perhaps only time will tell.  And since not everyone has the good fortune of living in a climate where such insulation can even be considered, this particular application may fall short of mass appeal.  Still, I applaud the effort, and though Perrin’s rendition of air insulation may not be the future of the material, it does bolster the notion that insulation, whether seen, unseen, physical or elemental, is not limited to being composed of the same parts and chemical processes that we have all grown to know and love so much.

R. H. Holley


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