Mediamatic Magazine 3#1 Maurice Nio 1 Jan 1988

Villa Michael Jackson

A high-speed mirage as principal. Maurice Nio designed an imaginary house for an imaginary commissioner...

... heavy, gloomy and mysterious architecture, the antithesis of the delirious effervescence of the transparent.

My picture of an average person is of someone in a crowd who rushes towards me and wants to tear the clothes of my body. MICHAEL JACKSON

He stretched himself out into a thread and wove himself into a cage. ELIAS CANETTI

He is neither man nor beast, man nor woman; he is not a child but nor is he adult. He is neither white nor black, alive nor dead. No, this is not about a zombie, it's about MICHAEL JACKSON.

He makes short work of these oppositions, perhaps the five most important we know. Not by means of radical philosophy or an awful lot of deconstruction but simply with make-up and plastic surgery. You just have to glance at his face to see the telescoping of contradictions. As if he got stuck halfway during metamorphosis, perhaps because he no longer believed in the ultimate look or perhaps because he felt more at home with the indefinable, with this nameless condition. But what is so special about the way in which he plays with this telescoping of opposites is that they're never reconciled, that they always remain in a tense and reversible relationship. You just never know what he's going to be. A man? Or ... will he change into a reptile. That is suspense.

That suspense is what is so rare and unreal about MICHAEL JACKSON. And he of all people knows that that situation is intolerable, that he must protect these airy and indefinable qualities. Perhaps these are the reasons why he spends hours in an oxygen tent because it is in this death-like cradle that he can retain eternal youth and lightness.

And perhaps this is also the reason why he swathes himself in the black BAD outfit and rigs himself out in belts, straps and chains because it forms a perfect shield for simulation so as not to spoil anyone's illusions that he's a lamb in wolfs clothing.

This could also be the reason why he surrounds himself with fairytale and extra-terrestrial beings and wants to buy the skeleton of the elephant-man.

And hence why he employs FRANK DILEO, the world's most heavy-weight manager; he simply has too little substance to satisfy the desires of all those fans and journalists whereas this former pizza hustler effortlessly absorbs every question and politely mouths platitudes.

MICHAEL JACKSON's house functions in a similar way. You could view it as a building with the protection factor 1000, like a bulging creature that not only wards off attention and curiosity but also admits neither sense nor meaning. Equally you could view it as a nocturnal creature that provides boundaries for this star)s aura and radiance or as a building that lends a certain depth and stratification to his paper-thin appearance, or as a symmetrical and severe structure that is not intended as a straitjacket but as a kind of shelter for the incredible dynamism, suppleness and sentimentality he parades, or as a closed and indecipherable presence in contrast to his transparent and hyper-public figure.

In short: a building that is the complete antithesis of MICHAEL JACKSON. That doesn't imply an end to the suspense because if Micheal Jackson’s comprises of the indefinable and thinness, the building’s suspense suggests the ponderous and black.


Villa Jackson - The facade of the actual building with the visitors entrance on the ground floor. Cross-section of the Pit with the reception area on level -1 in the building. The bottom of the pit is on level -2 with the hippo pool. Maurice Nio

This collision between jealous opposites gives raise to a feeling of tension - a tension that also applies to urban development. Because if the villa complex or peninsula were to be located on the north of rotterdam’s Noordereiland which is surrounded by the waters of the Maas then it would have absolutely nothing to do with the city’s public life. Its back would be metaphorically turned. Minding its own business. Yet the city would gain something, something it has never had: an enigma. You can see the building from all sides but you can’t touch it, you can’t fathom it out. And even if you stand on the Noordereiland, both view and access are blocked by an entrance building. The closer you come to the building, the less you see of it.

The house can only be approached from the river, you could sail there in a boat or in that submarine with MICHEAL JACKSON surfacing out of the depths like CAPTAIN NEMO to dock at the back of the house.

Just as there is a tense relationship between rotterdam and the villa so there is an internal battle between the animal section below (which is populated by lamas, monkeys, fish, hippos, and all kind of birds) and the living space above.

This kind of contrast also affects the choice of materials. the outside material. The outside materials are as rough and obstinate as the skin of a monster: rusty steel for the long, curved walls, zinc and black granite for the outer walls, asphalt on the top, on the deck of the peninsula, steel-plate for the basement floor, shells, reeds, sand and large cobblestones for the lowest level with the hippo pool which provides the base for the soaring aviary with its wild zebra stripes. Inside the materials are smoother and more elegant: pear wood, teak, stainless steel, plastic and glass bricks provide the finishing touch for the floor, glass mosaic and spatolato veneziano for the walls.

There is one part of the house that I would particularly like to emphasize, the part concerned with the house’s tension: the swimming pool. Just like the home that ADOLF LOOS built for JOSEPHINE BAKER, the house is dominated by a swimming pool, by a tank filled with 75.000 litres of water, but what is water for that matter? It’s nothing, the house is dominated by nothingness. It has a center but that center is empty. Hence the whole plan evidently has an axis but it is impassable, it is vacant and empty, it's pointless.

The colours too are meaningless and their combination is arbitrary (but not accidental). Black. Black is bad, it's the colour of come-back and reincarnation and it is frequently used in the villa.

By contrast, white is the colour of SNOW WHITE, of eternal sleep and death. There is not one single patch of white in the entire house.

Green is the colour of PETER PAN, of all nasty children who never grow up. It is used where MICHAEL JACKSON enters the house such as on the convex five metre high doors of the inner harbour through which he sails his submarine.

Blue. Blue is the colour of the moonwalk, of advancing when you're actually retreating, of progress when it's more a case of regression. Blue is the colour of paradox and figures where the building touches the sky or where it bulges and is provided with a blue glass belly.

Red. Red is of course the colour of the fox's tail and the initiation of the inane. This colour is used where the visitors enter the buildig.


Villa Jackson - Perspective drawing of the porch as seen as if entering. The reception area is under the footbridge. Maurice Nio

Grey. Grey is the colour of the Dutch sky and the eternal rain but grey is also the colour of doppelgänger and shadow, zinc and hippopotamus.

The aspects mentioned above - the situation, the duality within the villa complex, the materials, the colours and the swimming pool - are all examples of the way in which the house plays on MICHAEL JACKSON's aura of suspense and unreality. But how can we use the complete absence of reality surrounding us because surely that loss of reality does not only apply to MICHAEL JACKSON while we remain authentic, natural, real and worthwhile, as much as we may want that to be the case. Everyone is confronted with the loss of reality. The only difference is that most of us fight it whereas MICHAEL JACKSON makes a most spectacular game out of that loss.

But was does this all mean for architecture. There are those who want to visualize and radicalize this state of weightlessness and simulation such as EISENMAN and TSCHUMI, COOP HIMMELBLAU or perhaps ZAHA HADID. They try to connect with a life without foundations which is dominated by the pure and free circulation of wares and wishes, brands and styles, signs and signals, by producing an architecture that is free (of values), weightless and detached.

But there is another way, the way of the obscure. Obscure in the double sense of the word, not simply as meaning dark but also and particularly to mean: confusing the use of things, withdrawing things from open circulation, the fetishizing of form, idea or build. An example of someone who works in this way is the director BOB WILSON who is uniquely successful in combining the breadth of America with the precision of Japan and between breadth and precision he stretches his theatre of the obscure. Another good example is HENK VISCH whose sculptures are a bit like scarecrows (of the real) and guardian angels (of illusion).

Or architects such as JEAN NOUVEL and SHIN TAKAMATSU. The first for his crazy competition design for the Tokyo Opera: a sort of black instrument case run amok which contains three golden theatres piled one on top of another. And the latter for all his projects which are mainly in Kyoto, all of which can trigger a cardiac arrest. Neither of them is concerned with any form of deconstruction (EISENMAN), nor the affirmation or materialization of emptiness, they are actually involved with providing that space with some finery, a cloth, a veil so that it can become enigmatic and alluring. Buildings that come out of an affirmation of emptiness may well be fascinating but having nothing of the allure of emptiness: suspense, that is only achieved by means of a process of condensing and obscuring, of concentration and retraction.

You must not interpret this as narrative suspense like the works of the masterly ALFRED HITCHCOCK. This is a basic, structural, suspense, one which is inherent and emanates from the objects themselves. Since CORBUSIER, architecture has been primarily dominated by enlightenment and relaxation. This project marks an impulse towards an architecture of the obscure, of suspense.

If you'd like to quote something: Nio, Maurice. "Villa Michael Jackson." Mediamatic Magazine vol. 3 # 1 (1988).