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Imagining a House Where Domestic Labor Is Automated #ArtTuesday

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Late last year, Frances Gabe, the creator of the world’s only self-cleaning home, passed away at the age of 101. The errantly charming artist, sculptor, and inventor should’ve been famous. In 1984, after receiving a patent from the US government, Gabe built a home in Newberg, Oregon, that washed itself: spray nozzles in the ceilings, floors sloped for drainage, a cupboard that was both dish container and dishwasher. She’d grown tired of the pain of housework, bending down to clean and scrubbing at tiny stains. “Stoop, stoop, stooping is stupid,” she once said in a short TV program about the house.

Grace Quah, a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture who works in design, writing, and film, recently posted a link to Gabe’s obituary on her Twitter — Gabe’s death was not publicized until last month — adding, “Basically my final year masters project 50 years ago, no one has built a self-cleaning house since Gabe’s.” Quah’s project, “Silvertown Plug-in — a spatial critique of domestic labour,” is a film set in 2034, in London’s industrial Silvertown neighborhood. There, Jetsons-style homes contain automated appliances built right into their walls, drastically reducing the domestic labor attributed to women and also making it visible.

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