Space Management from A to Z

A retrospective of Andrea Zittel’s space-conscious work reveals the intersection of art, life, and design.

Upon entering the exhibition Andrea Zittel: Critical Space at New York City’s New Museum, visitors are greeted with a floor to ceiling list printed on a wall and entitled, “These Things I Know For Sure.” Within this list, Zittel’s 13th point proclaims, “Sometimes if you can’t change a situation, you just have to change the way that you think about the situation.” This is the perfect mindset in which to enter Zittel’s opus of works that strive to blur the boundaries of art, design, architecture, fashion, sustainable living, and community building. The efficiency and deceptive simplicity of her pieces makes you wonder why you never thought to place a loft bed above your dining nook or integrate your kitchen with your bathroom. She makes even the most bizarre idea seem natural.

In 1991 Zittel began working under the all-encompassing moniker A-Z Administrative Services. Working out of her 200 square-foot live/work space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Zittel designed and built her first Management and Maintenance Unit, Model 003 (1992); a compact structure that utilized only 60 of her 200 square-feet and provided a space for all of her basic needs including: eating, sleeping, cleaning, socializing, and storage. This creation, like many of her others, is manufactured with inexpensive and readily available materials such as beech wood and steel and is so cleverly assembled that at first glance Ikea springs to mind. However, unlike Ikea’s mass produced designs, Zittel’s work is highly personal. At the time, her Management and Maintenance Unit, Model 003 functioned as a regimented model of control that she prescribed for her life.

Taking her personal designs one step further, Zittel has gone on to customize many of her ideas for collectors, such as the A-Z 1994 Living Unit Customized for Eileen and Peter Norton (1994) which is a portable space that unfolds from what resembles a steamer trunk into a bedroom, kitchen, bathing, and storage unit. I’d like to think that Eileen and Peter Norton, the famously wealthy philanthropists, regard their A-Z Living Unit as more than just a sculpture for viewing and occasionally use the narrow fold-out bed or the two cup coffee maker, maybe feeling like Marie Antoinette did in her Petit Hameau—allowing the modest space to dictate a simpler way of life.

More from Metropolis

In 2000 Zittel moved her operations west to the high desert of Joshua Tree, California where she now lives and continues to explore how life, art, design, and architecture intersect to create new challenges in need of expert solutions. Although the western landscape provides infinite space for her ideas, Zittel continues to design efficient and highly mobile structures of a compact nature. Her A-Z Homestead Units (2001-05) encompass an olden day pioneering spirit—the simply built and entirely portable “shacks” are small enough to be placed on desolate parcels of land and bypass any need for a building permit. These are simple structures that provide only the bare necessities, but can be painted to compliment their surrounding landscape and customized with Zittel’s Raugh (pronounced “raw”) Furniture for style conscious occupants.

Zittel’s exhibition is infused with a highly functional form of idealism. Her designs and methods of working are at the same time quirky and sensible, and her unique ways of problem solving and empowering even the simplest idea with a strong sense of function makes this exhibition an interesting meander through her world.

Andrea Zittel: Critical Space is on view through May 27, 2006

Recent Projects