The Way We'll Live High-Tech Architects Create Futuristic Home Designs for Their Wealthy Clients. but Will the Rest of Us Feel at Home with Them? Series: In This Computer-Generated Image, Architects Gisue and Mojgan Hariri Envision a House Consisting of a Central Core with Various Prefabricated 'Plug-In' Elements to Be Added and Exchanged as a Family's Needs Change. COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK 2) LIKE A STAGE SET: For a House in Bordeaux, France, Architect Rem Koolhaas Designed a Central Room That Travels between the House's Three Levels and Acts as an Elevator. the Client, Who Uses a Wheelchair, Wanted a House That Put Everything within Reach. BY HANS WERLEMANN/HECTIC PICTURE/COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK 3) UNFETTERED BY THE PAST: In a Busy Tokyo Neighborhood, Shigeru Ban's Curtain Wall House Explodes Notions of Home as an Impermeable Shell. PHOTO COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK - HIROYUKI HIRAI 4) UNFETTERED BY THE PAST: Also in Tokyo Is M House, Designed by Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa to Let in Light but Maintain Privacy. PHOTOS COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK - SHINKENCHIKU-SHA 5) UNFETTERED BY THE PAST: In New York, the Lipschutz-Jones Apartment Has a Video Monitor in the Master Bath. PHOTOS COURTESY OF MUSEUM OF MODERN ART, NEW YORK - MICHAEL MORAN

Article excerpt

The private house, emblem of the American dream, may be in for some big changes if recent designs by star architects are any indication.

Examples of high-end houses are currently on display in an exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art. The 26 designs offer glimpses into how the wealthy live. But do these dream houses have anything to do with reality?

Comparing ideas from the most elevated corner of the architectural universe, represented in the exhibition, with opinions from a sampling of down-to-earth architects yields some new ideas.

A legitimate question is whether houses built by signature architects are, as Terence Riley, chief curator of architecture and design at the museum, asserts, "a collective bellwether of the current state of architecture and a harbinger of its future direction."

Architectural historian Witold Rybczynski, professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, is skeptical about the influence of high-end houses on lowbrow residences. "Few innovations pioneered by high-profile architects actually trickle down to the mainstream," he says. "Some of Frank Lloyd Wright's innovations, like the masonry fireplace and carport, have filtered down. But it's rare that signature architects influence mass-market housing."

Architecture is unique among the arts in that it is both a fine and applied art. So the question becomes, Which museum-worthy innovations from this show might apply to ordinary houses?

The shape of things to come

The main motif emerging from the latest design theories at the Museum of Modern Art is that the home is no longer a secluded refuge but an interface with the outside world. "The idea of the house as a permeable environment is one of the most drastic changes over the last 100 years," says Mr. Riley.

Homes hooked up to the Internet incorporate almost as much media as mortar. As Riley says, "Instead of the old idea of home sweet home as a place of serenity, the home is now literally a receiver and transmitter of information. The walls of a house are no longer necessarily boundaries between inside and outside," he continues, "but 'smart skins' that are part of an interactive environment."

True?

Interviews with architects across the country reveal a wide difference of opinion. "If I were 25 years old and shopping for a house," Mr. Rybczynski says, "I would be leery of buying a weird house based on recent technology. Especially since the Internet changes every year. To use what it is today as the basis for the biggest investment of your life would be highly irrational."

Yet infiltration by digital technology does seem to be a growing trend. Even non-museum-quality new homes bristle with electronic wiring.

Tom Wilson, who specializes in residential design in Houston and Dallas, described a recent home for a client who requested four split-screen televisions mounted on wall brackets, all tuned to both the client's office and financial-news channels. "They come on simultaneously in every room - from the bedroom, bathroom, and study, to the kitchen - to get him up, through breakfast, and out the door in constant contact with the media," Mr. Wilson says.

New homes do not go as far as a visionary project called Digital House, designed by two Iranian-born sisters, Gisue Hariri and Mojgan Hariri. Walls not only talk in this house of the next millennium. They are also liquid-crystal display screens that project sound, text, and images. Need a recipe? A virtual chef pops up over kitchen counters to help you whip up a perfect Duck la Clockwork Orange.

This technology is not feasible at present, and some architects are not even sure cybertecture is a desirable goal.

'We're not turning into pod people'

Anne Tate, assistant professor of architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, R. …