“A House is a place (…) as physical as a set of feelings. (…) a home is a relation between materiality and mastery and imaginative processes, where the physical location and materiality and the feelings and ideas are united and influence each other, instead of being separated and distinct. (…) a house is a process of creation and comprehension of ways of living and belonging. A house is lived, as well as imagined. The meaning of house and the way it materially manifests itself, it´s something that is created and recreated in an unceasingly way through every day domestic tasks, which are themselves connected to the spacial imaginary of the house”1
The sentence above is the starting-point of the current reflection, in an exercise that will mark meaningfully my approach to the way of projecting houses.
As I have an affinity for the house theme, namely the single-family house, the mentioned sentence allowed me to do a kind of introspective brainstorming, that searched for a redefinition of a set of concepts related to the theme. Therefore one imposed an exercise of self-questioning, where it becomes essential to search the core of that concepts, that till today seemed to me as basic, familiar and in a certain way, natural and inherent. After all, I always knew them in myself, but never truly understood them.
Even though this journey approaches me to the answers, it also takes me to more questions and, consequently, to new reflections.
- House | Home VS. House | Domicile
As a first step, there stands out the need, pragmatically, to define and to distinguish concepts. I’m interested in what is a house?
I’ve been using the term house to define the idea of what I want to discuss, however, what really matters to me is the house as a home. Not as a domicile.
In a simple etymological analysis of the words, one can verify – in home – an aspect that, saying particularly anything, it says it all. The concept of home is associated to some transcendence that others synonyms of house, such as domicile, don’t have.
In fact, there is a fundamental issue in this idea of home that fascinates me, which is evident in Monteys and Fuertes words, when they affirm, “a home is a dwelling plus its residents and the objects it keeps” 2, in other words, the house is beyond its materiality lacking of essence. Therefore, the idea of home that interests me carries, specially, a meaning, patent on the relation that the house is capable of establish with the ones who live it. Nevertheless, I don’t discredit the house as a physical structure! Besides, as an architect, I couldn’t do it, but also, ARCHITECTURE is not capable of producing objects without any content.
Then it’s obvious that, in this dichotomy HOME vs. DOMICILE I intend to separate myself from those houses, that are no more than machines to inhabit, incapable and disable to conceive an effective bond with whom inhabits it. These aspects, in addition to exalt the house as a concept to be considered, it leads me to another stage of reflection: the existence of different concepts of house implies the existence of different concepts about the ones who project them and the ones who inhabit them?
Architect VS. Draftsman & Resident VS. User
Let’s begin by who draws the houses. It is up to whom is entrusted with such a hard chore, the capability of being able to analyse “in depth the habits, the needs and the aspirations of the family that will live it. It’s necessary a thorough analysis in order that the designed answer can be detailed, regarding the program, the functions and the aesthetic aspect” 3. It lies in the Architect that capability of achieving the project of a house that’s able to establish with who will live in it, empathy, affinity and compatibility. This ability, translated into the full overlap of the spheres of function and use, will make better houses, once they respond to what it is expected. On the other side, its absence is reflected in a meaningless drawing, incapable of creating homes and creator of packages with low significance.
In this context, a house only becomes effectively a home, when it has someone who provides that skill, since it is marked by the experiencing of the ones who live there. In fact, is that degree of habitability that truly gives, or not, to the building the designation of home. This capability is clearly explained by Akiko Bush when he refers that “there are moments when the very idea of house seems like an impossible preposition. There are other moments in which our houses express infinite possibilities, when they reflect exactly who we are, what we could and might be” 4. In this way, this duality implies, on its own, different types of inhabitants: the ones that actually live in the houses, the residents and, the ones who just use them, the users. Thus, these last ones are not capable of building an empathic involvement with the house they live (because of them and/or its own house), by limiting themselves to use them as an object, and by using it without any emotional connection, emptying the house of any meaning besides being an utility object. In opposition, the ones I call by residents, they assume it, by the way they coexist with the home, with the sense of mutual belonging. Indeed, one aspect, not at all insignificant, is the fact that the term of belonging appears frequently when we discuss this relation. Ingemar Lindberg mentions that “the basic structure of (the home) is the cooperation and the sense of belonging” 5.
Therefore, concisely, what matters in my reflection is to emphasize that capability of symbiosis between the home and its resident and, that is translated into a relation as physical as emotional between both, in such a way that “a home (can) be, more than anything, the place of each one and that each one that lives in it, could feel it as one, in the sense that “a house is always connected to someone who represents it, or that allows to be represented by it”” 6.
- Inhabiting | Function and Usage
The aspects abovementioned throughout the present text, lead me to a new point of reflection: what is inhabiting and in what way within that concept, the sub-concepts function and usage, can relate with themselves.
In fact, by extending my reflection beyond the cold architectural character, we can verify in these relations house/inhabitant, the existence of factors that have a significant influence in this relation. The aspect of family, the duality privacy/intimacy and the social setting, establish themselves as the most significant factors of that point of view. By the sociological look, “the concept of inhabiting allows us to focus attention on the social phenomenon that occurs in the concrete connection that each society establish between their residents and the houses they inhabit. (…) The inhabiting concept nucleus, just as of the resident, refers to the family that lives in a home and at the same time is part of a society” 7. In other words, we understand that, in a more widespread sphere, we begin to have – as a more external layer of the involvement of the problem – the social reality that involves it, which basically is evident, natural and inevitable.
However, it is the question of the individual that appears as the central nucleus of the problem, in the sense of the relation that he can create with the house and vice-versa. As we saw previously, what matters to me is fundamentally the homes and the residents who interact towards promoting the best of each other, which consequently, will take us to situations where function and usage tend to merge and grow in a bigger operational range, fill with meanings. This aspect is especially rich in the contemporary western houses, where the spaces assume themselves the promotion of multi-functional and multi-significant intense livings. The example given by Adam – quoted by Susan Kent – is categorical in that sense: “(In this matter, by the real human behaviour, there are no mono-functional places in any European-American house) The “typical” bedroom is used for many activities. The bed is used to receive a body over it, but its function also includes the supply of a place to sleep, to rest, to chill, to die, to have sex, to procreate, to watch TV, to read, to nurse a baby, to unwrap gifts, to lay the coat, and to serve as a trampoline… I’m sorry, but the notion of mono-functionality in the European-American culture doesn’t exist and, probably never did” 8.
Nonetheless, I will restore the idea that such living full of meaning it is only possible when the homes assume themselves as I defined previously and when the people who live there are true residents. Besides, it is crucial that the relation, either physical or emotional, holds up between them in a respectful balance, in the sense in which the dominance of one over the other can subvert one, the other, or even both in their own essence (let us remind the importance of the architect, illustrated by Adolf Loos in the story “Poor Rich Man”), intrinsic aspect in Gilles Barbey words, when he refers “life can only be emancipated and can develop a positive personality when it is in a favourable environment. But the spacial models we consider are extremely fragile and always prone in become its opposite” 9.
As a result, and beyond the inherent meaning of these examples, the function of the home, in its (almost) complete usability aspect, has to allow either the privacy of its resident and the family who lives there, and the intimacy of each individual who constitutes the family. Therefore, wouldn’t it be the main function of the house to allow itself to be assumed as a physical space whose characteristics provide to those who really live there, the ability of finding themselves introspectively?
The essence of living | The essence of the home
Deep down, it seems like it. The true essence of the home and the way its resident lives it, it’s there. In the capability that the home and the resident has to combine themselves, in the way the home is thought and materialized in order to allow that bond with those who live it. And this aspect is fundamental to the house architecture… and, basically, to everything that surrounds us, since “examined by a wide variety of theoretical horizons, it seems that the image of the house transforms into the topography of our intimacy” 10. All of these aspects, so portentous, impute to Architecture and whom makes it, a huge responsibility demanding a reflection surrounding theses questions related with the house we make, again and again, towards the comprehension of how we can promote, between home and resident, a candid and completely valid relation, either in its physical dimension, or its emotional dimension, and even symbolic.
7ALCALÁ, Luís Cortez, “La question residencial – Bases para una sociologia del habitar”. Madrid: Editorial Fundamentos, 1995.
10BACHELARD, Gaston, “A Poética do espaço”. (trad. António da Costa Leal e Lídia do Valle Santos Leal) In: Col. Os Pensadores. 3.ed. São Paulo: Abril, 1988.
9BARBEY, Gilles, “L’Evasion Domestique – Essai sur les Relations d’Affectivité au Logis”, Lausanne: Presses Polytechniques et Universitaires Romandes, 1990.
1BLUNT, Alison; DOWNING, Robyn, Home. Nova Iorque: Routledge, 2006.
4BUSH, Akiko, Geography of Home – writings on where we live. Nova Iorque: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999.
8KENT, Susan, “Domestic architecture and the Use of Space – An interdisciplinary cross-cultural study”. Nova Iorque: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
2MONTEYS, Xavier; FUERTES, Pere, Casa Collage – Un ensayo sobre la arquitectura de la casa. Barcelona: Gustavo Gili S. A., 2001.
5REED, Christopher, “Not at Home – The suppression of domesticity in modern Art and Architecture”. Londres: Thames and Hudson, 1996.
6RODRIGUES, Ana Luísa, A habitabilidade do espaço doméstico: O cliente, o arquitecto, o habitante e a casa. Tese de Doutoramento em Arquitectura. Guimarães, UM, 2008.
3SIZA, Álvaro, Imaginar a Evidência. Lisboa: Edições 70, 2000.