How do homes shape people; how do people shape homes?
I am curious about the way that we live. I’m not just interested in the way that we choose to spend our days, or the things that we choose to surround us. I want to understand how we inhabit the spaces we live in. More specifically, I want to challenge the concept of “home”.
This project explores the value of domestic spaces in a variety of contexts. Drawing from anthropology, conceptual art, architecture, and psychology, I’ve discovered that the value of inhabitable spaces lies within the experience. The subjective narrative that we write for ourselves provide a framework for my research.
The final product will be a 3D printed model of the yurt which I currently inhabit. Given the depth and breadth of research on this topic, further investigations of the human/home relationship would be to actually print habitable space. My vision is to combine the reverence of home with the reverence for the natural world. I am interested in the inside/outside world dichotomy and how this feeds into the experience of spaces. Furthermore, I want to use this as a platform for re-thinking the way that we live.
Henry David Thoreau argued (over 150 years ago) that “our houses are such unwieldy property that we are often imprisoned rather than housed in them.” It is true that the spaces we seek refuge are not entirely shells of our own choosing. This statement generates a larger question about how we view the earth—the only house that binds us all. How will future generations get to experience the natural world, and how is this going to change the way we develop our roads, our cities, our forests?
Witold Rybczynski, a Canadian-American architect and professor, says that “domestic well-being is too important to be left to experts; it is, as it always has been, the business of the family and the individual” (232). Our understanding of the nuclear home in American culture is often celebrated as the highest ranking of domestic accomplishment. The house is designed, like most things in Capitalist society, to fit basic standards. These standards comply with more standards about how you’re going to contribute to the outside world. These standards give us the image of the house as the “American Dream.” However, the inside of the homes of individuals are totally unique. There is no internal standard for how your space is occupied. The inside world is about “infusing a particular site with our presence, and not only with our physical activities and physical possessions but also with our aspirations and dreams. We live in a house, and in this process we make it alive” (Rybczynski 171).
Living spaces therefore has a double meaning. Living spaces are the places that come alive, the spaces that shape you– and living spaces are the places you live, the spaces you occupy.
The psychological distinction from outside world is that inside our homes, “we comfort ourselves by reliving memories of protection. Something closed must retain our memories, while leaving them their original value as images. Memories of the outside world will never have the same tonality as those of home” (Bachelard 6). Memory is a key concept within the work of Gaston Bachelard, author of The Poetics of Space. Our memories of places we’ve lived in the past embody a superior quality. The more time passes, the more the spaces come alive. As quoted in Bachelard’s book, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke tributes these kinds of memories:
(House, patch of meadow, oh evening light
Suddenly you acquire an almost human face
You are very near us, embracing and embraced)
“The verb ‘to habit’ combines three seemingly disconnected meanings. It signified (for it is no longer in common use) to dress, or clothe; it also indicated the act of dwelling in, or inhabiting; lastly, it meant to accustom, or familiarize. What do garments, dwellings, and customs have in common? The sense development of this root, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, began with habere, to have or hold—whence holding oneself, or showing oneself to the outside world. This could be accomplished externally, by one’s demeanor or bearing and, by extension, one’s dress and even by one’s house, or else internally, in mind, through one’s comportment, which led to the sense of familiar or customary behavior” (Rybczynski 169).
Habitation embodies inside/outside dichotomy. Habitation connects our inner, most familiar, self with the rest of the world.
Carl Jung began building his personal retreat, the Bollingen Tower, with the intention of living a more “archaic” lifestyle—“a place to return to a simpler life” (Rybczynski 191). The fairy-tale castle was a 40-year project that, to Jung, represented a structure of the human psyche:
“After my wife’s death in 1955, I felt an inner obligation to become what I myself am. To put it in the language of the Bollingen house, I suddenly realized that the small central section which crouched so low, so hidden, was myself! I could no longer hide myself behind the “maternal” and the “spiritual” towers. So, in that same year, I added an upper story which represents myself or my ego-personality” (Rybczynski 192). Jung had actually built his dream house, not to make a ‘perfect’ home, but a physical representation of his inner self.
How do dreams (as internal realities) materialize themselves? Are suburbs an extension of the “American Dream”? Do hi-rise apartments extend into that which we desire to attain? Is the yurt an extension of a mind’s eye?
“Prospero was wrong when he said, ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on.’ What he should have said is, ‘Dreams are bits and pieces of the stuff of which we are made,’ and what that stuff is, is quite another question. Even though we can discuss the ideas which we ‘have’ and what we perceive through our senses… the question of the nature of the envelope in which all that ‘experience’ is contained, is a very different and much more profound question…” (Bateson 70-71).
Since the 90’s, American artist Andrea Zittel has been producing work that addresses the concept of how we experience our home. “Her work as an artist has engaged vigorously with design, architecture, and urbanism, forming an experimental investigation into, and conceptual assessment of, our aspirations to live fully and in harmony within that often contradictory landscape” (Morsiani 11). She likes to solve problems about domestic life. This often materializes into smaller, simpler situations. What drew me into Zittel’s work was her A-Z Living Units, portable living structures that organize everyday activities into streamlined experiences. It’s a compact living system designed to re-evaluate the way you occupy spaces.
“Zittel looks at how we perceive ourselves in our home, office, and personal lives, and at the belief systems we have created in order to balance personal aspirations with the covertly authoritarian logic that comprises the consumerist economic and capitalist political power structures. Our daily regimens reflect our contradictory impulses to achieve a sense of control and security without sacrificing individual freedom” (Morsiani 17).
Zittel began a series called A-Z west, located on Joshua Tree Nat’l Park. The capsules were designed for self-sufficiency and connection to the outdoors. They “reference both the covered wagons of the old western frontier and the standard suburban station wagons of today”(design boom).
(they remind me of the “coffin” hotels in Doctorow’s Makers!)
This kind of work precedes the Tiny House Movement, which currently reassesses the way that we inhabit spaces. More and more people are attracted to mobility because “people are most happy when they are moving forwards towards something not quite yet attained” (Zittel, 2005). When our relationship to space is in a constant state of flux, we become more in tune to our environment. Traveling with our homes is something we’ve done for thousands of years in nomadic cultures.
In the financial constraints of today’s economy, more people are “moving forwards towards something not quite yet attained,” and that’s translating to their homes. The Scotland-based company Trakke has just recently come out with a portable yurt called “Jero”. The yurt is a 129 square foot space that you can break down and fit into the back of a car. “The Jero yurt is made of marine plywood, which both designers praise for its low-waste production, inherent strength and ability to withstand harsh environments. While Jero’s last yurt was designed by hand, the new yurt was design on a computer and CNC milled to use as little material as possible” (Stinson).
(I was so close to inventing that!)
3D printing can inform our way of making spaces. Wikihouse is just one example: it’s an online, open-source construction site that allows the community to build upon pre-existing ideas of spaces. Customization is becoming more embedded into the ideals of cheap, portable homes. Furthermore, people are able to design their own homes with minimal building experience. Customization challenges the idea of personal aesthetic and functionalism.