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Housing and Dwelling

Selected Book Readings

We read in detail Barabara Miller Lane's edited volume titled Housing and Dwelling. We distributed the essays in the book amongst all the students and then each student presented their set of essays to the rest of the class with the help of a frame on a common MIRO board. During our discussions, the entire crew added to this frame and brought in references or other readings that they linked to that essay. 

"These selections present some of the principal types of interpretation that have been or can be employed in thinking about domestic architecture. Nikolaus Pevsner states the old-fashioned definition of the subject matter of architectural history as pursued by the scholar. Frank Lloyd Wright expresses the olympian view of the modern architect who hopes to constrain patrons, forms and furnishings in the service of his own creations, and who as “form-giver” is the sole authority on the building. Amos Rapoport brings to bear on the subject the perspective of the cultural anthropologist who interprets the symbolism of domestic practices, and also raises important questions about the nature of “vernacular” architecture. Archaeologist Suzanne Spencer-Wood attacks the “androcentric” conventions of all history writing as it has been practiced from the nineteenth century on, urging that we turn to non-patriarchal, non-art-historical, materials-based methods in the study of domestic architecture. Tony Earley’s short story, depicting the maturing of a young man interacting with the spaces of a family dwelling, helps us think about the users of domestic spaces." - Page 22


Who interprets?

The historian, the architect, the anthropologist, the archaeologist, the user?

"Before one can explore the history of domestic architecture, it is necessary to arrive at a definition of the home, house, or dwelling. Historians, philosophers, architects, social scientists and social critics have differed extravagantly in their approaches to this issue. Philosopher Martin Heidegger, mid-century definer of phenomenology and existentialism, has been influential in architectural thought since the 1960s. For Heidegger, “building” and “dwelling” are a single phenomenon, the creation by the individual consciousness out of its rootedness in culture, time, and place. Reyner Banham was closely affiliated with the visionary British Archigram group in the 1960s, and then took on the role of gadfly to modern architectural historians. Banham argues that the modern home is a set of modern appliances and services, not bound to any location and therefore essentially rootless. Sociologist and economist Mary Douglas suggests that home is a place where households organize themselves over time by practicing the planning of resources and by developing household rituals; for Douglas, home is thus an early form of social organization. English professor and social activist bell hooks reminds us that the home, for African-Americans, is a place of resistance to the norms of a hostile society." - Page 50


What is home?

This chapter offers examples of important psychological and perceptual interpretations of domestic spaces. For psychologist and philosopher Gaston Bachelard, the “oneiric” house (oneiric: of dreams) is a metaphor of the psyche, and memories of its spaces, colors, and odors help to structure the personality of the adult individual. Anthropological geographer Yi-Fu Tuan draws on theories of spatial perception to show that buildings are understood through movement, and by the various senses – touch, smell, vision, awareness of light and dark. For Tuan, these perceptions are made conscious by the experience of architecture itself. Architectural historian and critic Beatriz Colomina uses the ideas of Freud, Lacan, and recent film theory to analyze the role of lines of sight in buildings by Adolf Loos; she also discusses interior spaces as related to theatrical practices. Historian
of vernacular architecture Sue Bridwell Beckham employs the ideas of sociologist Erving Goffman and anthopologist Victor Witter Turner about performance and ritual in order to analyze the American front porch as a performative space. Art historian Adina Loeb develops further the ideas of Beckham and Colomina in her oral history of a tiny Yorktown apartment of the 1940s and 1950s.


Domestic spaces as perceptual, commemorative, and performative

Historians Elizabeth Collins Cromley, Elizabeth Blackmar and Paul Groth discuss the attractions and repulsions of the new living situations in New York and San Francisco (apartment buildings, hotels, rooming houses): the freedom of individuals to move easily and frequently, both in location and in social status; the anxieties of families to assert their social status in shockingly new circumstances. These three, together with historian Donald Olsen, demonstrate that in these new circumstances, architects and builders often turned to pre-existing models: in America, the so-called French flat; in Vienna, the palaces of the aristocracy; everywhere, the larger institutional structures of the past such as monasteries. In a close analysis of Parisian apartment buildings (which were also modeled on aristocratic prototypes) as seen through the novels of Balzac, literary historian Sharon Marcus shows that these most desirable dwellings of the French middle classes exhibited transparency toward their urban surroundings. These buildings, unlike their British and American counterparts, housed several different social classes and often included commercial enterprises. Economic historian M. J. Daunton, writing about the British working class, argues that a gradual reorientation toward the street, away from more communal types of spatial configuration, was a by-product of early-nineteenth-century middle-class efforts in planning reform, developing household technologies, and the changing aspirations of working-class people themselves. Selections from the greatest of Émile Zola’s urban novels, L’Assommoir (1876), suggest in a vivid and concrete way the housing experiences of the Parisian working classes during the period of Baron von Haussmann’s replanning of Paris. Paris is viewed through the eyes of Gervaise, a laundress.


Living downtown: nineteenth-century urban dwelling

Sociologist Mike Hepworth outlines this version of the Victorian ideal, with its religious overtones, using evidence from Victorian literature and painting (see Fig. 23). As a result of this ideal, the dwelling is thought to have evolved in distinctive ways, with great emphasis on “front” and “back”, on “public” and “private” spaces, and on a proliferation of rooms with special purposes. Attention has focused particularly on the parlor, full of knick-knacks, where the central life of the family was supposed to take place, and which also served as the main reception room (Fig. 24). As Elizabeth Blackmar shows in Chapter 5, the inclusion of a parlor in middle-class dwellings was already taking place in the early nineteenth century. But a principal inspiration for the parlor, and for Victorian ideas of spaces and privacy more generally, was provided by the writings and designs of British architect Robert Kerr. Included here are excerpts from his The Gentleman’s House of 1864, and architectural designs that show his emphasis on the multiplication of spaces for specific purposes (Figs. 25, 26). Many of these spaces, but especially the parlor (or “Drawing-room” in Kerr’s terminology), reappeared in the later nineteenth century in a wide range of American dwellings, from architectthrough builder- to factory-designed houses (Figs. 27, 28, 29 and 30; see also Fig. 24). Yet Suzanne Spencer-Wood challenges traditional views of Victorian domesticity and Victorian housing design, showing far more interpenetration of “public” and “private” activities than has usually been observed. Spencer-Wood argues that “the Cult of True Womanhood”, rather than confining women to the home, actually provided a springboard for women’s leadership in political, social and architectural reform movements. And art historian Susan Sidlauskas, analyzing a single painting by Edgar Degas, reminds us of the darker side of Victorian domestic life – of the sexual conflicts and gender uncertainties that took place in the private spaces of Victorian dwellings.


Victorian Domesticity

Ideals and Reality

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