As a place of expression of the individual’s freedom and a safe shelter from affairs of the world, the house, in a period of great uncertainty such as that dictated by the Covid-19 Pandemic, has taken on a fundamental role and has proved, once again, to be an essential good of each human being. What will the house of the future be like? How will we live in the world that will be? Architects are called to question themselves in order to give life to a new dwelling vision, able to approach different social expectations and suitable to meet the needs of today’s reality.
“What good is a house if you don’t have a proper world to put it in?” wrote the transcendentalist philosopher Henry David Thoreau, supporting the essential relationship between the outside world – nature – and the domestic environment in which man finds refuge. Today, in the face of an increasingly imminent climate crisis and the strong repercussions that this factor has on the existence of man, this question, with a provocative tone, appears current and dramatically realistic.
Rethinking the home is fundamental in a period of such strong social change: think of the “House as a machine for living” conceived by Le Corbusier in 1923 in “Vers une architecture”, a moment in which the fundamental points for life in modern society were outlined; think to the innovations made by the Bauhaus with the contribution of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, or to the new conception of interior architecture by Florence Knoll Bassett, created to meet the needs of the era.
In the latter period, everyone has tried to reinvent themselves, questioning our daily lives and habits, to cope with a higher need, dictated by the health crisis. What will our daily life be like in the future? Is it necessary to give a new dimension to our expectations? What role will dwelling play in this new scenario?
© ste_poska, Spazi liberi. A window of “La canonica di Nusenna”, Gaiole in Chianti, Tuscany.
In 1956 Peter and Alison Margaret Smithson, among the greatest exponents of British architecture of their time, designed the “House of the future”, which was an ideal home, with the objective of arousing interest in a discussion on housing theories. The project was presented at the Olympia Exhibition Center in London. The house was designed for a couple without children and suitable for the near future of 25 years; it revolved around a large central patio and was organized with many small rooms dynamically arranged around the patio. The house was isolated from the external environment, facing its center, connected with the world only through speakers and microphones.
Currently, we must ask ourselves about the role that technology should have for the realization of a the future of dwelling that is more sustainable and useful for everyday life, with the aim of using it as a tool for sharing and connecting with the outside world: through the use of technology we can aspire to a more sustainable design and greater comfort. The performance of the building becomes a decisive element for a useful and functional architecture.
Through BIM technology, today the architect is a performance designer. Home automation is a fundamental tool for the evolution of the dwelling and can be useful for the dynamic development of the latter; in such a way as to guarantee rapid response to temporary needs.
The lockdown period caused by the ongoing pandemic has forced each individual to reschedule their days and to reorganize their home as a work space. We observed the world through the window of our home, from a single point of view, for long and repetitive days. The challenge that was posed to us was to aim for a psycho-physical balance, putting in place small strategies so that the body and mind could be healthful and so that our primary needs could be satisfied. The condition in which we found ourselves led us to have an idea of the world as an unfamiliar element to our condition, but at the same time decisive: the fate of our imminent future depended on what would happen outside. In a situation of isolation, space acquires a key role and it is important to diversify the areas of the house, in such a way as to dedicate a different functionality to each area. Giving a rule to the house, as Florence Knoll did in the 1950s with her “paste-ups” and knowing how to distinguish a leisure space from a work space, allowed everyone to give order to their day, giving value to the time spent. Space can be understood as a “cultural unity”, or as a living organism that educates the person and improves their lifestyle. According to the pedagogist Mario Gennari: “Space can invest roles that could be defined as ‘acting’, in which it is readable above all as a subject in evolution, that is, activator of autonomous paths of knowledge and awareness”¹. The home of the future must be organized, but above all should be adaptable and dynamic: functional for sharing, but also useful for intimacy and isolation.
© ste_poska, Spazi occupati. Point of view, Hong Kong.
How will we live together in the future? The world population is constantly growing, but it is necessary to preserve the natural environment, since our planet needs natural space to continue to function. “We have a limited environment: the Planet. Anyone who thinks that there can be infinite growth in a finite environment is a madman or an economist“², so the naturalist David Attenborough explained to The Guardian, in the – now distant – 2013. To limit housing expansion and to contain the use of soil, giving way to wild nature, it is necessary for the dwellings and crops to develop vertically. Only in this way, leaving room for nature, will the ecosystem will be able to escape from collapse.
The need to create a standardized and efficient living environment, useful for guaranteeing a valid solution to a large number of inhabitants, limiting the use of space and ensuring maximum energy efficiency, can clash with the particular needs of the individual and the will to live and to organize the space in a personal way.
“Your house will not be an anchor, but a tree. It will not be a shimmering film that covers a wound, but an eyelid that protects the eye“³, with this sentence the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran claims the importance of the house as an expression of the individual and a comfortable place for life and memory, which it is reduced to a mere and sterile space of everyday life. The operation that the individual performs, decorating and personalizing a space, is what gives this space the character of a home and distinguishes it from a simple shelter.
© ste_poska, Barriere. Spiaggia 1/1/20.., Moneglia, Liguria.
In the liquid society in which we live in, as defined by the famous sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, individualism seems to overwhelm the concept of community. Uncertainty seems to be the only viable path, continuous change becomes a fundamental prerogative of contemporary man’s life. “Being ‘local’ in a globalized world is a sign of inferiority and social degradation”⁴, states Zygmunt Bauman. From this perspective, in which life is accelerated, the collective memory is compromised. Time changes memory, as one is continually subject to new impulses and new stimuli.
The places that are associated with personal history become multiple and, in this way, the house often seems to be a place of passage, devoid of identity.
What role do memories play in contemporary society? Each of us associates with our childhood places, memories that are preserved over time and constitute the foundation of our identity. For generations, the house has been an identifying place, a cultural and educational tool.
It is therefore important that the house of the future continues to be an activator of knowledge and a place of memory. The contemporary man aspires to live in the city, in which he can practice the freedom he hopes for, in a context full of stimuli and always moving. Paradoxically, in recent months, those who lived in large urban centers have most accused the ‘fatigue’ caused by confinement. The natural environment, in this particular condition, has assumed a quintessential value and perhaps it has been possible to verify how much nature and free space constitutes an essential need of the human being. Some architects have hoped for a return to the countryside and villages, to solve the dwelling problem of overcrowding of the inhabited centers. We are fighting a battle against dwelling density, renewed and made more complex by the virus outbreak.
© ste_poska, Mobilità sostenibile. Tra i portoni della città, Milan.
We have found out that each inhabitant must have sufficient space available for an autonomous life, and some of us have experienced the need for isolation even inside their own homes, to limit the risk of contagion between one tenant and another. In this scenario, it is possible to think of the house of the future as a flexible environment, capable of transforming itself to perform different functions; an environment in which technology optimizes performance and in which the respect for nature and the desire to contribute to a more sustainable environment are imperative priorities. Change, for a better future in sharing, must start from each of us and the house is a reflection of the person, so it must take part in the change. The next Architecture Biennale, curated by architect and researcher Hashim Sarkis, will be instrumental in grasping the challenges that the world is posing for us and translating them into dwelling projects for an inclusive and sustainable future, in which the ambitions of the individual and the needs of the community can flourish in solidarity.
Translated into English by Claudia Gardinetti Salazar.
Cover: © ste_poska, Isolamento. Osservatorio Fondazione Prada, Milan.
¹ Mario Gennari, Pedagogia degli ambienti educativi, Armando Editore, Rome, 1997.
² Mark Riley Cardwell, Attenborough: poorer countries are just as concerned about the environment, The Guardian, www.theguardian.com, 16 October 2013.
³ Kahlil Gibran, On houses – The Prophet, Alfred A. Knof, New York, 1923.
⁴ Zygmund Bauman, Globalization: the human consequences, 1998.
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden, prima ed. 1854, Pac Mac Millan, London, 2008.
– Alison and Peter Smithson, From the house of the future to the house of today, edited by Dirk van den Heuvel and Max Risselada, 2004.
– Geoffrey Scott, L’architettura dell’umanesimo, Rome, reprint Castelvecchi Editore, 2017.