The Economic Imperative versus Dwelling

During my client consultations I often get told that the clients want to maximise the value of their properties. On the face of it this seems like a sensible and prudent approach to designing their additions and extensions.  It is also something that I am more than happy to do for them.  The main way to do this is to add more bedrooms as this is what Estate agents go by when assessing the value of properties. However the reduction of design to this mode of thinking is problematic and which many architects have become so accustomed with that they have forgotten their own value.

To understand the problem with this mode of thinking takes some careful thought and consideration. 

This approach to design which prioritises financial value over experiential value was thoroughly elucidated by the philosopher Martin Heidegger in the 1940’s and 50’s.  His contention was that if we do not engage with the experiential aspect of our lives through carefully considering the design of spaces and making them personally relevant to our lives then we were incapable of making places.  He elaborated on the concept of Being which is concerned with our being in the world or each of our own personal existences in the world.  He was a proponent of our ability to express our own personal lives or Beings and manifesting them within the world.  For him this was the key to dwelling properly.  The inability to dwell properly has led to the creation of many failed attempts to make dynamic, authentic places.  Places that should be reflective and relevant to our own lives or Being. 

This thinking is opposed to homogeneity and the reduction of variety and difference which institutional and scientific thinking encourages.  The consequences of it are hat we are surrounded by homogenous spaces that have no real relevance to our lives.

The main spaces that we inhabit these days are our homes and a local supermarkets or shopping centres.  Compare these with the idea of communal housing which would enable us to live outside of our lonely segregated interiors and within the neighbourhood.  Spaces that encourages neighbourliness and self- sufficiency.  Spaces that allowed us to work from home and within the community and spend less of our time travelling and polluting the environment.  Imagine the dynamics and engagement of shopping in a Market or a local bakers or butchers opposed to the loneliness, disengagement and stress of the supermarket.

In the UK the dominant debate around house building is only that there are not enough houses.  This conclusion spurs on the large housing developers to pump more housing out to meet Government.  In London most new housing developments look aesthetically contemporary and people rush to invest in them.  We do not have any real alternative because other kinds of housing rarely exists.

Today Housing is designed strictly in accordance with minimal floor area and height standards.  Housing is always only the laying out of bedrooms, kitchens and living rooms and the in between space is always the same minimally designed corridors and hallways always justified with the same arguments.  These arguments dominant the institutional mode of thinking.  It is conveyed to us that it is never affordable to build any larger than the minimum and it is not wise to build more communal places due to security issues or a lack of demand.

One has to wonder why this state of affairs exists.

As long as we continue to ignore the importance of Being, Place and design practice in enabling us live fulfilled lives then we will continue to feel like something is missing in our lives.  This feeling of discontent will continue to manifest itself through ambivalence, passivity, discrimination and prejudice.

In the face of this I continue to try to reconcile the tendency towards homogenous dwelling by encouraging Place making and remaining true to my original interest with architecture which is to engage with the personalised invention of space and the development of new places. This remains a difficult preoccupation given that I too live within a culture dominated by technocratic concerns and struggle to dwell properly within it myself.



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