Sunday, June 1, 2008

The size of living

So I was just talking to my friend Stephanie the other day and she asked me if I am a big or small house person. The question really caught me off guard - not that I haven't thought about the concept before, being an architecture student and all, but I suppose that I haven't really been confronted by what I will term the ideology of the Big.

Just like a fast-food supersized meal, large houses, such as the McMansion pictured to the left, remind me of all that is inefficient and wrong with the stereotypified American dwelling. Perhaps antithetical to Heidegger's philosophy of dwelling, in which the square footage, number of rooms, and objectively identifiable "features" of a building - in this case, the detached single family dwelling - are objectified. External amenities - such as views and the neighborhood in which it resides - further perpetuate this disassociation of yourself from Being.

The ideology of the big is the commodification of the dwelling, changing the traditional view of the residential unit from a home, with cultural and familial relevance, to that of the primary investment unit of the middle class. In California, they ask you what car you drive. Here, they ask you what house you own. In this, it reflects the domination of the consumerist society inherent in our society... what happens when ideas of art and function give way to a detachment of any emotional or humanistic values we might find in our homes.

Kind of scary - it seems like the opposite of Modernism, where the people become the machines, and the buildings become a mockery of the cultural landscape that becomes swallowed up by the vagaraties of the construction industry as it caters to mere aesthetic whim spread on the toasty balloon frame of bloated square footage.

Coming from a background in which I grew up in a large, open floor-planned house set high on a hill in the countryside, I suppose that my idea of space is much different than the average American. I even lived in a sub-200 sq ft apartment in NW Portland, the bane of many a suburbanite! What I found, interestingly, is that I am only able to occupy so much space, which becomes a sort of dwelling space for myself. Beyond this zone of freedom, an extension of my being, is left over, empty space. If I lived in a shared house with roommates, this communal space becomes shared and a much used area for congregating, eating, entertaining, and so on. If I lived alone in a house - I'm not sure what it would become. Thoughts of the bachelor living in a 100 room mansion come to mind, space lost and forgotten to the owner...

In any event, I found more and more that I wish to mold my primary spaces into as compact and efficient for my needs as possible, to keep everything accessible, and also to reflect my own personal tastes - from the amount of natural light, to the height of the bookshelves and accessibility of my computer workstation and kitchen utensils - as I can.

I loathe the idea of extra rooms for no purpose but to be extra rooms. Like my father's concept of wealth: "to have more rooms in your house than you can occupy, leaving them empty in your house."

After my trip in Europe, with its densely compacted villages perched picturesquely on the hillsides, I find that I simply prefer small living.

And this doesn't even touch on the cost.
Small living in 117 square feet ^^^

No comments: