Where is my home? What makes a home? Where are people’s homes displaced by poverty, multiple/fragmented identities, and why do some houses don’t feel homely?
These questions have beleaguered my mind for the past two years leaving multiple homes — people I’ve called home, place and time I called home for a while but realized they weren’t homes after studying architecture and design. The start of this realization was at a simple introductory level architecture course examining Pritzker Prizer award winners in the final semester of university in Hong Kong.
Four ideas from the class and extracurriculars were of particular interest;
- Frank Gehry — his ways of sourcing inspiration, and the critiques against his deconstructionist architecture [Anti-Architecture and Deconstruction by Nikos A. Salingros]
- Tadao Ando — his buildings’ unimpressive, dull facade contrasted with stunning views from inside, and his humility in building something concrete (literally, concrete) from what he has years of experience in, courage to keep on creating new models despite rejections, and wisdom to know when to be humble.[Tadao Ando: Samurai Architect (2017) directed by Shigenori Mizuno (English subtitles available by request to email@example.com)]
- Norman Foster’s engineering mindset; “make the solution if it doesn’t exist yet”. He designed and built innovative roof hinges for the roof of Hong Kong Airport so that the roof won’t rip the building apart during Typhoon seasons.
- Alejandro Aravena’s perspective shift on the definition of a house, and how to make an evolving, meaningful home — or rather, how to give people agency and motivation in building a house and future they could call home. [My architectural philosophy? Bring the community into the process. TED Talk by Alejandro Aravena, 2014.]
And in context of these four ideas, I have visited At Home with Kinfolk exhibition at Dosan, South Korea.
French Modernism — end of Brutalism, the start of radical aesthetics and practicality
As impressive as this experiential exhibition was from the outlook, the tour was noteworthy as well because of the guide’s concise and logical explanation on what, why and how they came to choose the theme of the exhibition: French Modernism. Kinfolk, the Copenhagen-based company behind this exhibition, aims to provide a more proactive lifestyle for Millenials by introducing them to various lifestyles. “And as a lifestyle brand,” said the tour guide, “French Modernism was of particular interest because of its history.”
Beginning of 20th century, France — a lot of people crowded into the city due to the Industrial Revolution and World War II. Eventually, overpopulation led to various urban issues such as lack of housing, and to solve these issues young architects gathered to come up with creative, independent solutions that surpassed existing architecture, art and traditional forms.
That was how “French Modernism” was born between the 1920s and 1950s; a new form of (architectural) language invented along with swift changes in the world. French architects promoted practical use of and growth in architecture — a way of life — by linking it to design.
Value of French Modernism
I spent the last year of university in Hong Kong sharing a 3-bedroom flat with friends, and currently living in a 3-bedroom apartment with hidden balcony/storage spaces in South Korea. Although the two places are similar in size, the experience of living in them have been contrasting. I noticed that the difference is in South Korea’s practicality in design — the core value of French Modernism. In contrast, Hong Kong’s focus is on practicality and efficiency alone (at all costs). Ironically Hong Kong has a lot of aesthetic, deconstructionist and psychedelic trance-inducing facades whereas South Korea has typical dull faces of an American suburb. It’s a reminder of how the facades aren’t all there is to a building, but as Tadao Ando said, “it’s the experience inside that matters”.
Given an amount of space, these were a personal selection of factors that made a place feel good:
- Location — is it near to nature? Does nature come into my life, time to time (i.e. the joy of spotting wild animals)?
- Weather — is this weather right for me? Can I experience the four seasons?
- Height/level (of an apartment and ceiling) — not too high, not too low, with exceptions for designs on purpose
- Colour tone of the house and materials — does it make me feel comfortable?
It boiled down to these four simple factors linked to the natural world we take for granted. They were all related to perception and surprisingly not as strongly associated with the wealth of the neighbourhood or accessibility to transportation as a typical real estate financier would value a property. Other than these factors, elements in everyday life, such as:
- slightly longer average transportation/walking time
- less crowded public transportation and pedestrian
- higher occurrences of humanities-focused design such as humanized objects (i.e. “I am waiting for summer” printed on shades by the crosswalks) contributed to well-being and happiness.
In this sense, (French) modernism not only provides practical comfort but also inspires a delightful, playful approach in designing cities and homes.
Examples of French Modernism from the Exhibition
The parts human body touch with the furniture are made from cane, increasing air fluidity and comfort in India’s hot climate. Dirty Linen Box has multiple purposes as a laundry box as well as a tabletop in the living room.
This was a magazine rack used in Chandigarh Library for displaying monthly subscription magazines. Depending on the angle of the boards, it can be used as a storage or display as well.
It’s quite bold to name a piece of furniture as a “standard”. Yet, it’s a chair deserving of its name as it embodies the functions and definition of a modern chair: an object to comfortably support a person sitting down. Prouvé engineered this chair’s bottom and back support with rounded curves to better fit with anatomy, and thicker legs at the back to disperse the weight.
When an optometrist talks of tunnel vision, they’re referring to a loss of peripheral sight. The same applies to a psychological outlook: A person who is suffering from tunnel vision cannot see the full breadth of possibilities because their outlook has become so narrow. Such condition can be triggered by a scarcity mindset, in which there’s a constant fear that there simply isn’t enough — whether that be food, finances or emotional fulfilment. Obsessed with alleviating this perceived shortage, a scarcity mindset will respond with short-term, impulse-led behaviours. As a result, the ability to consider long-term priorities, and the joy of creatively strategizing on how to get there, is replaced by an obsessive drive to meet immediate needs and desires. Avoid falling into this trap by regularly exercising original thinking and opening the mind to new possibilities.
Stumbling upon this Kinfolk magazine article open on Office Desk by Pierre Jeanneret (1958), I thought about how the scarcity mindset on emotional fulfilment drives one to have insecurities and to fail in recognizing the value of one’s life, identity and of others. One may be scarce on food and finances, and scarcity mindset for those may help alleviate the situation by getting them out of material poverty for a short while. However with a lack of emotional fulfilment, one can get anxious trying to satisfy what one thinks the world/parent wants in return for a sense of security — only to be quickly disappointed, finding faults in others for one’s scarcity of personal (self) fulfilment.
These ramblings may sound tangential, but I believe emotional fulfilment is the key to what we call home. Home is lonely without the individual’s satisfaction, as to how a relationship could turn lonely when we keep on finding shortcomings in each other. And I think that French Modernism provides a glimpse at how we could create and recognize humane, considerate and kind homes that could ease loneliness in-between space and time.