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“pretty happy with”

July 6, 2008 at 2:34 am

This past month I’ve finally been working again on the second print in the print series. At the end of June, I had a tentative layout that I was pretty happy with, incorporating some larger perspective views of different kinds of connections between shared and personal spaces, and also a bunch of little axonometric drawings of more different kinds of passageways and doorways. It seemed like a good solution to displaying lots of options for offering different degrees of privacy within a living space…

However, the use of the words “pretty happy with” is always kind of a bad sign, stuff tends to ring hollow after a little bit if it can be described that way…


[another, earlier, version. note: AGP with sprained wrist/robot arm. ]

The original phrasing of the second pattern, from my print series proposal (December 2006), is this:

Private spaces should be delineated by subtle yet effective boundaries, so that individuals can be alone without closing themselves off entirely.

This is still what the poster is about, but I’ve realized that it has to not only deal with the boundaries, but has to involve their context, to also show the organization of the space in which the boundaries exist.

[an attempt at incorporating more different kinds of ideas and spaces into the layout…]

A letter from a friend about the need for “new and more flexible, accepting, visions of life and success” — in her case, musing about how people expect you to stop riding your bike and stop traveling and “buy a car, a house, a husband, a dog, etc” as markers of a certain degree of “adulthood” — reminded me about one of the initial motivations behind this project, which was to figure out some alternatives to living alone as an immediate family in a single-family house or apartment (part of the typical, resource-hungry model of “success”). The main alternative is: Sharing! However, in order to share our space with others, we need buildings whose structure makes that sharing easier and simpler, less complicated, instead of adding more hassle to our lives.

Most buildings that we are familiar with in North America aren’t made to be shared, to various degrees: the suburban ranch house (1950s-80s) or the mcMansion (90s-00s) on their plots of land are hard to share with more than one family, and other families are relatively far away; in a triple-decker apartment house from the 1910s or 20s, the families are closer together — but there are narrow, “one-person-wide” doors and hallways between the apartments, which make passage back and forth strained and awkward, and the poor sound insulation and small spaces within each apartment tend to bring people closer together than they feel comfortable with. There are many projects, attempts, and works-in-progress, and people in the US and all over the world are of course sharing every kind of space imaginable, whether or not the buildings lend themselves to easy sharing. However, I haven’t yet encountered a really good existing idea of how a “shareable” house would be laid out, what the space would look like, how it would be constructed…

One of the things I have noticed, along the path of thinking about privacy and commonality, is that people are enthusiastic about sharing common spaces, if the privacy they can achieve in their personal spaces is enough to make them comfortable and establish their individuality. This works also on a larger scale: if many families are sharing a dwelling place, the spaces for each family (bedrooms, bathroom, private living room, study or play rooms) must be appropriate and personal for their needs, to allow them to feel comfortable sharing the common spaces (kitchen, living rooms, work/play rooms) with other families or individuals.

What is “enough” is, of course, going to depend on the culture and on the person within that culture. I’m working in a ‘Western’/northamerican cultural model, not wanting to guess or presume too much about what might be “enough” privacy in other cultures (though I’m always interested to learn about how people organize and use space in different parts of the world). Within that northamerican culture, the way I’m addressing personal preferences about privacy is to provide, or encourage the providing of, many various possibilities for separating private spaces from common spaces.

[more or less the state of the poster right now… lots of messy ideas. at the bottom right it says “why am I going in circles?”]

The first draft of the poster composition (as seen at the top of this post) was kind of a catalog of different ways to do this, ranging from “more personal seclusion” to “stronger connection to the shared life”, something like that. In a living space, ideally there would be a range of places that a person could choose to use, depending on how they felt at any time: from a reading or play nook attached to a common living room, to an office room with a narrow doorway directly connected to the main living space, to a bedroom set further away along a hallway or up the stairs, with good sound insulation in between. However, I want to show not only the different options of connecting boundaries, but different options of how spaces can be organized together… on both an “individual and group” scale, and a “family and group of families” scale (without going into the territory of cohousing or other planning models where each family shares some common spaces but has their own individual house).

So now what I’m struggling with with the poster is, how do I talk about and organize all these ideas surrounding privacy and sharing, on one (large) piece of paper, hopefully with things laid out logically and legibly enough so that viewers can engage with it and understand it. How do I show these complicated, flexible possibilities, the options and ideas available, without drawing a prescriptive, restrictive plan? How do I organize things on different scales (room plan to site plan) and within different scopes-of-view (simple doorway to long hallway) and have them make sense with each other, and possibly come together into a semi-cohesive statement about why it is important to share space, and what kinds of privacy and sharing are created by different ways of organizing built structures?

Well, now you know what I’m attempting to do, in a month or two you can actually find out if I succeeded or not. This is what it looks like right now:

As usual, any advice, ideas, thoughts, experiences with space, sketches, photos, comments, etc. are really really really welcomed, and actually needed — all the good ideas in this project come from conversations with other people, not fully-formed from my own head!


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