Being a softy

Coreect dimensions for sunbathing and putting your baby to sleep.
Hard dimensions (RT-card 93-10544): Correct dimensions for sunbathing and putting your baby to sleep.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the empty space that remains between designing spaces and living in spaces.

Actual living is always different from the presumed average way of life that we have in mind when we plan home. In many ways that is a good thing. I have managed to sunbathe and put a baby to sleep on a balcony considerably smaller than 1500x1700mm. It sometimes feels like the Finnish building reference system RT (comparable to Neufert) is becoming less and less true when it tries to describe our life in simple dimensions of floor space.

RT-cards and other norms were of course created to ensure minimum living standards. They also reveal a major change in housing design in the first half of the 20th century: For the first time any attention was paid to the what was actually done at home – cooking, washing, raising children. A practical modern society needed practical modern homes where mothers could cook and observe their children simultaneously without the help of servants. The design standards also helped to creates standards for a modern way of life.

I was inspired to this line of thought by a 1970’s children book called  “Barbapapa’s new house”. After disastrous living experiments the Barbapapa family decides to move to the countryside and build their own house. They use themselves as moulds and create a home that adjusts itself to each Barbapapa’s character and way of life. Here design and building process are identical with living and the ideal home fits the inhabitants seamlessly. There is no empty space between how you live and who you are.

Building the Barbapapa house
Soft dimensions: Building the Barbapapa house
The fantastic end result
The fantastic end result

Right after this I read an article by Inara Nevskaya about her search for new softer norms that acknowledge the more subtle changes and overlaps in our use of space; the fact that we actually use the dining table also for doing homework, sewing, driving around it in a toy car and that we actually do not iron in a utility room (RT-measures 3200mmX2400mm) but in the small space between the column and wall in the hallway from where it is possible to see the TV in the bedroom at the same time. Nevskaya sees the gap between design and living and wants to make it smaller by creating more adaptable, more individual design rules. That is one appealing answer to the question. Architecture is already becoming on many levels more like curating: bringing together, catalyzing ideas, giving a form to your own or somebody elses ideas, enabling people to really have what they want.

De zachte Atlas van Amsterdam studies soft dimensions of
The dutch artist Jan Rothuizen examines the soft dimensions of places in “De zachte Atlas van Amsterdam”

This is a good and necessary development but I can’t help thinking about the opposite as well. When you live in a space that was not at all designed for the way you live it opens up unforeseen possibilities. Actually the “hard” way of designing without adapting to individual wishes might in some cases give more room for change. What happens when the Barbapapa children become teenagers and start hating their old rooms?

These are unfinished thoughts I’ dabbling with, so there’s no smart conclusion. Still, the inevitable friction created by design intentions and the messiness of life is one of the sources of “strangeness” in the Strange House Atlas. And that can be lovely.

Model of the Pony Garden by Atelier Bow-wow
Model of the Pony Garden by Atelier Bow-wow. Note pony.

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