How much Space, How much Time and How much Memory*

Engleberg House, Harry Harrison


Let me for a moment place myself at the other side of the river according to the concept of flexibility in housing. On the side of those that do not consider it a really essential domestic attribute of our time, they could make themselves the three questions of the title of this text, before coinciding with everybody (me myself) who defends it, sometimes without further ado.

How much space?

For the majority of citizens, housing is a scarce good. How much does a house cost? It is easy to calculate it: till where you can pay a mortgage for a third of your life. In that case, each square metre is a scarce good, as it is each square centimetre of a car. The big living room of mirrors in Versailles is flexible: it could be compartmented to organize a residence of old people or to acclimatize it to accommodate the French congress of Net users. If the square metres are less, the architecture of the house has to negotiate its outline with its predicted users, but also with more real and more permanent inhabitants of the houses of the developed world: furniture and belongings.

As Witold Rybczynsky does not stop insinuating in his stories about the house, the domestic space is above all a place for furniture (including in its wide sense the equipment of the house too), which are the intermediates between architecture and human body, their positions and their physical needs. And the furniture and their dimensions are not very flexible like little flexible are their dimensions and the habits of the body.

So, if houses cannot be big, they will have at least to allow that furniture could acquire a variety of configurations and additions. Given that we need to make compartments in houses in order to save them from noises, light and odours of some daily scenes to others, at the social house is difficult to imagine other different flexibility from that which provides the most possible regular outline of the minimum number of rooms, which the needed uses of tightness demand. The mobile systems of partition insulate noise and work easily for the domestic user, they usually exceed the normal budget scale of the house.

How much time?

In fact, all the houses of the world are flexible, if people wait the time needed. Our houses, blocked by partition walls, are flexible if the necessity compensates the discomfort of the presence of a builder or a fitter of carton-gypsum during a short period. How often our necessities change, or the arrangement of our unity of cohabitation change? For Baudelaire, the modern Paris changed faster than the heart of its inhabitants. Do we change at the speed needed?

On the other hand, it could be established a reverse relationship between the interval of the changes and the fragility of the adaptable element. Do we want rapidity? We must assume then certain doses of fragility, which involves a specific relationship of respect, delicacy and of interrelation with the constructive element that shelters the spaces. If we want it alive and changeable, it needs from a user who treats it in a different way to that of the deaf, permanent, solid and “without maintenance” walls which builds timeless Mediterranean houses.

How much memory?

And What if, the time has come on our personal timetable, we do not want to change our scenery anymore? The memory is an ally of slowness, and oblivion adores hurry. We sometimes need that, in front of that landscape of the outside in which the changes surpass our capacity of adaptation, the house to be something that stabilizes, the container of memories and identities. There is something very human about aspiring to immobilize memories on a domestic scenery understood as a friendly refuge and with a past. The last bastion. The non-flexibility of the house would be the frontier of the resistance in contrast with the flexible relationships, flexible work, flexible urban planning or the flexible convictions.

*This is the comment sent to Mesa 2 “Vivienda Flexible” at Jornadas Virtuales sobre Arquitectura. Sostenibilidad y Nuevas Tecnologí­as de la Fundación Arquitectura Contemporánea. It had the intention of activating some polemic against interventions that predictably were going to be set out with another meaning.

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