Four brick walls, a few windows, a firm front door, and not to forget a smoking chimney. It’s always striking and cute how much children’s drawings of houses resemble each other. It clearly shows that there is a common cultural idea about what a house is supposed to look like in Western culture. But is that truly what a house looks like now? Or, more specific, what the notion of our living environment means nowadays?
This is the question philosopher Elisabeth Grosz poses herself and her readers in her essays ‘Architecture from the Outside’. She states that what a house looks like in materiality and presence, can differ enormously from how we perceive it. Nowadays, Grosz says, it is much more important to look at the virtual appearance of our living environment. Hereby you must not take the virtual as a separate field you can enter and leave at will like the ‘virtual technologies’ of the famous Dutch ‘House of the Future’ that you can switch on and off, but as an enhancement and reconceptualisation of the real.
This requires a new approach to architecture. Architecture often tends to be considered as an inert object: autonomous, disengaged and distanced from life. But the walls from our virtual houses and public spaces aren’t made from bricks or concrete anymore, they are permeable: there is a constant two-way exchange from our environment to our homes and cities. And so we need to go from blueprints to networks and from geographical to relational sense. Architectural technologies are embedded in the interwoven fabric of social, political, economic, psychological, historical and spiritual relations and therefore are more virtual than actual.
Virtual technologies are first and foremost important in the reshaping of our virtual house. We are living in a world of the ‘Internet of things’, where things are connected and communicate with each other without human intervention. Thus forming a new foundation for our living environment. A great example is the Citycloud concept, the so-called ‘smart city’ of the TU Delft which a few months ago nearly got them the victory at the Microsoft Imagine Cup. This inspirational idea consists of a city being a cloud in which all available data from citizens, companies and government are linked together so it’s easier to ask for and use data, which provides a continuous exchange of information.
Even so, without virtual techno-stuff it is possible so create an entirely new way of seeing, inhabiting and defining our living space. Look for example at bio-architecture, from which TEDtalk sustainability innovator Rachel Armstong is one of the precursors. She creates new architectural building materials that possess some of the properties of living systems and can be manipulated to ‘grow’ houses or whole cities, like Venice. Walls and foundations literally become porous and change into something which is in continuous change and exchange.
And so through letting go of the common cultural idea of what a house or our living environments should look like, and looking at its virtual possibilities, we seem to get more in touch with it’s outside: nature. What a house looks like isn’t as much about whether it has a roof or walls but whether it is in connection and in transfer like the cycle of nature. And so, maybe the children of future generations will draw houses like caves. Not because prehistory is in fashion but because our cultural ideas of a house are much more in balance with it’s virtual nature: open for nature, open for connections with others.
– Elisabeth Grosz (2001) Architecture from the Outside – Essays on Real and Virtual Space
– The Internet of Things thinktank
– Alain de Botton- Architecture of Happiness (2007)
– Biography on TED of Rachel Armstrong
This blogpost is also published on TedxAmsterdam