Houses that are place
Among the places that make everyone's world, have been our homes, where we live, the place where we most fight against the pandemic. Not only because of the duties of confinement, which take us there, but also because of the emptying of other places, public, institutional, work, leisure, culture, the full experience of the world.
But what is a house for sure? To say generically that it is a building that can be inhabited is to say everything without saying anything. We tend to think that homes are those places where we feel especially safe, and that, with this security of refuge, they can be places of intimacy, from within. And in fact each house is not just one, but a collection of places of intimacy, which are related to each other as places of variable exclusivity - that of the house facing the street, but within it, that of the bedroom, that of the bathroom , the office, the living room, and the place at the dining table, etc.
Layers of different intimacy, arranged in their own complexity, in the order of family relationships, or of a single person. Because, also alone, a person needs, for the relationship of meaning with himself, a reality beyond his body, where his habits live. That's what your home provides. There is a verse by Manuel António Pina that says: “Places are the geography of solitude”. Returning home is a reunion with the ballast of the meaning of each person's life, and, therefore, it is essential to life to be able to be at home, in his solitude, which must be a right. When being at home becomes an impossibility, or a possibility too scarce and distant, we condemn ourselves to survive only.
To be at home is to be in a place of identity for two, or more, or alone. And that is why we enter the house as if inside something, but more than in a built construction, “inside” means crossing the frontier into a consciousness, a vision of life, of complicity, even of an unconscious that settles into habits. And 'frontier' can literally mean that of the country to which you return, which is also like a home when you emigrate or leave for some other reason.
Juhani Pallasmaa, one of the great theorists of architecture, recounts that common habit of reaching a hotel room, making it a little more like home by dropping personal belongings on the bed and other parts of the room. Remembering the house. Houses are much more a memory of a biography than places. Or rather, they are places of memory, which accommodate and thus keep and provide the remembrance, for example, of gestures and smells, things that were done or done and things that were felt or felt, in the grandparents' house, on the beach, time when you were a child, from present and previous lives, with other geographies or affections.
Homes that are condition
And yet, houses are not places, they are nowhere, they are more what we carry with us, each one with himself, as an idea of home, as a collection of memories realized in an objectivity beyond our body. So, to bring home with us is to bring with us exactly everything that is essential to maintain the security that allows the intimate. It is said “Don't bring the house back”, but that is precisely what we all bring, some more, some less, wherever we go. So the house doesn't have a place. The house is a kind of shadow, which always accompanies us as long as we are not blind.
American writer James Baldwin said that “perhaps home / home (home) is not a place but an irrevocable condition ”(“ O Quarto de Giovanni ”, translated by the writer Valério Romão edited by Alfaguara Portugal). To say that it is a condition is to say that it is anything that we cannot rule out. But it is not exactly a shadow either. It has this characteristic of following us, wherever we go, but, unlike shadows, houses are a choice. To think of them as shadows, each one would be the one we draw and not the one that draws us.
And if we take the house with us whenever we go out, also the house we left behind, when we return, can no longer be found. For James Baldwin, this is really a condition: "You don't have a house until you have left it and then, having left it, you cannot return to it."
Even if we do not fully follow this condemnation, which is somewhat pessimistic, and believe that the home can be one or more real places, the underlying idea that truly being home is always an intimate movement that we carry out in things is just as important. , to keep us in them a distance, which can never be overcome, and a proximity, which never leaves us.
And if intimacy is a sharing of loneliness, the houses of both are also attracted. We get to know each other when, at last, we visit, be it our physical houses, or others, for example, our books, our murals on social networks, our tastes, the corner of the cafe, the canteen, where we are at rest.
To visit each other cyclically, friends and family, is to go on doing intersubjectivity, not as the construction of a walled building, but as flows of giving and receiving, with the pleasure of recognition, also of the discovery of difference and its fruition. To visit is to bring the comfort of being there. Receiving visitors is a central aspect of the home.
But there are houses that cannot receive visitors, that seem designed on purpose to not be inviting, with narrow doors and windows. I wonder if it would cost so much for social building projects to rip larger windows? Or if it is the result of an old refusal to grant a better home experience to those who cannot afford it, which in the past translated into property taxes on the number of windows. To look at the social buildings in Portugal that, having windows, it is as if they had been trapped even before they were built, is to look at a stigma of poverty: you will have somewhere to live, but you will have no home. It couldn't be.
The pandemic and our homes
Lucky for those who had or have many houses. Bad luck for those who don't. But calamity is not having a home with conditions in times of pandemic. When held, surely the most important thing is to have a word about the place that holds us. Even in the first confinement, Design critic Mário Moura vented on his Facebook wall: “one of the things I miss most is not so much going out, but that feeling of finally coming home.” Sensation that is a result of the houses themselves, obviously. Or rather, that the place we inhabit is home enough to miss her.
In a context of pandemic and confinement, our homes will have to accommodate, as far as they can, almost every other place in life. They become production units, even if there is no office, with large windows, or two or three rooms; even if the children organize themselves in shared rooms, they and their parents need for their school or professional commitments to access the internet, computers, reservation space, company of solitude.
Inequality becomes a more crude reality when confined in our homes so unequal. Which justifies the prompt attention on whether the conditions for work and home study that are required are guaranteed. This kind of uberization of our homes, by contingency decree, is felt very unevenly and requires a response of solidarity, materialized in public emergency policies. It is not just a question of size, but of the construction quality of the urban park, for example with bad conditions of thermal insulation.
The cold of these winter days should count as tremendous imposed suffering and, therefore, it should be a reason for not charging for the increases in energy consumption associated with the cold. It is inconceivable that the cold will kill. Internet access services, which have practically replaced the possibility of going to the street, should also be freely and universally accessible. At least to the extent that its use has become professionally or academically mandatory.
On the other hand, even those who are fortunate enough to have good, comfortable homes and with splendid conditions to work and study in them, see their time at home being disputed with the time of being elsewhere, who have virtually entered the home to literally do not disappear. The time to be at home has to be protected when we stay at home all the time doing everything we would do if we left the house.
In addition to the emergency responses, the future of the houses that are projected - there is an end to this pandemic - must be a reflection for architecture, urbanism, city plans and even community. In the future, one cannot neglect, as if it were luxury, the need to guarantee working and study conditions in homes, which have to be designed in a much more integrated way and without, therefore, becoming a luxury. But not to the point of becoming a project of self-sufficiency always illusory.
Pleasurable and voluntary confinement, as in a bubble, may not be felt subjectively as a trap, but it is nonetheless objectively. It is like the paradox of that person who is objectively locked in a room, or in a cell, but feels free because he has no desire to leave, to the point of not even checking if, if he wanted to, he could do it. And if it doesn't come out it also doesn't mean staying in the bubble of the street around and the local neighborhood, everything justifies rediscovering and revaluing the street around, the neighborhood that stops being just a dormitory, and is more community, less anonymous to everyone's home of its residents.
The pandemic brought inequality into our homes, which collectively requires us to know how to counter a solidarity response. Confining cannot mean encapsulating ourselves. And this sudden added importance of the houses we inhabit should also be an opportunity to claim a right to housing that is more genuine right to the home. In the sense of a place of vulnerability that we allow ourselves and that allows intimacy, but also a relationship with the outside, that opens the door, to go out or invite in, that goes to the window, to peek or to see. Genuine houses, if confined, is in the name of conviviality and a good life.
The author writes according to the old spelling.