Every single architecture student knows what lectures are taking place in, at least, 3 architecture schools: AA of London, HU-GSD in Cambridge and, hopefully, their own school. Since I recently moved to Boston for my Master of International Marketing, I decided to pick up on my architecture background and attend as many architecture lectures as possible. My first lecture of this year, yesterday: “Housing…What next?” at Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
The lecture was organized as an opening for the current exhibition in the Harvard School of Design Hall, “Living Anatomy” is hosting. Four architects, with different approaches, talked about what housing was and is, and try to call out that architects should put more effort in its theoretical and formal development. A topic that might have disappeared for quite some time in Harvard classes (or that’s what I understood of their presentation) and, that Harvard faculty believes to be rescuing from the oblivion. However, the lecture itself offered very little interesting material that could help the current housing crisis we are faced with (maybe because speakers only had 10 minutes to present). In fact, residential architecture, in all it’s forms, is the grain that conforms the city, provides it’s density and provides homes to inhabitants that further fuel the city. However, the discurse might have sounded repetitive to me since quality housing in real modern cities has always been the main focus on the Barcelona School of Architecture (UPC). Furthermore, what triggered me to write this post was 100% personal.
As an architecture student you are always exposed to new and modern ways of thinking the way we live (not necessarily good), the revision of terms as public and private realm or the minimum requirements of “public space” to allow apartments of 300 to 360 square feet, just to name a few. But, when your academic training is finished, it is up to the new graduate architect to still look for these discussions and keep up to date.
Just after finishing graduating as an architect a year ago I moved to Chicago and started living the “American Dream”. I moved in with my partner in life, we had a dog and pretty house with a garden. I was lucky enough to have the time and flexibility to ride my bike everywhere and not have to always drive the car. And I got used to this way of live that gives you plenty space as long as you sacrifice the contemporary lifestyle we, young adults, have adopted. But, is this lifestyle sustainable?
Just as the lecture started, despite only being a visitation of the basics of modern housing, I was stroke with the feeling of awakening after a comfortable, long sleep. Where have I been living? What is most sustainable in terms of housing? What is it that we look for in cities? How will society adapt to changed architects would like to propose? And how will architects reinvent the city if society, as consequence, changes? What type of cities are we talking about? Manhattan?
More and more, architects try to reduce the square footage of housing and create this mingling spaces in ground and upper floors that supplement the lack of space in our own “basic cells”. This is possible because of the increasing number of single households that nowadays exist in major cities. So what happens when people who enjoy living in the city giving up some space and confort aspects start having family? Must they live the city because it became a place for singles or extremely wealthy people who can afford a more spacious house? Even in cities like Manhattan it is illegal to have more than 2 people in a microapartment!
Housing is not just about current situation in dense cities, it’s about the way a person’s life changes throughout their lives. So the critical question is NOT “how must we design housing and public space to accommodate our cities inhabitants?” rather it should be: