We tend to associate the idea of “home” with “domesticity.” Yet the “domestic” is a specific mode of housing that is very different from the way many cultures around have produced their home.
The origin of the concept of domestic lies in the idea of the domus, a Latin term that addresses the house both as household and a built structure. Within Ancient Rome the domus was not just a household, but the quintessential embodiment of private property.
The word itself produced declensions that leave little doubt of what the domus is about: dominus, dominion, domain. Even the Latin term familia – family, which derives from famuli—servants—manifested the idea of the household as property, the space that belongs to the dominus of the house. “Domestic” addresses a space of inhabitation organized around a vector of command embodied by the household’s property. Within the history of domestic space from antiquity to the present household property was centered on the paterfamilias, the landlord, the homeowner and more recently on the real estate of the rarefied and yet extremely powerful rule of hedge funds. This is why domestic space can be understood as an enclosing apparatus that gave origin to both house and land property as absolute right. This apparatus has been and continues to be one of the most effective ways through which both state and capital govern people by organizing society in terms of class, gender, and race.
Within the evolution of domestic space, architecture has played a fundamental role in both representing and naturalizing domesticity and property as something “normal” and thus “acceptable,” as the only way in which people can live within society. Tropes like “interior” or “privacy” should be understood as ideological constructions aimed to reinforce the sense of household as possession. This studio asks students to rethink the idea of the house beyond domestic space and the concept of private property. This entails to rethink not just the architecture and politics of the house but also the latter’s relationship to the land tenure as the fundamental precondition for inhabitation.
Land and Typology
Since colonialism and the “enclosures” of the commons, land is a means not of people’s subsistence, but of owner’s power. The power of owning land was even greater when land was no longer used for agriculture but for building houses, as occurred in cities with the industrial revolution and the migration of workers to city. Land became a valuable asset not as a natural resource, but as a “location:” the closer to urban centers, the more its cost rises. In this way land became a strategic resource for capitalists who used it as collateral for credit and for building speculation on all kinds of housing developments from tenements for the poor to apartments for the wealthy. It is impossible to understand the rationale behind buildings codes, density, or other urban parameters without taking the pressure of land value into account.
In the commodification of land, housing typology has played an important role in adapting the necessity of domestic life to the constrains of land value. For example, the private apartment as the stacking of single-family houses is born out the compromise between the values of bourgeoise family life and the exorbitant costs of land, which was already unaffordable for middle-class households in the 19th century. Another example of how typology responded to the pressure of land value were tenement buildings, which can be understood as the extrusion of the speculating logic of fitting as many people possible within the smallest land parcel. Housing typologies have supported property also by differentiating and separating spaces according to the life of the family by organizing the use of space according to gender and class roles. Public authorities have periodically attempted to limit speculation by imposing rules or introducing public housing, but these attempts have always been tempered by political motivations and a deference to the right to property as the fundamental political datum of liberal democracy.
Housing for New York City
This year, the site chosen for the studio’s projects is New York City. When it comes to the relationship between domestic space, land and typology, NYC offers the most clear and paradigmatic example of domestic landscape under the pressure of property. Since beginning of the 19th century, NYC has been one of the prime locations globally for real estate speculation. At the same time, over the past century NYC has also been home to many examples of co-operative housing that gave some respite from housing speculation. Housing complexes such as Alku and Alku Toinen in Sunset Park in Brooklyn (1916), or the United Workers Cooperative Colony in the Bronx (1920’s) were attempts to tame market pressure and build affordable housing. Moreover, NYC gave rise to more commercial but no less-radical examples of cooperative living such as residential hotels and “home-clubs.” Between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, these housing types destabilized traditional forms of domesticity, and for this reason were later discouraged by city authorities through the imposition of strict zoning regulations and building codes that favored more family-driven housing typologies, specifically favoring the single-family model. Another important movement that has deeply characterized the history of NYC in terms of housing were the several waves of rent-strikes that countered the hegemony of real estate owners, whose power to commodify housing has often been backed by City authorities. Among these, the most important one took place in the 1920’s when tenants addressed the issue of rent not only in terms of housing affordability but also as a way to challenge the capitalist logic of social relationships based on property. Since the 1980’s the power of real estate in NYC has been nearly absolute, making NYC a luxury good affordable only to the rich. But perhaps the current pandemic, combined with a renewed awareness of the unbearable consequences of the lack of public and affordable housing and a new set of commercial collective housing models and grassroots organizations that are challenging the city’s codes, can offer a springboard towards opening up new possibilities for non-profit forms housing.
This year’s studio is an invitation to students to rethink what the home could be beyond domestic space. We ask students to both denaturalize the idea of home as private space and imagine what sort of ways of inhabitation we can imagine beyond the idea of property. We will begin with a rigorous study to understand how this condition was the product of two crucial and yet often overlooked factors: land property and typology. We will also look at the the rich tradition of non-domestic or de-commodified forms of living that are an important if not overlooked legacy of the housing history of United States. Following these preliminary investigations, students, individually or in groups, will work on pilot projects for sites in Manhattan selected according to the research. Projects will include the design of new housing units, or the retrofitting of existing ones. In some cases there may be the possibility to simply add collective “housing” facilities within existing public housing compounds. Besides architectural design, an important aspect of the project will be the financing method that can start-up and maintain these projects, which can range from public housing developed within the framework of the National Home Guarantee developed by the NGO People’s Action, to the many forms of cooperative-housing, to community land trust. The main question of the studio will be what sort of typological transformations we can expect once we remove housing from the market. An important precedent for studio projects will be the concept of the “diffuse home” as has been developed in previous advanced studios focused on San Francisco and Rome. Important references for the idea of the dispersed home are nineteenth and twentieth-century material feminism’s experiments in housing design such as those put forward by Marie Case Steven Howland and Melusina Pierce, and the urban experiments developed within Russian disurbanism. The logic that informs the dispersed home is the possibility of socializing domestic labor as a way to catalyze wider forms of commoning that includes both reproduction but also production in general. Rather than fetishizing it as mere sign of a ‘sharing’ economy, the socialization of domestic life will be used as a way to economically and symbolically dismantle the idea of property and the way this idea has been spatialized through the architecture of domestic space.