A House for All Seasons – Brick Screen Explorations
The sum of a house’s programmatic elements is the lifestyle it prescribes to its residents. In the House for All Seasons, the inhabitant’s movement through a grid of neatly quartered uses dictates – or at least suggests – a daily routine. This is true of any dwelling, and the House for All Season’s intervention in this case is to inject into the rural day-to-day some urban convenience.
A lot of my own thinking lately has been in relation to daily living. In my own life and in the lives of almost everyone around me, I’m finding that routine can be a powerful thing, and that daily concerns can very often consume our attention; in the maelstrom of to-do lists and obligations, relationships and occupations, the mind gets fixed in constant thought. This is necessary to some extent, it’s what survival requires. However, it becomes a dangerous way to live when no space or time is made for awareness of our corporeal selves, and embodied existence is reduced to an automated, half-waking state. Make no mistake, this is most of us. Most of us are at any given moment paying only just barely enough attention to our senses to cross the street, avoid getting hit by a car, and get on the bus at the other side. How much is filtered out? How present are we in our skin? Sadly too little for our sensual lives to bleed into our everyday emotional landscape.
In rare moments where everything can be dropped, where all of my attention can be directed towards the body and the immensity of what it is to perceive, I sometimes feel a connectedness with myself that is otherwise wholly absent from daily life. In these moments, I not only feel more engaged in the immediate processes of being, but I also seem to just barely grasp at something that can only be described as rememberance: I find myself suddenly aware that I have perceived this way before, or rather that perceiving has felt this way before. Probably it has something to do with the intensity of children’s sensory experiences, not yet anesthetized by repetition and responsibility. Whatever the reason, I get a strong, sudden but indistinct sense of recognition or familiarity.
To connect with oneself, for me, has thus seemed to mean connecting with myself in the embodied present and past. There are times when a moment can generate this: A smell, a taste, but most often a quality of light and certain darkness. A feeling of enclosure and scale, a sense of frozen time. And stillness, of course. Only in stillness have I been able to put the working mind to rest long enough for all the rest to follow.
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The House for All Seasons, as I’ve stated before, can be construed as a set of organs coordinated to provide vital functions for its inhabitants. This anatomic quality is even architecturally expressed by the uniformity of its skin – a membrane within which life is possible, almost as a closed system.
Trace a straight line from the Primitive Hut, through your own home, to the House for All Seasons, and continue it in the same direction. What is its endpoint? The primordial shelter protects against precipitation and perhaps predators and cold. My own home does all this while also providing the possibility for hygiene, tactile comfort, illumination, leisure, shared time, accumulated knowledge, and much, much more. The House for All Seasons does all this, plus producing its own food and fuel, making its own non-potable water, and heating its inhabitants of its own accord. If taken to the greatest extreme, where does this pursuit of total provision lead us? What when our house spoon-feeds us, or gives us oxygen, sustains our most basic vital functions? What type of home is that? As it turns out, it’s the one and only home we’ve all lived in.
Maybe this thinking was already present in the background as I started my explorations. I began with the house’s skin, translating it from brick to cardboard. Thin layers stacked one on top of the other produced a screen of diamond shaped openings, arranged in a diagonal grid. A simple change in the angle at which the layers were cut with respect to the cardboard’s grooves yielded a screen that would allow light through without permitting a direct view. Here light travels through oblique corkscrew tunnels, where the only light visible is that which disperses along their inner walls. The effect of dozens of layers together produces a glowing surface – something close to embers, or blood viewed through illuminated flesh.
Upon first seeing its effect in controlled light conditions, I felt that same familiarity, the same intimacy and the sense of being somehow outside of time that I’ve touched while lying on the floor in my room, concentrating on my body and my sight under darkness. The same connectedness that dissipates the stress of daily needs.
And here again, in some way I feel that what moved me about seeing the screen wasn’t so much the screen itself as what it reminded me of – whatever that is. The past reappears as an important player in the total awareness of the present, but the how and why remains enigmatic. What I know is that in the moment I first saw this new screen, the word that honestly came to me – as uncomfortably Freudian or maybe dramatic as it sounds – was womb.
I don’t pretend to read too far into that, but it does seem to be an organizing metaphor – whether deliberate or not – in my thinking and working as of late. In one way, the house pointed me to it from the first: A membrane within which life is possible as a closed system. In another way, womb is the best catch-all I’ve found for the conditions that bring me this unnamed stillness. The stillness itself is what matters – that’s what’s to be incorporated into the routine of life if we’re to have control and not be led astray by habit, impulse, or fear. I think a house of doings needs a space of not doing the same as a day of business needs a moment of rest.
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The direction going forward is to see how far brick can be taken in generating these conditions. The first attempt at translating the cardboard filter back into brick (as seen in the video) provided adequate filtration of light, but retained too visible a pattern of brightness and shadow. The next iteration will need to disperse light evenly in a uniform glow; the objective is flesh from brick.