Saturday, March 31, 2007

Domesticating Fear

They say a man’s home is his castle, although it might better be argued that with the technological infiltration of domestic activities aimed specifically at women in the fifties and sixties, that a woman’s home is her castle. Gender roles aside, Beatriz Colomina in her essay titled “The Underground Home” examines a concrete moment at the New York World’s Fair in 1964, where as a response to fear and as we will examine later the “outside”, the internalized and militarized home was at its most extreme.

Colomina takes us in for a closer look at “The Underground Home” a self explanatory product available for commercial sale all the way up through the 1980’s and on proud display as a model of the future at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing New York. In her examination she brings to light two important things which I would like to discuss further. The first is the infiltration of technology and war into the home and the ability to convert militarized invention into domesticated necessity. The second is a theme found commonly in reference to security and that is interiority versus exteriority.

In the 1960’s during the cold war, with the looming fear of near instant nuclear annihilation resulting in the popularity of digging your own bunker in the backyard, the Underground Home made its debut. It was a house that was defined by the nuclear age. Designed to both protect from the nuclear threat but also to use the latest in nuclear powered technology it was an interesting paradox. It represented the integration of war into the home and was a laboratory for technology. For example, due to the inability to have windows in the home inhabitants were able to “dial-a-view” and select from an array of pleasing scenes and it had its own internalized HVAC system completely eliminating the effects of exterior weather as if it were on par with nuclear fallout. Colomina explains that over time the battlefield for which the house was designed for changed to match the social context. In the 60’s it was nuclear fallout, in the 70’s it was energy efficiency against the oil crisis and in the 80’s it was ecological concerns. In doing this it engaged the house in combat. The home was an apparatus in the war. This was demonstrated in the powerful images by Martha Mosler in 1967 and again in 2004 for her piece titles “Bringing the War Home
. She accurately notes that “the increasing dematerialization of the house and the displacement of its traditional functions by new technologies of information is exactly matched by an increasing rematerialization at its borders and the emergence of ever more enclosing security systems” p126.

The heavy importance of the home in day to day life is one of the major factors in why technology was so heavily concentrated there. It’s where we spent all our time, it’s where we raised our families and it’s where we returned to at the end of every day. I wonder now though with the increasing tendency to spend less time at home and the resulting reduction in significance and meaning as “home” if this is necessarily true anymore. More and more it seems our homes are just a place where we keep our “stuff”. Now I realize that this might not be universally true or even the case the majority of the time but it is changing and it begs the question, is the home where we should be concentrating our efforts to secure and fortify? Is there a new location or a new scale where we retreat to for safety and shelter? Is it now the personal space that travels with us?

You would assume that when your house exists entirely underground, you might as well forget about having a yard or any exterior space at all. Well this wasn’t the case for the Underground Home. Colomina points out a rather interesting and important feature of the house, it had an outdoor patio. This Inside/Outside space confuses the indoor and outdoor but at the same time solidifies the importance of the interior. If when you’re “outside” your underground house but underground and therefore still inside, it highlights an extreme example of the interiorization of the home. It’s this turn inwards, the tendency to shut out the exterior or to tame it through captivity within the interior or as Colomina describes it “domesticating fear by controlling the image of the exterior and replacing it with an idealized image.” Pg124 So there are two ways which we protect ourselves in our homes, through excluding the exterior or taming it and by replacing it with our own image.

Neither of these options sound particularly healthy. They both seem to be symptoms of an attitude which encourages the lack of information and flexibility. It’s the home as a bunker, an immovable, un-responding object. Perhaps there are two ways this can go. If there is indeed an increasing tendency for technology now to focus more attention to the personal scale, then we might do best to forget about the home, or treat it for what it has become, a vault, and continue to develop our own personal security. If we still want to give architecture another stab at it, we must develop our security away from the home at the scale of the city or building. The other possibility is that we stay at home and use this history of technological concentration and get hip real quick. Protection in this day and age no longer necessarily means the thickest skin it’s about the most information. The home can be a place of comfort and information. We see this to some extent already, bringing the world into the home through internet communication and digital satellite cable with 700 channels. If the Underground Home functioned by surrounding the exterior with the interior then I say the new home must do the exact opposite. It’s now about bringing the interior to the exterior. The world is your backyard now and you know everything that happens in it.

1 comment:

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