Home: Things & Bodies A thing-based exploration into personal space
Research stage: final doctoral stage
Category: Extended abstract
“As from when does somewhere become truly yours? Is it when you’ve put your three pairs of socks to soak in a pink plastic bowl? Is it when you’ve heated up your spaghetti over a Campingaz? Is it when you’ve used up all the non-matching hangers in the cupboard? Is it when you’ve drawing-pinned to the wall an old postcard showing Carpaccio’s Dream of St. Ursula? Is it when you’ve experienced there the throes of anticipation, or the exaltations of passion, or the torments of a toothache? Is it when you’ve hung suitable curtains up on the windows, and put up the wallpaper, and sanded the parquet flooring?”
– Georges Perec, Species of Spaces, 1974.
When a house becomes home? Perec does not have the answer, but whether it is through occupation, use, ritualisation, identification, experience or personalisation that a space becomes one's own, what he is sure of is that human engagement with space depends on the relations with the things that are there. (Perec 2001).
We live among, together and through things. They live with us at home, and create a home in and from where to live (Bachelard 1983). The everyday mediation of our objects allows us to construct our identities and to participate in society. They are not merely value holders or functional devices; they are crucial entities for understanding social practices, which requires “the intrusive investigation of the particular and diverse ways in which this intimate relationship is being developed” (Miller 2001: 1-23). Reflecting on our things gives us the chance to reflect on our lives. The material culture within personal space is reckoned as both problem and solution: daily habits reproduce prejudices and social conventions, but they are also an opportunity for revolution and transformation (Highmore 2010: 226-228).
As we spend time with objects, they embed in our everyday, melt in our routines and disappear, becoming hard to perceive and evaluate. “As they circulate through our lives, we look through objects, but we only catch a glimpse of things” (Brown 2004: 4). It is only when an object breaks that it asserts itself as ‘thing’, referring to a particular subject-object relation rather than to a particular object (what it does rather than what it is), manifesting its ‘thingness’ as material and social entity that can be approached through its relational and performative qualities.
The closer our things are to us, the more we shape them, while being shaped by them (Bachelard 1983, Miller 2001, Brown 2004, Latour 2007). Things are neither what we think they are, nor are they fully autonomous. They exist in constantly shifting networks of relationships with other not-only-human materials, defining social situations together. This means that things have agency to “authorize, allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible, forbid and so on” (Latour 2007: 72); they invite affordances but also compel. Therefore, “if design is a form of making things, it is also a means for shaping agency” (Atzmon and Boradkar 2014) – and at home, for shaping lives.
My thesis begins with an historical study of western domesticity, that reveals the vital role of objects, not only in the specification and production of domestic space, but also in the invention and perpetuation of socioeconomic models beyond it, and moreover, in the manifestation, critique and transformation of these from personal space. Over time, different meanings of objects appear, helping us to understand the precise ways in which the reception, accommodation and use of things produce home: ritual, identity, memory, family, comfort, status, order, function, style, transgression, satisfaction, saturation… and the return to ritual in times of (post)pandemic.
My proposal arises as counter-action to the current tendency towards sameness, shortage and detachment from domestic space of the social individual, in a time when it starts to become clear that there are less reasons to build, and more reasons to make better use and enjoyment of what we have. I therefore seek to adapt and transform existing dwelling by working with the relationships, scale and arrangement of things, in order to activate social processes of engagement with space and avoiding static solutions. My goal is not to redefine standards but to develop individual solutions, which will surely relate to others, not by generalisation but from the acknowledgment of a diversity of identities and ways of living.
From a phenomenological perspective (which defines the relationship of the body we inhabit with other bodies and things as defining and transforming the experience of home) and following new material and topological approaches (ANT, Thing Theory, Sociology of Space… – supposedly at odds with the first one – focused on the relationships between more-than-humans and their agencies), I aim to formulate a thing-based conceptual and methodological design-tool for the identification and consolidation of the personal experience of inhabiting through the development of ‘domestic repairs’.
I define ‘repair’ as an arrangement, mending or reconstruction, understood in relation to the concept of ‘affair’, related to an inappropriate affection and intimate relation between coinhabiting entities. For me, a ‘domestic repair’ is a design intervention that, albeit with breakages, manages (with few resources and standard components) to accommodate a current need or desire in a non-ideal but successful way, alluding to the specific dispositions and abilities of the entities involved, and at the same time, making the particular need or desire clearly manifest, so it can be celebrated and shared with others that enter the relation.
The notion of ‘domestic repair’ is built up through my experience as inhabitant and architect, studying and reflecting on history, theory, methods and practice, along a series of design cases in which I work on specific domestic scenarios. There, I document misfitting people-things interactions, and I translate them into design interventions that produce a ‘repair’ (fig. 1): the rearrangement of a material and social setting that recognizes, supports and communicates a previously-misfitting set of events and practices to create home.
The first design case “Defne, Christopher and Ela” explores the way in which objects define social situations. It is a furniture piece that translates the animated life of a family into an object-based material setting.
The second design case “Lorza” investigates the entanglement between material world and experience. It is a spatial installation that connects worn-out domestic textiles with personal memories, in order to investigate the universal notion of one’s home as a space for thing-body intimacy and care in a phenomenological way.
The third design case “Matthias” defines the notion of domestic repair. It is a spatial intervention that follows the direct consolidation of the observation of an old oven being used as improvised storage into a shelving skin. It embraces the ‘inappropriateness’ of the observed situation while responding to the inherent constructive logic of the shelf itself.
The fourth design case “Marta” provides the tools for documenting thing-body relations. It is an apartment renovation based on the exploration of the territory of a bed(room). By producing line-drawings, I trace, flat and melt objects, people, forms and functions. I reconsider the relations of the bed to other things and spaces in the apartment, to finally re-position it at the very entrance.
The fifth design case “Inga and Petri” establishes a method for rearranging thing-body relations into ‘domestic repairs’ and their evaluation. It is an apartment renovation based on the documentation of the shared-parenting routines of a father and his child. The entry wardrobe is transformed into a kid’s room that works as performative spatial device for conciliating wants and responsibilities among family members with very different needs for independence and care.
The design, execution, evaluation and comparison of these five cases structure my learnings and enable the formulation of the sought-after tool, which aims to open a relational research path into the contribution of the material world of objects to the personal experience of inhabiting through thing-based production of personal space.
Figure 1: Diagram of the tool. Marta Fernández Guardado.
Figure 2: Defne, Christoph and Ela. Project by Marta Fernández Guardado and Diogo Passarinho. Photos by Philipp Jester.
Figure 3: Lorza. Project by Marta Fernández Guardado and Matthias Ballestrem. Photos by Marta Fernández Guardado.
Figure 4: Lorza. Project by Marta Fernández Guardado and Matthias Ballestrem. Photos by Søren Svendsen.
Figure 5: Matthias. Project and photos by Marta Fernández Guardado.
Figure 6: Matthias. Project, drawings and photos by Marta Fernández Guardado.
Figure 7: Marta. Project and drawings by Marta Fernández Guardado.
Figure 8: Marta. Project and photos by Marta Fernández Guardado.
Figure 9: Inga and Petri. Project and drawings by Marta Fernández Guardado (drawing on the left based on Inga’s drawing).
Figure 10: Inga and Petri. Project and photos by Marta Fernández Guardado.
Figure 11: Cover: Drawings of different projects. Marta Fernández Guardado.
Perec, Georges (2001): Especies de espacios (Species of Spaces), Barcelona: Montesinos.
Bachelard, Gaston (1983): La Poética del Espacio (The Poetics of Space), México D.F.: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
Miller, Daniel (Ed.) (2001): Home possessions: Material Culture Behind Closed Doors, Oxford: Berg.
Highmore, Ben (2010): Ordinary Lives. Studies in the Everyday, New York: Routledge.
Brown, Bill (2004): “Thing Theory” in: Brown, Bill (Ed.) Things, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Latour, Bruno (2007): Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, New York: Oxford University Press Inc.
Atzmon, Leslie / Boradkar, Prasad (2014): “A Design Encounter with Thing Theory” in: Design and Culture, vol. 6, no. 2 (07.2014), pp. 141-152.