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“A House is not a Home”

“A chair is still a chair, even when there’s no one sittin’ there
But a chair is not a house and a house is not a home
When there’s no one there to hold you tight
And no one there you can kiss goodnight.”

Written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, this lyric was sung by Dionne Warwick (before her days as shill for the Psychic Friends Network) as the theme for a 1964 movie of the same name. I was nineteen and the film, about the life of (in)famous 20s madam Polly Adler, must have made an impression, because I can still hear the melody in my mind’s ear. But it’s simple message is all too true: I’ve been in several houses that weren’t homes and vice versa. The evocative real-photo postcard above seems the ideal combination, and so I’ve conscripted it for Agincourt’s housing stock.

Long observation tells me that designing a home is one of the two most difficult tasks for a student of architecture. Such projects ought not be assigned casually nor undertaken with a presumption of success. I spent the first eighteen years of my life in the same house, my home despite the dysfunctional family who lived there. And its idiosyncrasies are imbedded in my memory, as much as those of the family that dwelt in it. It’s difficult to distinguish one from the other. And so I accept both as the comfort of old shoes; long since gone from fashion, they fit in all the proper places.

Another important lesson, a revelation, really, but falling in the category of “forensics”, comes from the act of interpreting the interior of the house: what is likely going on in there that can be intuited from its exterior features? Visual clues come from the overall mass and proportions of the house, its pattern (rhythms) of door and window openings, and an understanding of domestic life from the period in question; expectations of space and functional relationships vary with time, location, and social standing. One could anticipate differences in these patters to be reflected in the housing stock of a community like Agincourt — presuming a degree of typicality.

That, I suppose, remains to be proved.

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