Living Like an Artist
future tense design
If our housing conditions are good, we will live longer and better. Although it is a statistical fact that good housing conditions can lead to a longer life, it has not yet been proven that they will also lead to a better life. Statistical research is not relevant for testing the second part of the assumption, as it is only interested in averages. For answering our question, we should look at the peaks, at the people who are able to stay productive throughout their lives. Living Like an Artist uses the lives of ageing artists as educational material, examining them in order to find out whether good housing conditions really do extend vitality.
This is important information, because today we – individuals and politicians –are encouraging people to continue living in their own homes for as long as possible. The lobby for realising new-build homes is in full swing, with obstruction-free access, continued independence and the prevention of loneliness as important technical and social criteria. But there is one crucial, predetermined condition for the design that is profoundly restrictive: you are only allowed to use a home as a place of residence. Ever since domestic industries were outcompeted by large companies, creative production has also been banned from our homes. The first condition for good housing is a multi-functional living environment. No studio, no artist.
Within the context of formal scientific education, referential research would consist of a historical examination of the artist’s house as a buildingtypology. The downside of this approach is that the source material only describes the physical shape right after completion. Any analysis of the building’s use is therefore purely based on assumptions. Thanks to a collaboration between the Van Eyck Mirror and Maastricht University, we were able to analyse 10 lives lived in an artist’s house. The interdisciplinary working method consisting of walking interviews offers an insight into the architecture after it has been adjusted by the artist. Therefore, the analysis is not just focused on the architect’s design, but also on the continuation of this design by the artist: the designing process as a kind of pentimento.
What we have learned from the analysis is where the standard spatial arrangement is satisfactory, and where the user may feel the need to reappropriate the design. We, the designers, concluded that by ourselves we are unable to determine what good housing conditions are. This translated into a need for spaces without a predetermined purpose; not thinking in terms of rooms, but in terms of situations. The artist’s homes also contain (re)discoveries of spatial shapes with regard to room types or building elements that may enrich the standard functional lay-out. In order to encourage the resident’s involvement, it is necessary to create an unfinished design that offers scope for reappropriation of the space.
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” Søren Kierkegaard
And yet we continue our designing efforts. Our research has led to a designing exercise concerning a multi-functional row house for which the (re)discovered, idiosyncratic residential types rather than the building regulations formed the point of departure. Using these building blocks opened up possibilities for new spatial arrangements. The exhibited scale models are the 4 best designs for homes that encourage talent development, interpretation and rearrangement. Even splitting off part of the structure is an optional scenario. These are designed dialogues between construction and use, between built frameworks and offering the scope to reappropriate a space in hope of continued vitality.
client: Van Eyck Mirror