Bodies in-[Habit]ation

As I write this, I also begin to calculate my strategic approach to tonight’s shower. I find myself listening intently for the interactions of my housemates, each footstep with a different weight and each door with a different sound of closure.

My calculations are on account of efficiency. The ambiguous, transitional spaces of our cruciform plan house are anybody’s for the taking. Sites of socialisation that can derail any study break, twisting and contorting time-space reality into hours of smack-talking. You enter at your own risk.

In a house now 90 years old, no effort is required in my techniques of surveillance. Our old, broad hardwood floors speak not only of what was once a grand house, but produce an audio mapping of social-spatial interaction. Bodies tracked through space, through sound.

These micro-scale interactions of dwelling are products of in-[habit]ation. The site of a house, the domestic centre, has long been understood as a spatialisation of domestic relationships and the further reinforcement of these on the body.[1]

It is this historical premise, the typology of the house as an archetype of the body’s interaction with build form that Austrian architect, the late Raimund Abraham explored in his poem ‘Elements of a House’ and accompanying drawings, ‘The Imaginary House’.[2]

Raimund Abraham, The Elements of a House, 1972

Abraham frames his spatial explorations of domestic typology through identifying the body’s role in space; as a form of potential and actual action.[3] These are listed in his poem.

Well, habitation for me is about ritual. In terms of interpreting the program for a house, if you think in terms of bedrooms and bathrooms and living rooms and garages, then you are already doomed. We have to talk about sleeping, about eating, about cooking, no? Living room, I never understood what that meant, because you live everywhere.’ [4]

With four unrelated persons living in a three-bedroom house (programmed in ‘terms of bedrooms and bathrooms and living rooms’), our living arrangements provide an example of the changing state of the ritual of dwelling which take place in stagnant built forms. These spatial interactions are tacked on and made to cope. The traditional dining converted into a bedroom, the master room inhabited by a bedroom and home office and a sleepout abutted to the walls of the existing which absorbs the modern needs of a 750 x 600mm fridge, study space and laundry.

Our own patterns of dwelling are prevalent not only in the social makeup of our own household. ‘Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors’, a publication by UCLA in America, studied the spatial and temporal relationships of domestic households.[5] This study identified ‘vanishing leisure’ and ‘kitchens as command centres’, in which traditional programmatic elements of the house such as ‘living rooms’ are replaced with informal social interaction in the kitchen, making up 48% of the time spent indoors, the ‘single most intensively used space’.[6]


‘Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century: 32 Families Open Their Doors ‘, Kitchen As Command Centres, 2012

In a TV-less house, ‘vanishing leisure’ correlates to the radical shift of technology and the inbuilt relationship of the body and its new appendage. Entertainment has become spatially and technologically individual, through singular mobile devices, stratified apps and individual Netflix avatars. Technology as communication has worn off for us. The occasional relatable video, an update of bills to SplitWise or the more common ‘has the cat been fed’ message shows a functional use of our virtual mobility.

These studies and my own experience of ritual and dwelling identify domestic realities that do not conform to the archetype of domestic space. My physical interactions occur in areas undesignated. Corridors and the kitchen, spaces of intentional and incidental interaction.

Our house/bodies become a conflict of human agency against environmental determination.

‘The Elements become the House itself, transformed into simultaneous projections of Room, Window, Wall, Sky, Earth, Stair, Door. And within this total fusion of objects and sensations, bodies are transmuted into forms. ‘[7]


/references + see more

[1] Robin Evans, Translations from Drawing to Building (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1997), accessed April 11, 2019, https://emthesis.files.wordpress.com/2008/11/evans-figures-doors-and-passages.pdf.

[2] Abraham, Raimund, Norbert Miller, and Brigitte Groihofer. Un-Built. Wien: Springer, 1996.

[3] Juhani, Pallasmaa. The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses. Chichester, England: John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

[4] Abraham, Raimund. Raimund Abraham. Interview by Carlos Brillembourg. BOMB, October 1, 2001, 58-65. Accessed April 11, 2019. https://www.jstor.org/stable/40426617.

[5] Jeanne E. Arnold, LIFE AT HOME IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: 32 Families Open Their Doors (Los Angeles, America: Casemate Academic, 2012).

[6] Ibid. 92

[7] Abraham, Raimund, Norbert Miller, and Brigitte Groihofer. Un-Built. Wien: Springer, 1996.

Images –

[1] Raimund Abraham, “The Elements of the House, 1972,” digital image, Tumblr, June 30, 2011, accessed April 12, 2019, https://ethel-baraona.tumblr.com/post/7076979748/the-elements-of-the-house-poem-written-by-raimund.

[2] Raimund Abraham, “The House with Curtains Project, Perspective, 1972,” digital image, MoMA, accessed April 12, 2019, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/791.

[3] Raimund Abraham, “The House with Three Walls, Perspective, 1972,” digital image, The Death of Drawing, accessed April 12, 2019, http://deathofdrawing.com/raimund-abraham-drawings-2/.

[4] Raimund Abraham, “The House without Rooms Project, Elevation and Plan, 1974,” digital image, MoMA, accessed April 12, 2019, https://www.moma.org/collection/works/792.

[5] Jeanne E. Arnold, LIFE AT HOME IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY: 32 Families Open Their Doors (Los Angeles, America: Casemate Academic, 2012). 93.

[6] Lesley-Claire Howard, Our Kitchen, 2019, Socio-Spatial Relationships

[7] Lesley-Claire Howard, Our ‘Living’, 2019, Socio-Spatial Relationships