If we let historian of the home Witold Rybczynski trace the origins of domestic architecture for us (or a component part of it at least) back to the 16th century and Andrea Palladio, we’ll conclude that look – particularly exterior look – was a principle concern. After all, prior to the mid-19th century, he notes, architecture was an art, not a profession, and was carried out by skilled amateurs (dilettantes) whose knowledge was of historical precedents rather than of construction. In fact, Andrea Palladio left no information in his books regarding the interior of his buildings – once the size and shape of rooms had been decided upon, it appears the further arrangement was left up to the owner.1
However, we should not let this information lead us to believe that domestic architecture was – or is – exclusively aesthetic. Size and shape are components of a wider plan of organisation, along with – as architectural theorist Robin Evans has discussed – other spatial devices such as the interconnectivity of rooms, the number and placement of doors, and the presence of passageways. These, he argues, were not just there to delight the eye, but to intentionally serve important domestic and social relationships; to influence behaviour and experience. The passageway, to give an example, would not just create an enfiladed open space with a pleasingly receding perspective, but provide an alternative circulation path which would physically separate the served and the servant2.
As the house evolved into what it is today – from the medieval dwelling up, as well as from the palace down – its intellectual and emotional range flourished, allowing a range of desirable individual sensual perceptions to take hold – notions such as privacy, intimacy, delight, wellbeing, comfort and belonging3.
Qualities such as these, I propose, lie at the root of the desire for looks. And though there has to be an aesthetic outcome – for architecture must look of something – these qualities do more than just float on the surface; they exist innately, within the bones.
This journal is about two of my interests – architecture and home.
For some time I kept these two separated because I was unsure about entangling them. For one thing, there were occasional veiled reminders that Australian housing might not be so interested in the attention of architects: “You do know”, a tutor would tut-tut, “… that only 3% of houses in Australia are designed by an architect?” (The AACA says 5-10%3 – it changes depending on who is doing the tut-tutting). Though another thing – the ubiquity of housing itself; its’ obviousness as an object of architectural fascination – also bothered me.
Of course the student of architecture is keen on houses… vets, for example, are pretty keen on dogs?
“People assume that all the time”, said my friend, a vet; “dogs are alright… though what I’m really interested in is disease.”
I see now that we should not over-simplify our professions, and want what my friend, the vet, has – an understanding of the underlying basis for my interests.
Though there does indeed appear to be a modern preoccupation for the look of things alone, with the mainstream contemporary media – TV shows, glossy magazines, Instagram and online articles (often with vapid titles like ‘The Ten Most Envy-Inducing Architectural Homes of Last Year’ perpetuating the superficial implications of the designed house – it cannot be entirely blamed for any of our personal assumptions regarding ‘look’.
Vision is, after all, a vital mechanism by which many other (non-visual, desirable) qualities might come to be understood. Though carefully composed and clipped frames might only suggest to us the full sensual realities of the spaces on offer, this is not the fault of screens or paper – it is up to our experience and intelligence to fill in the blanks.
1. Rybczynski, W. (2002). The Perfect House, Scribner.
2. Evans, R. (1978). Figures, Doors and Passages. Translations From Drawing To Buildings And Other Essays.
3. Rybczynski, W. (1986). Home, Penguin.
4. “Architecture in Australia.” from http://comparison.aaca.org.au/industry-profile.