Advanced Design Studio: Aureli

Aureli: Houston

Production/Reproduction: How to Live Together


Design and Visualization



with Aidan Doyle

Course Description

1. Introduction

In his famous  Zur Wohnungsfrage (The Housing Question), Friedrich Engels argues that it makes little sense to approach the question of housing with the simple intent of making better homes for workers. For Engels there is no working class or socialist architecture to be made: there is only a class critique of architecture and the city. Engels’s admonition has resonated through the history of architecture and urban planning throughout the last century, by depriving these disciplines of the possibility to come up with incisive policies about social reform. Although Engels’s admonition must be taken as a forceful invitation to not be naïve about housing and its role within a capitalistic society, we should not overlook the house itself as a fundamental locus of economy. Before it extended to the whole population, the concept of economy referred to the organization of domestic space. In the Oeconomica, a text attributed to Aristotle or one of his disciples, economy is distinguished from politics as the house (oikos) is distinguished from the city (polis). Economy thus coincides with housekeeping: the management of the household; a role within the history of Western Civilization assigned to women. This gender discrimination has always been powerful because relationships within the family and the house have always been defined as “natural” since they support the most basic human condition: the reproduction of the species. Yet as Dolores Hayden as argued in her seminal book The Grand Domestic Revolution, “Cooking food, caring for children, and clearing the house, task often thought as “woman’s work” to be performed without pay in domestic environments, have always been a major part in the world’s necessary labor”. The “intimacy” of the house as the locus of reproduction is here indentified not only as a place of exploitation and gender discrimination, but also as a fundamental asset of production at large. While domestic and affective labor have always been naturalized within the intimacy of the domestic, its social relevance within modern and contemporary economy is immense. This is why within industrial (and post-industrial) society the house remains the epicenter of both economic and political conflicts. We can argue that even more than public space, domestic space is where the political manifests itself with the most urgency within contemporary life. Such urgency is not only about the affordability of homes for dispossessed people, but also what forms of life we can imagine beyond the existing paradigm. The great lesson of material feminism was to approach these issues from the basic aspects of dwelling. By focusing on different organization of households, material feminism saw the architecture of the house (and the relationships it entails), as a ground for a much larger social reform. Beside the historical context of this particular case study, what emerges from the attempts at reforming the household is a more general question about housing—how do we live together?  Is the reproductive function of the house something we should exclude from societies capacity to produce? Can it be excluded?  What are the juridical, social and spatial conditions that define the ways we cohabit? Is the family apartment or the single family house the only two options for urban living?

2. The project of the Domestic

Departing from the rich legacy of emancipatory movements in the United States, our Spring studio asks that we rethink the architecture of domestic space as way to imagine alternative forms of life. The studio will begin with a rigorous study of the house as both an economic/political apparatus and an architectural space and will encourage students to propose different modes of housing within our contemporary condition. A great emphasis will be given to the role of the house and housing within the context of American cities.  While the history of European cities has largely been shaped by the invention and development of Public Space, the evolution of  the American city has been largely driven by the politics of home-ownership. The studio will focus on the city of Houston which is one of the most “archetypical” American cities, which embodies the most relevant forces and conflicts that have shaped urbanity in the United States. Houston embodies a city with no zoning, no urban rules at large, but where economic, political and racial factors have strictly determined the form of the city.

At the beginning of the semester, we will propose a list of sites that are topical for the purpose of the studio. After a careful study of the city, each student (or group of students) will propose a specific proposal to tackle housing problems within the city. Houston is a city that more than any other city in the US has both industrial and post-industrial tendencies since it is the home of a very important port and the most important medical center in the world. Moreover in the last years Houston has seen the rise of the arts as fundamental asset of the city.

In the past Houston was the topic of numerous urban and architectural studies. In his book After the city, urban theorist Lars Lerup elected Houston as a paradigm of the condition of post-city in which (car) circulation and family homes become the two most important social tenets of the urban condition. In his book Ladders Albert Pope has demonstrated how radically different the urban condition of the post-industrial city is from its predecessor: the Metropolis. We might say that Houston represents—in its most concise and extreme form—the 20th century capitalist city. It is a city in which concepts of individualism, home ownership and suburbanization are the sine qua non of development. The challenge of the studio is to rethink this condition not by large-scale reform or planning, but by the careful reform of domestic space itself. The hypothesis put forward by the studio is that by changing the nature of the domestic, more general issues about political economy and governance will be questioned.  What forms of life can be imagined as alternatives to the one enacted by the single family house? Is it possible to live together with social relationships that do not rely on the family as the only form of human association? Finally, can we imagine a new “Grand Domestic Revolution” within the current of today’s insurgent political forces?

3. Research Structure

3.1 Houston as a Paradigm
The studio will be conducted as a Thesis studio, which means that the students are responsible for their own brief.  The brief is an integral component of the project and it cannot be assumed as a ready-made starting point for design. The first month of the studio will be dedicated to the study of Houston as a paradigmatic urban condition. Research will be organized into three trajectories—urban politics, urban form and specific projects of housing in the US. Following Albert Pope’s reading of what he defined as the Ladder phenomena, we will study the urban researches developed by Ludwig Hilberseimer in US and other radical approaches to the suburban condition. Along these research topics, a more general field of research will be the relationship between gender and space. The goal of this first enquiry is to define Houston as a paradigmatic model of 20th century urbanization. The studio assume that only by conceptualizing the existing city it will be possible to define a possible project for its future. 

3.2 A Project for Houston
After the field-trip each group of students will develop a brief by focusing on a specific subject. A subject is not simply the ‘user’, but is the theme around which to define the purpose of the project. The history of housing has always been defined by the rise of specific subjects and their form of life. In order to define a contemporary project for housing the definition of a subject is therefore a necessary precondition. While the studio will provide five themes in the form of five kinds of living conditions, each group will select one of those themes and develop them towards the definition of specific subjects.

Some examples include : single living, family, temporary living, living and working

By focusing on one of these themes, each group of students will develop a domestic prototype whose goal is a wider application within the city urban form.
Each prototype should clearly articulate a specific living condition that challenges current housing habits. Although the prototype will be developed as an architectural example the premises for the latter are to be define through careful analysis of the subject(s) at stake. Prototypes should express the student groups positions about fundamental issues of living, how the subject move through space, how the subject inhabit space, how the subject experience space. These issues should not be expressed literally with diagrams, but addressed by the means of architecture: walls, spaces, passages, etc. We expect this exercise to test the utmost basic conditions of architecture: enclosure, separation, and inhabitation. A fundamental aspect that must be taken in consideration is comfort in a domestic interior. Comfort can be understood as having a space that is generous in size, but also as owning an individual room of one’s own no matter how small; it can be conceived as quantity or quality of lighting, as the possibility of silence, or as the presence of a significant view from one’s window. Comfort can be living together, or being able to live alone. Comfort can be flexibility, but also a strong, defined architectural form that does not compromise with function. The answer for this question, as open as it might sound, is not at all value free: it depends on the cultural context of the project, as well as on the argument that each student will put forward. Therefore the elaboration of an idea of interior – both from the architectural and the environmental point of view – will be at the core of this year advance studio. The relationship between immaterial needs, ambitions, and desires, and the movement of the body in space, its physical presence in a specific place, is at the root of such a research. The goal of the studio is to develop a strategic plan for Houston that uses the prototypes as complementary parts.