Posts Tagged ‘anthropology’

The Comfort of Things, by Daniel Miller

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Geometric pattern on bedroom storage doors

NYC loft from OWI, Office of Word and Image

“We live today in a world of ever more stuff – what sometimes seems a deluge of goods and shopping. We tend to assume that this has two results: that we are more superficial, and that we are more materialistic, our relationships to things coming at the expense of our relationships to people. We make such assumptions, we speak in cliches, but we have rarely trid to put these assumptions to the test. By the time you finish this book you will discover that, in many ways, the opposite is true; that possessions often remain profound and usually the closer our relationships are with objects, the closer our relationships with people.”

Aalto's Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland

Shelves in house on Vancouver Island

Quote above is from The Comfort of Things by Daniel Miller, a UK anthropologist. Thanks to my friend Keith and his “Domestic Spaces” reading group for telling me about this book. I’m not convinced it’s not a tiny bit overoptimistic, but it’s entertaining and provocative. Its finding that belongings and decor both reflect and enhance social relationships is a relief from a perhaps puritan, protestant view that decor and acquisitiveness are an alienated substitute for those very relationships. Find the book here.

PS This doesn’t mean we should all go out and consume a lot of crap! For a more theoretical critique of why we collect, see Susan Stewart’s book On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection.

Photos here are from Flickr; click on them for more information. Exception is Glenn and Gina O’Brien in the swinging chair, by Todd Selby.


Italian architect Egle Amaldi's own living room

Vintage Tapestry for the cottage

Stereo wall, 70s living room

“… [Our subjects] put up ornaments; they laid down carpets. They selected furnishing and got dressed that morning. Some things may be gifts or objects retained from the past, but they have decided to live with them, to place them in lines or higgledy-piggledy; they made the room minimalist or crammed to the gills. These things are not a random collection. They have been gradually accumulated as an expression of that person or household.”

Seating platform, house of sculptor Sydney Butche

Roald Dahl's writing shed, picture gallery

SF loft, wood desk, Frankenstein painting

Tudor hunting folly

The Japanese live comfortably in tiny spaces. Could we?

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

traditional japanese farmhouse

In the western world, 750 sq ft apartments can seem really small, even for just two people. The excerpt below is from an interesting article by Nold Egenter, a Swiss architectural anthropologist, on the cultural influences that allow the Japanese to live comfortably in what North Americans would consider small spaces. From the traditional peasant farmer’s wooden house, above, to contemporary tiny houses and apartments in contemporary Tokyo, Japanese living spaces have often measured less than 500 or 600 square feet, and yet they easily house a whole family. How is this possible?

Several years ago a study of the European Community concluded that the Japanese live in “rabbit cages.” The study was based essentially on statistical research which showed that the average dwelling space for a family in urban agglomerations hardly amounts to 40 square meters [430 sq. ft.]. Great astonishment! “Why do two out of three Japanese affirm that they like their life and that in general they are content?” In view of the fact that in Europe today a corresponding family needs roughly 100 square meters [1000 sq. ft.] – that is to say, two and a half times as much – one could ask the counter question: Do we waste space? Why does the average urban family in Japan manage with so much less dwelling surface and still feel comfortable? In such purely quantitative comparisons, it is often overlooked that spatial needs are closely related to the constructive design, and this is determined by the specific cultural tradition. To illustrate this point there is hardly any better example than that of Japan. Its architectural heritage and its dwelling culture developed under entirely different cultural and geographical conditions from those with which we are familiar.

Environmental and economic constraints are forcing us away from the sprawling way we have lived over the past century. If Negenter is right (to read his whole article, click at the end of this post), both architecture and dwelling habits have to change in order to make city living in small spaces more workable, and that obviously won’t happen overnight (though apparently it’s happening already). North American apartment, house and condo architecture would have to change, and so would our daily tools, appliances, expectations and habits. Nearly every design magazine and design blog now constantly revisits the question of how to live in fewer square feet, but perhaps what is needed is a much less piecemeal approach, and something that goes a little deeper than the “ten tips for living small” approach.

Tiny Tokyo house by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima

Bump House, Tokyo

The houses shown here are larger than many Japanese apartments. They are spacious by Japanese standards but still tiny by North American standards. All are less than 1000 square feet inside, some much less, and all make use of previously unused empty urban lots. The tiny white Tokyo house at top is by Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima, whose most recent project is the New Museum in New York (great picture of her by Annie Liebowitz here). Directly above is the relatively large Bump house, (900 sq ft) and below is a tiny house by Sschemata (760 sq ft). I suspect they’re all white because it makes them seem larger. See Apartment Therapy on 300 sq. ft. houses, and see also a great post on increasing the perceived size of a house through Japanese building techniques – the videos show a number of tiny urban Japanese houses. Top ten ways Japanese live small is here. And a small article here by O.N. Gillespie, author of The Japanese House. North American example? Tumbleweed Tiny Houses.

Tokyo house by Sschemata