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  • Writer's pictureAngella Darling J

Home - A reflection of self

’The Architecture of Happiness’ by the Swiss-British philosopher Alain de Botton is a book that discusses in detail about the philosophies that govern our sensibilities in space and architecture. It begins with a criticism on the significance of architecture as a poetic expression, about how a home is like a creature that is held witness to the lives of its inhabitants and as the inhabitants change, it also rearranges itself to adapt to it. Botton elaborates on how a home is not a singular concept for everyone, nor an objective one. Despite being closely associated with words like sanctuary or comfort, it is often a very incoherent and paradoxical concept. Home is only really missed or appreciated in the absence of it, its omnipresence masks its value.

In this article I intend to dwell upon the chapter titled ’The Ideals of Home’ in the book. In this chapter of the book the author intends to raise the question of why do we get affected by spaces much to our own inconvenience at times? Why do humans need to find happiness in spaces that we like? Why do we look for pieces of ourselves in spaces that we occupy?

A bedroom at The Eco-House at Kottayam

He puts forward arguments on various facets. Our sensitivity to our surroundings may be traced back to a troubling feature of human psychology: to the way we harbor within us many different selves, not all of which feel equally like "us", so much so that in certain moods, we can complain of having come adrift from what we judge to be our true selves.

The ones we feel the most in tune with are the ones that we picture ourselves the closest to be. But fortunately, or unfortunately, it is not within our capabilities to summon these selves at our own will, this is where architecture or space steps in.

Certain aspects of our own authentic self are often brought to the forefront only when prompted by soaring walls or drab rough flooring, for instance. When surrounded by wastelands as far as your eye can see one may start to forget how they ever had ambitions or dreams to begin with, the space will start chipping at one’s optimism and will to survive.

To all this we can add the thought that our need for a home arises out of a vulnerability and a lack of solid identity. The author states how the idea of a home is a necessity in a psychological sense as much as in a physical sense. We need a refuge from the world’s commitments to order ourselves and keep alive the desired versions of ourselves.

Take an instance of how a well maintained, well-lit and comfortable home can make you feel calm and at peace at the end of a stressful day. The said space need not even be exceptional in its appearance for it to simply embody the feeling of home, there is no connection whatsoever between the concepts of beauty and home to be precise. As we have many times heard, home is not so much a place but a feeling. Home need not even be a ‘home’ per se; it could be your favorite cafe or the library for that matter. Home is defined as a space that is the most harmonious with your own ideas of well-being. One that legitimizes one’s idea of their true identity. In fact, it could be the exact opposite of a conventional home – for example we have often heard of people claiming the road to be their home, sharing a space with others similarly lost in thought, similarly distanced from society: a common isolation that makes one feel less alone in their loneliness. Some even thrive in this anonymity and the lack of domesticity.

" What we call a home is merely any place that succeeds in making more consistently available to us the important truths which the wider world ignores, or which our distracted and irresolute selves have trouble holding on to." Alain de Botton

Now, at Elemental we enjoy this process of discovering and exploring this idea of self in our clients. The thought process that the clients invariably go through while describing and discussing what they want their homes to be like is a very intriguing manifestation of this core idea. There is also a fine balance to maintain while taking up clients because this sense of self also needs to complement the core ideologies and beliefs of the firm as well. Therefore, it is with utmost care that we explore this stage of the process.

Each of our projects have a particular theme or conceptual framework that is followed for the entirety of the design. While the manifestation of the design is in the hands of the team, the theme itself is always based on the client interactions and their visions. The story of their lives, their values etc are extremely important factors while deciding on the kind of approach that needs to be adopted for each project.

This can be easily demonstrated through our projects, how the clients and their stories have influenced the way the project has bloomed. Aurora, the home under construction at Pookattupady, is an excellent example of how the client’s personality has affected the design decisions.

Aurora, under construction at Pookattupady, Kerala

The client, being a retired diplomat who has worked around the globe since the past 3-4 decades, wanted a home in her hometown, one that celebrated her homecoming, one that signified her reunion with her family and one that reflected her ideologies and principles in life. The home reflects their open worldview and welcoming nature with its open layout and breezy spaces. Located in the suburban town of Pookkattupady, the home reflects the kind of openness and warmth that the family shares in their outlook towards life. There is a clear and strict demarcation between the public and private spaces in the home which reflects on the client’s ideals of a strict work pattern that she followed all these years and now has returned to lead a life close to her family.

Lalitya, under construction at Kannur, Kerala

In our project Lalitya in Kannur, the client, a doctor by profession, wanted the spaces to reflect his ideologies of a modest living without compromising on any comforts or privacy. The family wanted the spaces to be spread out, incorporating nature outside into the interior spaces forming a dialogue between the indoor and the outdoor. As a response the interiors are kept subtle with neutral color furniture to stick to more modest sensibilities.

Ninaiv, under construction at Dallas, Texas

The interior design project at Texas, Ninaiv was entirely based on the couple's Tamil/ Indian identity that they wanted to be reflected in their home. The home is therefore designed as an ode to their upbringing. The central theme followed was very ethnically driven and inspired by traditional Indian totems and art. The client’s need to stay grounded to their roots was what defined their idea of home and thereby the entire design.

Like the author points out in the book,

"At its most genuine, the architectural impulse seems connected to a longing for communication and commemoration, a longing to declare ourselves to the world through a register other than words - an ambition to let others know who we are - and in the process to remind ourselves."

We have come to believe that as much as people tend to project their homes as a status symbol, it is also a very genuine effort at discovering who they are in the truest sense, and a means to document their existence in this ever-expanding universe.

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