Time, Objects and the Experience of the Home

Friday 9th Sept, 16.30-18.00, Room CG06

Chair: Dr Leah Armstrong, University of Applied Arts Vienna

Time plays an integral role in the experience of the home. The meaning of the home is time-bound, temporal and temporary. This key relationship between people and their environment, first, occurs over and in time and, second, its meaning changes over time. This panel discusses the role of time in the experience of the home and considers the establishment of temporal identity through the accumulation and layering of material objects and immaterial references within the domestic interior.

IoannidouThe Time House
Dr Ersi Ioannidou, Senior Lecturer in Interior Design in Kingston University and University of Brighton
E: E.Ioannidou@kingston.ac.uk

In the second half of the twentieth century, the modernist house was considered a main culprit for the increasing feeling of ‘homelessness’. Among other failings, it simply did not offer the opportunity to inscribe time and identity and thus allow its inhabitant to construct personal meaning within the domestic interior. Projects such as Martin Pawley’s The Time House (1968) tried to enable the house to become a tool for the experience of home by reinstating these possibilities.

In The Time House, Pawley imagines the house as a recording machine. This house-machine has the form of a heavy concrete circular bunker with three levels: the domed roof shelters a ‘silently rotating boom’ which carries camera, microphone and sensor complex, continuously recording the activities of the inhabitants; the ground floor contains the living area; and the basement accommodates the memory mechanisms. These mechanisms have a storage capacity of centuries and thus are able to accumulate all evidence of living; any entry can be instantly recalled by the inhabitant. The house records the evidence of time and change in order to establish a continuum between each successive configuration and occupation of the domestic interior and all its predecessors. Thus the house is no longer a finite object, but accommodates the lifelong sequence of existence.

Pawley focuses his argument for The Time House on the notion of territoriality; that is, the private territory as a source of identity, stimulation and security. According to Pawley, territoriality in relation to permanence of settlement and occupation and identification with place and objects are important attributes to the act of dwelling. Pawley believes that an individual feels and observes simultaneously, thus he is situated between the ‘experience of being and the evidence of being: the relationship between behaviour, objects and time.’ The Time House reveals and facilitates this relationship through recording and playing – back the evidence of occupation within the domestic interior. It is an electro-mechanical self-writing document, with entries stored in immaterial form; a house-robot constructed to record time.

The Time House proposes a realisation of the house as a tool for the experience of the home for the Second Machine Age. Pawley equips the house with ‘mechanisms capable of absorbing the evidence of time and change in order to mitigate the horror of change itself.’ He aims to dispel the feeling of ‘homelessness’ created by the impossibility of permanence of settlement and occupation through a continuous accumulation of data. The layers of references that construct the experience of the home in Pawley’s future house would be only immaterial – a digital repository of personal history.

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Digitally Meditated Domestic Habits: From Experiencing to Designing Domestic Time
Konstantinos Grivas, Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture and Engineering, University of Patras, Greece
E: kgrivas@upatras.gr  T:@kostasgriik

Domestic time is experienced along two main modes, intense repetition and evolution. The first accounts for the developing of habits, resilient repetitive practices associated with domestic objects and spaces. The second provides a calendrical/historical perspective, structured along significant or memorable autobiographical events, describing and affecting one’s course of life. Digital technologies, especially the growing Internet of Things and the ad-­hoc societies of connected sensing devices, create novel ways by which domestic time is experienced, reconstructed and portrayed through recordings and analytical processing. In many ways, these transform the involuntary, unconscious and passive experience of habits into mediums for creating identity and active life planning.

The traditional notion of the family house – a physical testament of the life habits, heritage and history of the family – is today unattainable. The uprooting of inhabitation from its physical container as well as its dissociation from material possessions through dissolving of family structure, nomadic lifestyle and commodification  of housing, result in inhabitation being provisional and reduces house to a mere refuge, unable to fully embody time in both modes. Yet, the linguistic and conceptual links between inhabiting and habits are immensely strong; habitations are, in fact, places awaiting long habits. According to Bergson and Merleau-­Ponty, the perception and memory of familiarity builds upon perceptual proximity and intense repetition, until the constant conscious recalling of experiences is rendered almost useless, when surrounding objects and spaces become internalised, instinctively encoded in our bodies and brains.  Deleuze defines three temporal syntheses that investigate our relation to time: habit and memory, as passive syntheses of present and past time, and a third active synthesis (eternal return) of time geared towards prospective future.

Today’s homes are gradually populated by connected objects that communicate information about our domestic life, by sensing devices that monitor everyday activities and living habits, and equipped with digital tools for processing and visually portraying that information back to the inhabitants. Digitally mediated practices such as diaries, calendars, and visualisations of personal life statistics and reports, encourage an informed and critical view of inhabiting, and domestic time, yet rather disengaged from a first-­person experience and perspective. Moreover, sophisticated home automation, mediates between people and some of space and object related habits. At some point, inhabitants may turn into habitual observers of their own life habits. Yet, as John Thackara notes, visual representations alone undervalue the knowledge we have by virtue of having bodies.

Do digitally mediated domestic habits imply an external viewpoint of the inhabitant towards her life, and consequently a reduced capacity to properly inhabit? Do they undermine our unmediated relation to present time? These novel practices – digitally mediated habits – concerning monitoring and recording of domestic life privilege an active synthesis, even designing, of domestic time, retro-­ and prospective at the same time. Perhaps, contemporary societies invest the relation with constructed domestic time with much higher significance than the deep relation to specific places of inhabitation themselves.

42134488_daskalakisProust and the Time of Things
Dr Konstantios Daskalakis, architect, researcher and educator, Department of Architecture and Engineering, University of Patras, Greece
E: kdaskalakis@upatras.gr W: Personal Website

In Remembrance of Things Past, the programmatic intensity of the work is indicated by the contrast between losing (which is conveyed by the temps perdu), and finding: the work’s last book, which closes the circle of the Remembrance, refers to ‘regained time’. Time, even before the first reading, is already ‘lost’ or ‘past’. In  other  words, the research or  remembrance of the whole work (and therefore  the reading of the work) refers to that which has been lost.

 The finding refers to past time, in so far as Proust knows and reveals that it is lost, in so far as he retains in his memory something resembling this loss. Time cannot be found (if we suppose that the search  has  some happy outcome); it cannot be gained, or more correctly, regained. The ‘re-­‘  here signifies  a not so simple movement. Is there something  like a succession? And what does ‘lost time’ mean fundamentally?

In the last pages of the work Marcel’s experience in the library of the Princesse de Guermantes’ house is the one that best offers a programmatic interpretation of the whole undertaking. In his obsessive preoccupation with the voluntary associations of memory, the hero decides to interpret this particular sequence of rare experiences, to give them meaning, that is, to recover what emerges from these experiences. What this means is the recovery of his actual life in its totality. The decision finds its solution in the assumption of authorial activity: the hero decides to become an author and record what has constituted for him lost time. It is the recording of remembrance that turns time that is lost into a time that is regained.

What Proust describes here is a particular experience of time, which has been named by thinkers in the nineteenth and twentieth century as repetition or recurrence. The essential character of repetition: the incomparable intensity, and depth despite the small temporal duration, the escape from the chronicity of everyday life, the abandoning of the commonplace, of monotonous replication, the new meaning given to the whole of the past. Consequently, the old, the past, does not remain the same: it is projected in a new mode, in that which opens up, into the future. The past is such only with regard to a future.

An interesting detail lies in the fact that the possibility of ‘repetition’, that is of the regained time, is founded on precisely that which it momentarily abandons and which constitutes the ‘lost’ time: the monotonous repetitiousness, the familiarity with objects to the point that they become almost invisible and taken for granted. Thanks to this process, we can create memories, link them together, and perhaps like Marcel, grant them new meaning, regaining time. The path of the search of lost time passes through our relationship with things.

Anything that is designed carries meaning. Can an object, a poster, or even a typeface be designed so that they become familiar enough to evoke memories? Can they be designed to help Marcel, or a reader of Proust, to experience ‘repetition’?

Further Reading

Martin Pawley, ‘The Time House’. In Architectural Design, vol.38, September 1968, no.9, 1968.

Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past (A la recherche du temps perdu), Translated by K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin, London: Penguin, 1983.

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