PEOPLE PLACE RELATIONSHIPS

ISSUE 4

SEPTEMBER 2021

Pandemics – A natural revival of architectural space

Mustapha El Moussaoui is an architect, urbanist, and a philosopher, based in Valencia. A Doctoral graduate from the Universitat Politecnica de Valencia, with over 7 years of professional practice, and projects built in several countries all over the world. Having studied both architecture and philosophy, the focus of his research is understanding the socio-cultural dynamics of the city and the existential well-being of its inhabitants.

Pandemics have always been associated with a catastrophic event that fuels fear and act as an existential threat. However, throughout history, we have seen the human adaptable extinct at stake when needed in such situations. Nonetheless, these events required a unique, adaptable behaviour to overcome and adjust to the new situation so that benefits arise from the ashes of a tragedy. With that said, through pandemics, we have seen the revival of events or elements that reshaped our living habits. Revived elements are components that grew passive in the routine of daily habits.

In its existential function, architecture had a primary role and unique character to perform as a safe refuge from the dangers of the outside world. Besides, it is a space where individuals associated it with their primal need to exist “a sacred shelter”. Some philosophers correlated dwelling space as a refuge from existential turbulences, such as the 20th-century German philosopher Martin Heidegger. Heidegger etymologically related the word dwelling to existing by working as an etymological archaeologist. Briefly, he co-related “Ich-bin” (the German word for I am) to Bauen, or (I dwell). To Heidegger, dwelling and existing are interchangeable phrases that reflect an existential need; hence, a dwelling space becomes an existential need that protects us from our existential thoroughness into the world (Geowordenheit).

“Bauen originally means to dwell. Where the word bauen still speaks in its original sense. It also says how far the essence of dwelling reaches. That is bauen, buan, bhu, beo are our word bin in the versions: ich bin, I am, du bist you are, the imperative form bis, be. What then does ich bin mean? The old word bauen to which the bin belongs, answers: ich bin, du bist mean I dwell, you dwell. The way in which you are, and I am, the manner in which we humans are on the earth, is buan..” (p. 147)

As far as we are concerned, what if we have a real external unseen existential threat? How is this reflected in our relation with architecture and space?

In early 2020, we saw the breakout of a new global pandemic, COVID-19, in which quarantines were obliged by states due to the virus’s fast-spreading – and somehow lethal – specificities (NHC, 2020). As a result, the revival of the house role as a safe space from the outside world became actively conscious in the users’ experience. Accordingly, we saw a massive interaction flow between dwellers and their dwelling spaces. With the long daily hours in their “sacred havens”, humans started modifying their space to accommodate their most comfortable habits, and new functional necessities, such as home sports, online schooling, remote work, etc. However, others decided to continuously change the space arrangement to halt the constant routine (Song et al., 2021).

Nonetheless, we observed a revival of certain architectural elements that their functional properties were deemed useless in the 21st century, such as the balcony. Dwellers started using these spaces that their existential functional character had been long abandoned due to the neo-living habits of the contemporary world. For example, before the pandemic, some used the balconies as storage space, while others used them to plant some flowers, however, rarely as a physical interactive architectural element to the external world, a peak to the other. However, after the pandemic’s breakout and the obliged quarantines, we saw a recovery of the existential function of these architectural elements. Balconies became spaces where dwellers can interact with other fellow humans – and the natural surroundings – without the existential threat of being contaminated by the outside world (Poon, 2020).

Additionally, it is not only balconies that witnessed their characteristic revival, other spaces and architectural elements started regaining their conscious qualities – or active presence – such as the door, or the knob, as a fundamental element that separates us from them. Moreover, inhabitants started reclaiming the meaning of their dwelling space by being more conscious of the orientation of their habitats, the number of natural light hours (and its reach), the ventilative mechanism, and their energy consumption. Hence, some started adopting more sustainable energy resources to help control their bills. Moreover, some residents started growing their fruitful trees and plantations.

It is definite that through this pandemic, we saw a change in the interaction between dwellers and their architectural space. Moreover, it is certain that some urban dwellers lack basic amenities for a comfortable space in their urban context, which must raise the attention for states to undertake new construction policies, and regional planning methods to combat similar events.

As a young man, I always had difficulties understanding the ancient Chinese concept of dualism or Yin-yang. As an adult, several circumstances transpired that clarified the most profound concepts most simply, with no need for further abstractions. Not all dark episodes are entirely negative; it is definite that dots of contradictions are observed in the darkest of all events, but that means a brighter future is on the verge of emergence (with some black dots).

Reference

  • Heidegger, M. (2001). Poetry, Language, Thought. HarperCollins.
  • Poon, L. 2020, A Lesson from Social Distancing: Build Better Balconies. Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-04-20/lesson-from-coronavirus-build-better-balconies
  • NHC (National Health Commission) (2020). The General Office of the National Health Commission Issued Guidelines on the Prevention and Control of Infection by Novel Coronavirus Isolation at Home Under Medical Observation. [online]www.gov.cn. Available online at: http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/zhengceku/2020-02/05/content_5474688.htm (accessed July 30, 2021)
  • Song X, Cao M, Zhai K, Gao X, Wu M and Yang T (2021) The Effects of Spatial Planning, Well-Being, and Behavioural Changes During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic.Front. Sustain. Cities p.4. https://doi.org/10.3389/frsc.2021.686706

 

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