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Ch. 1, pp.46–55

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  • This installment brings us to the end of sub-chapter 1-3 and the end of Chapter 1 with Yamamoto making a case for why this idea of a threshold as a public realm within the private realm of a dwelling is so important. It’s a good place to take a break.
  • Fig. 19 references a diagram in the book “One Hundred Drawings of Japanese Houses” by Japanese architect Oto Endo (1866-1943). That’s it in the header image. Below, I’ve added the only photo I could find of one of his buildings. It’s the Mitsui Bussan Yokohama Branch Warehouse in Yokohama, from 1910. [Thanks Arukitekuto!]
  • Japanese is read from right to left when written vertically so, strictly speaking, the pages in the slideshow below should advance using the left arrow and not the right.

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1.4 Settlements Survey II – Houses with “thresholds”

“Thresholds” are in the gap between two realms

”Thresholds” are in-between the large community that is the polis and the small community that is the house (oikos), and have the role of mediating between the two so the community that is the house (oikos) is not buried within the community that is the polis or, looking at it the other way, to avoid a situation where the polis is no more than just a collection of houses. The “threshold” makes a strict separation between the system of organization of the polis in its entirety, and the completely different system of organization within the house (oikos).

“It is self-evident that this definitive separation between the two realms of the public realm and the private realm, that is, the realm of the polis and the realm of the family is the ancient governmental ideal. “ (The Human Condition, pp. 49-50) The “threshold” is the architectural device that achieves this separation. It is a common concept. The next question is what type of “appearances” do various types of thresholds have? If “thresholds” are a common concept, then it should be possible to see the configuration of the Ancient Greek threshold no matter what type of house even if their “appearances” differ.

What kind of space is the “threshold”?

Earlier, I wrote of the overall “appearance” of the village of Petrus in Spain. The village was centered around a disused church and all the village streets were flat. What was noticeable was the entrance and rooms opening onto it. Thresholds faced the street and were beautifully decorated. These entrances were made to welcome people into the house. The floor surfaces of the rooms opening off the entrance were different from those of other rooms and all beautifully finished. These rooms were a foyer. We later asked a Spanish person working in our office what these rooms were called. The answer was recibidor. To think of it simply in terms of its function would make it an “entrance hall” but the original meaning of the word recibidor is reciprocity – mutual dependence, mutual relationships. It is the place for receiving and for relating to persons coming from the outside. It is also the place where persons coming from outside, are denied entry to further inside the house. We observed spaces like this in all types of settlements, even though the name of the space of course differed with the region. In some places in Spain it was called the recibidor but in others, the “guest room”. There are also instances of it being called the “men’s area” in exactly the same way as the andronitis of Ancient Greece. In Japanese houses there is the genkan and the shikidai [the raised platform next to it] leading to the zashiki [sitting room].

Fig. 14: Petrus (photo: “Housing Theory”, Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo Universit, p.69)

In family houses in the village of Al-Chibayish in Iraq, the place where visitors are received is the mahdef, a word having the meaning of “men’s room”. When we arrived on the island the head of the household welcomed us with coffee served at the hearth in the middle of the mahdef. The women of the house did not enter this space or participate in the reception. The hearth used by the women is deeper into the house and partitioned off and is used for daily cooking. This space is called the “women’s room”.

I’ve already meantiond the village of Nakagaonnakusa in Nepal, where the gentle slope of the land is used to create beautiful terraces for farming and where the houses are in lines along the contours of the land. One feature of these houses is their verandahs. The floor of each house is about one meter higher than the street it is on, and this verandah space is where the men sit and speak to the people walking along the street. (Fig. 15) The eye level of the men sitting on the verandah is about the same as that of the people in the street.

Fig. 15: Nakagaonnakusa (photo” Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University)

These connecting verandahs of the same height along the street are a beautiful feature of this village. The English word verandah made its way into English during the period of British colonization. This word verandah means “men’s place”. The configuration of the plan of houses in the Hindu cultures of Nepal and India is designed according to certain rules. The place directly connected to the street is the darwasa and inside that is the doeri while further inside is the andalaat, all in a line. (Fig. 16) The meaning of darwasa is “in-between”. In some instances, the darwasa is open like a verandah but there are also cases where it is a closed room. It is where people coming from outside are greeted. The doeri is a courtyard. Furthermost inside is the andalaat where the hearth is.

Fig. 16: Right: The type where the three places are in a row. (source: “Housing Theory II”, p.43, “Threshold Theory II”)
Left: It is still one house even if there are more than one places to cook. (source: ibid., p.45, Yamamoto, R., “Housing Theory New Edition”, p. 321

The words darwasa and andalaat respectively mean “men’s place” and “women’s place”. In passing, and not just with respect to India, the women’s place is always the place farthest from the entrance. In Shibham, the women’s place was on the highest floor and farthest from the entrance. The configuration of Indian families is that of a “joint family” where there is the head of the household and his wife as well as their sons and their wives and children, all in the one house. When each sub-household and their married children each have their own andalaat, what began small in scale becomes larger and more like a compound with each additional generation. (Figs. 17, 18)

Fig. 17: Map of Junapani (India): (source: “Housing Theory II”, p.80, The farmer caste is at the centre and the caste serving them is on the periphery.
1: shared well, 2: mandeel, 3: school, 4: village square, 5: survey A houses, 6: survey B houses, 7: lime grove

No matter how large the compound becomes, there will still be only the one darwasa. The darwasa is the symbolic place of the head of the household. When the head of the houshold dies, his assets will be divided equally between his adult sons and so the joint household splits and each of the sons will have their own darwasa.

Fig. 18: Upper: Plan of a Junapani house (source: “Housing Theory II”, p.81, A house has the one andalaat even if there is more than one cooking place.
1: darwasa, 2: enclosed garden, 3: toilet, 4: bathroom, 5: bedroom, 6: kitchen/sleeping, 8: storage, 9: bedroom, 10: bedroom, 11: kitchen, 12: kitchen, 13: well, a: tool storage, b: milling stone, c: cooking
Lower: Plan of a brothers’ house in Nasnoda. Even though paired, the houses each have their own darwasa and can be thought of as independent.
1: darwasa, 2: enclosed garden, 3: verandah, 4: bedroom, 5: storage, 6: kitchen, 7: cattle shed, 8: fodder storage, 11: stairs to roof, a: cooking, b: millstone, c: bed, d: feed bucket , e: niche, f: thin bamboo wall

The Spanish recibidor, the Iraqi madhef and the Indian and Nepalese darwasa are all “threshold” spaces having these particular “appearances” and creating the image of the settlement.

With the Japanese house, there is the genkan followed by the shikidai and then the innermost zashiki [sitting room] and these will always be there no matter how small the house. The zashiki is not a place for the family but a place for formal ceremony and for the formal receiving of guests. The Japanese house has exactly the same strictly maintained distinction between the public realm and the private realm. The public realm is the realm of the head of the household (the “men’s realm”) and the zashiki [sitting room] is the “threshold”. (Fig. 19)

Fig. 19: House with a sitting room. (source: Endo Oto ”Encyclopedia of Japanese Housing” p. 68. No matter how small the house, there is always an entrance gate, an entrance, an entrance platform, and a sitting area. In this case, the six-mat room is the sitting area. There is a strict division between who can use the main entrance and who will use the household entrance.

The threshold is a public space in the midst of a private one

As we have seen, the “threshold” is given different name according to its function in different locations but, beyond that functional role, there is the role of mediating the relationship between the large community that is the village, and the small community that is the family within it. The “”threshold” is the place that protects and maintains the relationship between the two realms and, at the same time, separates them.

The relationship between the polis and the oikos in Ancient Greece exists beyond time and place and still exists in the relationships between house and settlements around the world because households exist as a community within a community. The large community (polis, settlement) is the public realm and the realm (oikos, house) of the small community within it is the private realm. It is only natural that many settlements resemble the polis because they have been made from the relationships that the private realm of the house has with the public realm outside, and are designed to have a public realm contained within the private realm of the house. As an architectural space, the “threshold” mediates between inside and outside no matter what type of house. The adjustment mechanism is basically the same.

It is very difficult for us now to understand how houses have this adjustment mechanism built into them.

The relationship of “community within a community” is the relationship that the private realm has with respect to the public realm. Arendt writes that it is “extremely difficult” for us living in contemporary society to understand this relationship. (The Human Condition, p. 50) The architectural space that is the house is already no longer a place that adjusts the relationship between the public realm and the private realm, or that protects and maintains both while at the same time keeping them separated. The houses in which we live now have been severed from the outside and have become simply places for the private lives of families. They have become places for the maintaining of privacy. “Privacy” is a state of deprivation where “nothing can be taken away”. It is a state of being distanced. Houses that are so distant from the outside are what our homes are now. Arendt is saying that we who live in such houses no longer understand what makes the public realm public and the private realm private.

“The world existed before people did, and will remain when people no longer do. A world such as this is the premise for life and death.” If this is the world, then housing separated from and that has no relationship with the world outside, cannot make a world. This is because our housing has only been given “functions” to maintain “human expendable life processes” (such as housework, raising children, procreation [to allow life to continue]) (ibid. p.262) For us who live in houses like this, it is not possible to know the world.

• • • 

2024/05/05 Ch. 1, pp.46-55 [this post]
2024/04/28 Ch. 1, pp.35-46
2024/04/21 Ch. 1, pp.23-35
2024/04/07 Ch. 1, pp.18-23
2024/03/31 Ch. 1, pp.14-18
2024/03/24 The Space of Power vs. The Power of Space: Preface pp. 7-11

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Revisited this week:

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