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Ch. 2, pp.58–66

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  • There’s not many images in this week’s installment but translating these pages coincided with the last lecture in the history course I’ve been teaching this semester. The title of the lecture was “Eclecticism” – which is something Yamamoto also discusses here although from a characteristically different angle than we’re used to. Given that about nine of the 43 Pritzker Prize winners have been Japanese architects, I’m beginning to suspect the history of Western architecture is better viewed with a degree of cultural detachment.
  • Japanese personal names are given surname first, but although surnames often (but not aways) follow standard pronunciations, first names have less dependable correspondences between pronunciations and the characters with which they are written. Question marks in brackets ([?]) indicate my best guess.
  • In this installment, the phrase “expendable life processes” and “closed package” come up. The first was my translation of a term of Arendt’s it’s beginning to make more sense now. Yamamoto admits that it’s difficult to even think of these things in Japanese. My understanding of his understanding is that, beginning with worker housing, our houses are designed as (closed) boxes isolated from the outside in which we may have privacy but we also have no way of connecting with the outside world. Inside those houses we keep ourselves alive and procreate etc. and the only reason we leave those houses is to work.

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Chapter 2: Worker Housing

1 Albert Cottage

A model for the world’s first worker housing

The Great Exhibition held in London in 1851 in the glass and iron Crystal Palace designed by Joseph Paxton (1801–1865). A house designed by Henry Roberts (1803–1876) as new model for worker housing was one of the exhibits. This first model home was Albert Cottages. Seven years prior to the exhibition, Prince Albert had become director of the exhibition and established the Society for Improving the Conditions of the Labouring Classes. (Yamaguchi, Hiroshi “Modern Architecture History Timeline, Commentary”, p.30) The plan of the house is what was at the time a groundbreaking design. Henry Roberts had devised the floor plan so that workers and their families could live comfortably and hygenically. Rooms were separated according to their use, yet connected so that people living there would become used to living by moving between rooms. (Figs. 1, 2) In architectural space, movement refers to how people move and how rational that movement can be made. Layout and movement planning became new subjects of architectural study and completely different from what had gone before.

Fig. 1: Albert Cottage (Source:’s-model-cottacges/). The innovation of the floor plan is not to be seen on the outside of the building. There is no awareness of how the outside of this building that has no relationship with its surroundings, should be designed.
Fig. 2: Lower level floor plan of Albert Cottage. (Source: Ogawa, Keiko, “Annotated model of the 1867 Worker Housing) This is equivalent to the Japanese 3LDK. A scullery is a place for washing up. There was a stove in the living room for cooking. All rooms have windows to the outside.

Until then, English (European) architects had focussed on how attractive the external appearance of a building could be made. For example, in 1835, the competition rules for the design of the British Houses of Parliament included a condition that either “the Gothic Style or the Elizabethan Style be used.” (Suzuki, Hiroyuki, A Culture of Gentlemen, p.31) The 19th century was the century of revivalism. “The building directly in front of Paddington Station is in the style of 16th century Italy, … Victoria Station is in the style of 17th century France, the hotel outside of Liverpool Station is in the style of François I.” (ibid. p.46)

Who is being designed for?

Architects were conversant with the architectural styles of the past and each had their speciality styles. The architecture was one of “appearance” and the architect was responsible for how beautiful that appearance was and how true to its principles it was. There was much debate over Romanesque Style (inventiveness, variety) or Greek Revival Style (critical of the Romanesque Style, a return to origins), Gothic Revival Style (a style originating in England) and others, and this debate expressed itself in design competitions focussing on the meanings and ideals of each style, which architect was most adept at which, and in which style it was thought a building should be built. “The role of an architect (such as George Gilbert Scott) was to decorate a structure.” (Kostof, A History of Architecture, p.1,121) “Architects were expert in styles.” (ibid., p.989) Making structurally sound buildings and making building that were convenient and of use to their users weren’t of major importance to architects. The responsibility of the architect was to make beautiful buildings in the urban environment, and the external appearance was of utmost important with respect to it.

The (suburban and weekend) cottages of the middle class were also the objects of styles, and pattern books of styles were developed and made available. [John Claudius] Loudon’s “Dictionary of Cottage Farm Villa Architecture and Furniture” (1833, reprinted 1842) is one such compilation. “The book its array of cottage designs by then contemporary architects, and beginning with Tudor Style, and then Gothic Style, Italianate Style, Swiss Style and so on. (Atsu, Katsuki [?], p.56). Architects designed while referring to pattern books such as these, in a method known as “sketchesque”. (ibid., p.56) This name may have been intended as a joke. The form became a kind of costume. Augustus W. Pugin (1812–1852), a designer of the British Houses of Parliament and John Ruskin (1819–1900) were both critical of this method and called for a return to a former architecture. “There must be an honesty of form and the only correct path for Christians is to correctly reproduce the style of English Gothic, as it had once been.” (Kostof, History of Architecture, p.1,122) They called for a return to the rationality of Gothic Style. The role of the architect was to correctly understand the spirit of the classical styles. This all goes to show the degree to which making architecture by layout planning and circulation planning was such a new thing at the time.

But why should this have been such a new topic for architects who were thinking like this at the time? Enter the workers. The laboring class was a class of people appearing [socially] for the first time and a completely different “other”.

The “housing revolution” was a revolution in “worker housing” for the labouring class who were now becoming aware of being a different and homogenous social group. This was the first time they had been an object of the attentions of architects. Until then, buildings designed by architects had been for the use of the person or persons commissioning them and, irrespective of whether they were commissioned by individual or organization, their main task was to design buildings that were some sort of symbol of those commissioners. In other words, the persons commissioning the buildings were the direct beneficiaries. However, with worker housing, the persons commissioning the buildings weren’t the people going to live in them. It wasn’t housing designed for persons personally known by the architect, but for those people existing in the abstract as the labouring class. It was the first time for architects to design for an abstract idea of a group of people as not for persons known to them first hand. “In the 19th century, there was no such architectural category for worker housing” and [it was thought that] “designing housing for workers would damage the reputation of architects.” (Doi, Yoshitake, Contemporary French Research Trends in Housing History, p.141) Designing housing for workers meant the mindset of architects had to change.

But who were these workers, what was the labouring class, and what meaning would it have to design for these people? Does one design for the capitalists who commissioned these buildings or for the people who worked in their factories? For architects, this made the task of designing buildings completely different from anything that had gone before, and led to a necessary rediscovery.

The closed package of worker housing

“About 3,500,000 persons including many from overseas saw the excellent example of Albert Cottage” (Yamaguchi, Hiroshi, History of Modern Architecture, p.30) and this is indicative not only of an interest in worker housing but an interest in the severe problems faced by housing in general.

One year prior to the exhibition in London, Henry Roberts published a book outlining the fundamental way of thinking he thought was required when designing housing. It went into great detail such as “In principle, a house for one family must have at least three bedrooms. Moreover, each of those bedrooms must be independent so as to ensure separation between males and females. The living room must be between 140–150 square feet (13–14 square meters) and the master bedroom cannot be less than 100 square feet (9 square meters). A fireplace is necessary as a precaution against illness. All rooms including those without a fireplace must have openings near the ceiling to allow stale air to be ventilated. It is suitable for small rooms to be ventilated to the roof by means of ducts within the walls. (Roberts, H., The Dwellings of the Labouring Classes, p.5) In doing so, he also outlined how people were to live in those houses.

Roberts’ proposals were for layout planning and for circulation planning and he thought this would make it possible for workers to live in better conditions.

Expressing the image of the lives to be led as room and circulation layouts, reduced the problem of worker housing to one that could be solved on the inside of the house. There was no mention of any relationship with outside the house. There was no indication of where these houses would be built. Worker housing was separated from its surroundings and a problem thought solvable by room and circulation layouts alone. The family living inside was imagined to be a standard family of father, mother and children. In other words, the solution was a singular product for a standard family. What enabled this singular product was the assumption that the people inside would lead lives featuring expendable life processes, not unlike those lived in the gynaeconitis (women’s realm) of Ancient Greece. There was no place similar to andrōnitis (men’s realm) for interaction with the world outside. Even by looking at the plan, one can see that the entrance is completely separated. There is no “threshold” space. This housing for the labouring classes is a place for expendable life processes only.

A family is a “community within a community”

In Chapter 1, I mentioned how Hannah Arendt had termed those processes of living “human expendable life processes” (The Human Condition, p261) These are processes such as there maintenance of life, the maintenance of health, and procreation and that are repeated over and over, over the course of living, and worker housing is a package for the sake of these. They are houses without “thresholds”.

I have mentioned how the family is a “community within a community” and so has a relationship with a larger one, and that there is a “threshold” as a spatial device that regulates the relationship between the two communities. This “threshold” is a place that “protects and maintains” and that also “at the same time separates both.” Arendt called the larger community the public realm and the smaller community the private realm. The polis of Ancient Greece was one such public realm, and the oikos (house) a private realm. This means that the “threshold” was always in the public realm and had a relationship with it. Such thresholds were present not just in ancient Greece but also in Japanese houses and could also be seen in the villages we surveyed. However, worker housing does not assume any greater community or even a public realm. The housing is isolated from the outside and is separated as a package for the maintenance of health, the sustaining of life, and procreation. This separated state (of being deprived) is when there is something missing (privative) and is the state known as privacy.

Arendt wrote that this era had “a public realm that was limited and impersonally managed, and was completely closed.” (ibid., p.90) This was the era of the beginnings of Marxism that still has meaning today. The idea of the working classes and the problem of workers became a social problem at the same time as the construction of worker housing began. The public realm of the time changed into space for impersonal management. At the same time, the house changed into worker housing and spaces for privacy (separation). “It was the fusion of the regenerative processes of living and work.” (ibid., p.261) The relationship between the public realm and the private realm changed at the same time. The space outside the worker housing was not public space but a space for management and with worker housing at its centre of this space. The public space was dismantled and became a uniform managed space. The house was dismantled and became a worker’s house and the lives of the workers in their workers’ housing were about maintaining privacy. Workers’ housing was for maintaining those expendable life processes. After this, worker housing became known as low-cost housing and, after that, just housing. This is what our housing is connected to.

Housing has architectural terminology such as privacy and that relates to housing. There is also political terminology such as management, as well as terminology such as private realm and public realm which are a mixture of spatial terminology and political terminology. It is not easy to see Arendt’s view of houses and housing as architectural spaces that are strongly political. It is not easy to even translate these thoughts into Japanese. The house is oikos and is a house with a “threshold” and, in Arendt’s terminology, is a private realm. A “house” is a building, but it is also an “asset”, and also the place associated with the head and members of a family. It is a private realm within a public realm. These families living in a private realm within a public realm are completely different from those living in a unified and managed society. The people living in these unified managed societies have what Arendt calls “modern privacy”. (Arendt, The Human Condition, p.38) It is “modern private life”. (The Human Condition, p.38) The house (the private sphere) is what encloses this “modern private life.” (Arendt, The Human Condition, p.38) We now call this private sphere a family and think of the house as the most important space that can protect its “intimacy”. (Arendt, The Human Condition, p.60) It is a space of escape from the managed space on the outside. (Ref. Chapter 1, Fig. 4.)

• • • 

2024/05/05 Ch. 2, pp.58-67 [this post]
2024/05/05 Ch. 1, pp.46-55
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: