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Ch. 2, pp.70–78

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  • This installment adds more evidence for Yamamoto’s belief that 19th century worker housing set the template for much of our housing today. His stance is that our obsession with domestic privacy makes us want to be isolated from greater society and incapable of forming social connections that might be optimal for economic productivity. In short, for the sake of “privacy”, we’re willing to be kept in our cages, free to leave only to consume or go to work.
  • With this post, we’re up to page 78 and more than a quarter through!

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3 Isolated Housing

Mulhouse worker housing city

This English thinking with respect to worker housing was soon reflected in France. The problem of worker housing was not confined to England but, as outlined in Nakano, Takashi [?, 隆生] ’s “Residents of Prague” p.12, was also a major important problem in Paris, Berlin, Vienna and other European cities as shown for example, by Henry Roberts “The Dwellings of the Labouring Classes” being “interpreted and distributed by Louis Napoleon, President of the Second Republic”.

The first worker housing in France to be influenced by Robert’s book was for the city of Mulhouse. (Figs. 3,4) Mulhouse is industrial city in the north-east of France and specializing in textiles. “Since the beginning of the 19th century printing, the town had been a major centre of the textile industry and had grown with the expansion of machine and factory production in the spinning, weaving and printing industries.” (ibid., p29) The first stage of the town had been mostly completed by 1853-1855. With a population of 2,000, it was one of the largest industrial cities in France at the time. It was designed by the architect Emile Murer (1823-1889).

Fig. 2-3: Mulhouse worker housing town #1. (Source: Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague”, p.37)
Fig. 2-4: Mulhouse worker housing town #2. (Source: By the author, based on Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague”, p.41)

Housing to isolate people

“This first city was of two storeys, and had the three housing types of Type A which was a quadruplex divided into four attached houses surrounded by their respective vegetable plots. Type B which was a row house with back-to-back houses arranged in a terrace and accessed via vegetable plots on their respective sides, and a third type which was a row house with access on both sides.” (Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague” p.39) Regardless of the type, access to these houses were arranged so they would not be shared or interfere with each other. (Fig. 5) “ The intention of preventing moral decline through public vigilance, and taking care to not create connections between people were related to the built environment in ways such as housing for one family only, linear arrangements, large vegetable plots and gardens, large multi-functional roads instead of small paths, a structure and system for the management of shared facilities that could allow opportunities for group gathering to be controlled, and wells distributed apparently at random across the entire site.” (ibid. pp.46,47) Two things are important here. One is the way of life for one dwelling per family and the other is the design of that housing to have a high level of autonomy and that it exists as an exclusive [as in excluding] unit. This was the way of life that most suited to preventing a sense of community. The other is the grid layout with each type having the same orientation to disallow variation according to local conditions. In other words, the design is a uniform arrangement. All dwellings had to be equivalent with respect to each other. Homogeneity is the essence of managed space. This exclusion of community was thought to be extremely important for preventing public malignancy and moral decay. From the moment worker housing came into existence in the 19th century, there was this notion of one family per house. These were houses designed to “protect the privacy” of the families living in them. In other words, they were houses designed to mutually isolate those families. This is worker housing, and it is the result of the desire of the industrial capitalists to manage their workers. This management took the form of standardizing and making the lives of the workers uniform. It was necessary to standardize the performance of individual workers as much as possible to produce superior products without variation.

Fig. 5: Plans of Mulhouse worker housing. (Source: By the author, based on Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague”, p.38)

The commodity that workers bring to the labour market is not individual skills but labour. This labour is something that most everybody living has approximately the same amount of.

(Arendt, The Human Condition, p.143)

All human beings have the same amount of labour force. The system for “distribution of labour” was invented in order to produce as many products as uniformly as possible. Arendt says that this labour force is deeply related to this “distribution of labour” production system because of the assumption that the persons configuring a system for the distribution of labour all have the same amount of it. Workers within this system for the division of labour are replaceable. Or, to put it the opposite way, labour is simplified so that persons with the same amount of labour force can be spread across the production lines for anyone can apply that labour. The labour capacity of workers had to be standardized and unified in order to sustain this simplification.

The “oneness” … that enables the labour force of two persons to be combined is the opposite of “cooperation”.

(ibid, p.184)

It began with the French Revolution

Karl Marx is to be credited for the concept of “labour force” and Arendt highlighted its later and decisive impact upon workers. If the labour of every person had the same value whoever they were, then it is possible to quanitfy that labour force. Such a “collective nature of labour … necessitates that the awareness of individuality and identity be discarded.” (The Human Condition, pp. 340) This collective nature of labour is the “oneness” of labour. Feelings of individuality and superiority of workers are disturbing factors, and must be eliminated for the sake of a uniform labour force. This is why the French worker housing city of Mulhouse is designed to maintain an equalized “labour force”. The entire worker housing town was designed so “that the “the awareness of individuality and identity [is forced to] be discarded.” It is for managing the quality of the labour force (i.e. character management).

On of the causes for this mutual isolation of laborers was the French Revolution that occurred in Paris in 1848. “This 1848 Revolution was the event that brought the problem to the forefront, with the Second Empire government allocation funds for the construction of worker housing and movements for the construction of worker housing in and around industrial cities spreading throughout the country.” (Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague” p.12) The French Revolution was the event that led to questioning how worker housing was going to be provided. The highly political nature of the revolution therefore had a huge impact on the architectural space of housing. It was the first time that housing and architectural space had a political significance.

The industrial capitalists at the time of the French Revolution were aware of this political significance of architectural space. The concepts for the design of worker housing towns were to not allow workers to gather, to not provide spaces for workers to gather and to not make time for workers to be together.

Regardless of the reason, it was dangerous to have people assemble, and what to do with workers so they would not cause a second French Revolution was a question that occupied the thoughts of the industrial capitalists. At the same time there was also unease with respect to this idea of a worker society that was still not well understood but could arise as a result of socialism. The French Revolution was a memory to be afraid of.

And so for this reason, there was the development of housing typologies that prevented people from mutual encounters. These were houses without “thresholds”. They were houses without a place for connection to the outside. There was no verandah before the entrance door, no recibor inside the entrance door, and of course no place such as a madeef or darwasa. Worker housing had no configuration such as a “community within a community”. Instead, there were uniform rows of “one house for one family”, and no community greater than them. The space of a collection of houses was space completely managed by industrial capitalists. Extremely isolated housing was complete.

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So, after all that, what we have is a model for worker housing that concentrates on the square metrage and movement efficiency of the internal layout and “maintaining privacy” while at the same time making sure that all relationships with neighbors and the world outside are minimized. In the early 20th century, Mosei Ginzburg and his Stroykom team’s housing research into worker apartments such as the Narkomfin Building was to concentrate on layout and structural efficiency but with the addition of communal facilities and corridors along which residents could congregate and discuss dialectical materialism. Although ostensibly aligned with the objectives of those in power, having workers meet and talk about anything was for Stalin an innovation too far. Families across Europe, the US and Russia were back to living in single rooms in rented or requisitioned shared houses and worker apartments had to become a topic of architectural invention. This topic of separating the private realm from the managed realm outside became one of doors and corridors. Efforts made to minimize the amount of those corridors were justified in terms of resource consumption and construction cost but they nevertheless still functioned to minimize opportunities for workers to meet. We still have this situation and some imagined need for privacy is still used to justify it.

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2024/06/02 Ch. 2, pp.69-78
2024/05/05 Ch. 2, pp.66-70
2024/05/05 Ch. 2, pp.58-66
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:

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