We have been visiting homes on the grange for twelve months now.
Perhaps it is in the nature of my own architectural training that home visit after home visit I have been, in part, looking for consistency and common ground among the places and people encountered. As an architect I am trained to find and employ some pattern, implement a system or use a set of implicit or explicit rules, to eliminate risk, to quell uncertainty, to quash anxiety. Even if some architects embrace these things during their design processes the nature of our particular form of creativity – accepting for a moment that building is the ultimate expression of an architect’s endeavours – is that to build anything requires an exacting level of certainty, fixity and precision. Architects build to progress and at a certain point in time we like all things to be concrete so we can do what we are compelled to do, materialise space.
At the same time during every house visit I remain stubbornly conscious of how different people are. I actively resist the seductive lure of finding any immediate evidence that serves to reassure that whether someone builds a squat or an award-winning house, lives above their pub or avails of public housing, each is just like you or me, a person trying to live her or his life within the rooms each has been dealt. Each interior I visit has consistencies, yes, but let your look linger longer and you start to see physical and spatial registers of personality over time and across generations. Intent is extant. Purpose is present. Eccentricity exists.
Following each visit therefore, as I walk away from each home, I find myself oscillating wildly between two positions. The first position is that communities of people are reassuringly concrete and stable and you can put your finger on them and say yes that is both who and what they are depending on what form of housing they currently occupy. Of course this position nourishes the mind of the architect and feeds the production of housing – certain kinds of housing is made for certain kinds of people. Therefore, this certain housing made for certain people with so much in common surely results in stable, social communities, where every one is just bound by building to get along.
The second position that I slide to as I return to my desk following a home visit, is that people are all individual with not necessarily much in common. Within a pair of homes with just a 250mm thick wall between them very different lives are being ordinarily lived and many neighbours are only that in principle but not in practice. Across the city, around the houses, up in rooms, people are happily independent, perhaps new to the area, not yet connected, marginalized either by choice or by government, perhaps isolated behind gates because they can afford to be, but all, are almost certainly individuals intent on satisfying their own lives and interests. Is not their individuality an opposition to community, their craven consumption a rejection of the collective in favour of the collection of things, of objects, of stuff?
The truth is I enjoy my binary-dance because I find some comfort in both positions. Perhaps it is because even when one is aiming to maintain some distance from the subject, even when one is trained to discuss, to visit, to interview with an inquisitive objectivity, I still cannot escape the fact that I too make home. I am implicated in and not immune from what I see and hear and feel during these visits. I jump from left to right in my attempts to make sense of what I witness because perhaps in my understanding of home I need it to be fixed and specific. After all, it is only human to seek stability, certainty, and consistency at home. Home is where I am most me. It is where we are most us.
I do not recall though, in this or previous home-projects with which I have been involved, any person talking to me about her or his home in these absolute terms. It is simply not my experience. I have no evidence that people exist, for the most part, in any other place but the in-between and that their home is the place from which they both step in to and out of the world.
In our national discussion on housing though, we still seem rather uncomfortable to accept the ‘in-betweeness’ of domestic life. By this I mean we do not yet seem to have understood – as a society – that being able to make a home gives us strength to actively negotiate everyday life, to move more easily between and cope with the many extremes you encounter. We still do not seem to understand that the home is a dynamic, moving thing, not an object to be pinned down or possessed but something that is, if you have one, your best ally in your everyday negotiations with the world and the people inside and outside your walls. We Irish still seem fundamentally attached to the idea that having and owning a house makes you a better citizen than those citizens who may rent or decide to assemble a home from scratch or those who need to have a home provided to them by other citizens for now or forever.
I do not really know for certain what is this in-between nor am I convinced it can be measured or defined. This, I understand, may offer an opportunity to dismiss what I write as an artistic-indulgence or irrelevance in a time of urgency. The point of this though is that there is something very, very wrong with what we are doing to make homes in Ireland. What we are doing does not work and as we step over threshold after threshold in Grangegorman I think that inside, between here and there, or your way or mine, private or public, domestic life as it is being lived is worth closely noting because just maybe in the rush to solve the puzzle, we are not looking for all the clues.
Perhaps the in-between is where the people live and not where the profit is to be found.
Maybe the in-between is the chance to act, to make small moves, to take control, and then connect.
I think this in-between is a kind of potent-fuel that enables the assembly of a family of people who want to build a new way of home from the ground up and plant a fragile garden among the city’s angry spaces.
I think the in-between lies dormant in a dead and unloved shed, unearthed by a young man who then steps proudly from his palace and into the center of his family and community and the city that awaits all young men beyond the railing.
The in-between is in a tone of voice so giddy with wonder at the reality that homes in Dublin are built near parks and in these parks we walk and with us, dogs.
The in-between is a vision shared by two home-makers who on that talk-show would sit left and right but who each took me outside and talked with passion about how they understood their home was just one part of a wider built-place, a built-place they each wanted to protect and sustain for themselves, for others and for strangers.
The in-between does not appear to discriminate and maybe when it’s at home, nor should we.
This text was written as part of Home on the Grange and is a response to recent house visits.
The text was published in Issue 2 of Home on the Grange.
All photographs by Aisling McCoy.