Home\Sick

HOME\SICK: POST-DOMESTIC BLISS explores how our homes might be reconfigured and reimagined as centres of connection in spite of emigration, of intimacy in spite of digital distraction, of food and energy production rather than consumption. Our unhealthy and socially divisive addiction to home ownership and traditional idealisation of home and family are out of date for a mobile, networked and fragmented society. This experience looks at the meanings of home, from rubbish to robots and microbes to micro-dwellings, asking whether the changing nature of home is for better or worse.

Curated by Anne Enright, Anna R. Davies, Ali Grehan, Alexandra Deschamps Sonsino and Lynn Scarff.

Opening hours: Tuesday - Friday 12:00 to 20:00, Saturday & Sunday. 12:00 to 18:00, Closed Monday.

  • ‘Home’ is sick. Our unhealthy and socially divisive addiction to home ownership and our traditional idealisation of home and family are out of date for a mobile, networked and fragmented society. How can the home become healthy?

    In spite of the comforting ideal, homes can often be perilous places due to isolation, toxins, bankruptcy, and physical accidents. You’re twice as likely to end up in A&E from an accident in the home than a road accident. Institutional
    ‘homes’ have an even more questionable record than family homes in Ireland’s recent past. Does the future offer us better prospects or more of the same?

    Future visions of the home are often slick, sleek and silver, yet the reality is rarely so polished. It’s been said that historically, the home is one of the first places that we adopt new technologies for, from washing machines and microwaves to smart thermostats and fibre broadband. For decades, new appliances have been marketed with the promise that they can, and will, change our lives. Does greater convenience result in greater quality, and does always-on connectedness yield more human connections? Pieces like With Robots question the promise that future technologies will change our lives, and instead pose the premise that it maybe is us who change for the appliances.

    We are ageing: as individuals, communities, nations and as a species. By 2050, four out of ten people in Japan will be over sixty-five, and other countries with low birth rates could soon follow suit. Entire economies, community support systems and medical industries are bracing to adapt to a rapidly ageing world, and the home may be the epicentre of a new medicalisation of life as we live longer than ever before. Trinity College Dublin’s The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing and Dublin City University’s Biomedical Diagnostics Institute are examining how new technologies could change in-patient procedures into non-invasive devices that fit on a bedside locker—ultimately disrupting our lives less while keeping us healthier.

    HOME\SICK: POST-DOMESTIC BLISS explores  how our homes might be reconfigured and reimagined as centres of connection in spite of emigration, of intimacy in spite of digital distraction, of food and energy production rather than consumption. Nearly ninety years since the Frankfurt Kitchen
    was designed, exhibits like Parasite Farm playfully ask us if it’s time to reconsider not just the design but also the purpose of spaces like the kitchen and our home’s role in the cycle of production and consumption.

    As always, Science Gallery Dublin is grateful for the continued support by Trinity College Dublin, founding partner Wellcome Trust, alongside funding by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation as well as Science Foundation Ireland. We are proudly working in partnership with the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute and this is complemented  by our Science Circle members, Deloitte, Google, ESB (who are also our partner on HOME\SICK), ICON, Pfizer and NTR Foundation. Working with us too are our education partner Intel, finance partner Bank of Ireland, media partner The Irish Times and programme partners FP7 and The Marker Hotel.

    With alternative visions of the home from the microbial to millennial, HOME\SICK reminds us that we serve as a comfortable home to billions of bacteria, yet our ailing planetary home has us considering schemes for interplanetary colonisation.

    Sometimes playfully, often personally, HOME\SICK explores our emotional attachment to home, and considers how architects, designers, artists, scientists and technologists are reimagining domestic space, healing the home, and reinventing shelter for times of global instability, migration and change.

    Ultimately, HOME\SICK asks how we are changing the nature and the meaning of home, whether it is for better or worse?

     

  • — When I was a baby, I was discovered, after a frantic search, under the dining room table covered in Marmite. This, family legend had it, was why we only ever bought the small jar, whose opening was too small to allow a baby’s hand. It was not until I became a parent myself I realised it was not the savoury taste which made the scene so memorable; the brown colour, the smearedness of the stuff, might have added to the shock of discovery of this fat, round-eyed baby, sitting in the gloom. I saw everything, that was another thing that was said of me, and if I want to know what I saw, from under that table, I only have to get in there and look, because the table is still in the dining room of the house where I grew up and where my parents still live in the suburbs of Dublin. They made a home and never left it.

    My father built the table in the fifties, and when the surface of it got scored and wrecked, he flipped the wood and covered the new top surface with a kind of laminate whose pattern imitated the grain of wood. He edged this shiny surface with wooden laths, turning the whole thing into a field for a fast — you might even say vicious — game of push penny; the big old penny fast as an ice hockey puck, and a box of matches for each player to punt it around. My father is a talented carpenter and though he went through a regrettable (to me at least) MDF phase in the early eighties, this dining room table, the sitting room sofa, the three chests of drawers made of oak were all lovely and made to last.

    Decades later, the table is still there but the carpet I sat on, covered in Marmite, is long since changed. It was a brown carpet, covered in little black dots and splodges, and also some larger, catastrophic splodges of blue Quink. I learned to crawl on this carpet. I remember the pattern and I remember the anomalies. I was interested in the things about it that were not-carpet (the ink, the long seam, the tack heads) and the things that were carpet (the black, unpickable dots).

    I also remember the seams of the wallpaper that I pulled away from the wall, reaching from between the bars of my cot. This cot was also made by my father and painted blue with lead-free, ‘nursery’ paint. I remember the colour with a strange emotion — a sense of immanence — but I can also check the colour if I want to, because the cot came down to me, as the youngest child, and it is not the kind of thing I could ever throw out.

    I look at it sometimes, when it comes down from the attic, when the furniture removals man says “Where do you want this?” I remember the slide of the wood as the side was lowered, and the taste of the metal runner. I remember the taste of the colour blue. And I would give anything to remember the pattern of the wallpaper that I tore from the wall to find the pink plaster underneath. My sister describes it to me, but it is just at the edge of my recall.

    In the dining room, the brown carpet with black dots was replaced by a green carpet of fallen leaves that extended, excitingly down the long hall. We used to slide down the hall lino in our socks, but when the carpet came, you hopped instead from one leaf to its repeat in the pattern, about two feet away. I put this carpet in my second novel, What Are You Like? with baby sitting on one of the leaves “like a careful frog”. Then, of course I changed the carpet to an Axminster floral, because this was fiction, not real life.

    Now, whenever I write a book, I paper the walls as I go. And then I paint over the paper with terracotta coloured paint in the late eighties, or with yellow ochre ragging in 1992. I do not always put this stuff down on the page, but I have to know how home felt for my characters, the patterns and shadows, the seams and loose boards. I need to know if the stain from the dripping bath tap was amber coloured or a kind of turquoise verdigris. For me, and for my characters, ‘home’ is not just about location, or the arrangement of rooms, it is not just about money (though it is also about money) it is about colour and pattern and a kind of joyfulness that comes from a good sixties orange lozenge intersecting with a swoosh of brown — maybe in a shag pile rug. Maybe in front of a two bar electric fire.

    Of course, pattern is for peasants. Sometime around 1983, Magnolia Matt emulsion washed through the country in a tsunami of good taste. It surged across every interior wall, wiped every floral and zig zag, every Queen Anne stripe of lightly embossed medallions, and their flying ribbons of laurel leaves. Thirty years later, we are beyond this again, we are into shades of white; Strong White and Pointing, Linen Wash and Pearl. Not everyone, of course. When my parents say “white” they mean Dulux brilliant white gloss and when they say “Magnolia Matt” they mean the colour that covers the wallpaper I woke up to every morning, slept surrounded by every night, from the age of six to seventeen: blue flowers on a white ground. One of them looked like a woman in a hat, and she was repeated on the chimney breast, and over by the curtains, and down by the skirting board. She was everywhere, if you knew how to look.

  • Gaston Bachelard, a French philosopher whose work bridged poetics and philosophy of science, wrote extensively about the meaning of home in his seminal text The Poetics of Space. Although multidimensional in nature, The Poetics of Space is fundamentally a reflection on the experiences that houses create; a reflection that considers the relationship between built form and the architecture of the imagination. Despite being written during the 1950s — a period of post-war optimism about a bright new future — Bachelard’s ideas remain just as important today as we see with greater clarity the extent of the impacts humans have on our global environment.

    In part, the houses of the future envisaged in the 1950s have become the childhood homes for many in western societies today and were indeed better built, lighter and larger than those that had gone before. Advances in material technologies, improvements in energy and water provision and increasing regulation of construction have all contributed to the physical manifestation of the 1950s dream home, but at what cost?

    Household consumption of water, energy and food in Europe has increased dramatically  since the 1950s and the environmental impacts of this growing consumption are felt far beyond our homes as global resources are extracted, transported and consumed around the world. We purchase greater numbers of electronic devices than ever before and replace these more often, and while our homes are more energy-efficient, they are larger and house fewer people who expect warmer temperatures in every room of the house. Washing machines have been joined by dishwashers, power showers and jet cleaners to comprise a suite of everyday household appliances that are hugely consumptive of water. Indeed, the increased consumption of resources in our homes has been so dramatic
    that some commentators are prophesising a ‘perfect storm’ of global conflicts driven by increasing demand for water, energy and food by 2030. In making our dreams of an ideal future house real, have we instead made our homes sick?

    As we enter the epoch of the Anthropocene, it is time to reconnect with the metaphorical childhood home of which Bachelard speaks. This means creating homes that provide comfort, security, and stability in ways that are less consumptive of natural resources and more productive of sustainable lived environments. As le Corbusier, a pioneer of modern architecture, once said “The home should be the treasure chest of living”.

    Seeking future-fit homes in this way does not mean that prospective housing will become homogenised. Indeed, reconnecting homes with local environments is likely to mean more diversity rather than less as weather, topography and the relative scarcity or abundance of certain materials begins to play a greater role in shaping the way we live. We need only look at the range of homes emerging in the tiny house movement, constructed in part due to the ‘sickness’ of contemporary living, to get a sense of the rich tapestry of design that such a reconfiguration of desires might create. What both the tiny house movement and many other sustainable household initiatives have in common is their reconsideration, very much in line with Bachelard’s treatise, of what it means to live well in our homes. All seek lifestyles which are prosperous in ways which transcend the treadmill of acquiring more and more stuff. While evidence increasingly suggests that beyond a certain point, having more material goods, products, and even resources themselves, does not lead to proportional increases in feelings of wellbeing, changing the way we live will require more than sensitivity to emotions. The complexity of modern living means we are often locked into unsustainable practices in our homes. From the physical constraints of wastewater disposal systems to the rigidity of heating options, it can be costly to extricate oneself from the legacies of past decisions. Beyond these concrete infrastructures of consumption, transformative change in the way we dwell in our homes will require new supports, new systems of education and new measures of success and fulfilment against which to benchmark the health of our homes.

    In essence, we face an urgent task of transforming our visions of dream houses into a physical reality of more sustainable homes of the future. Such a task will require fundamental reconsideration of what a good life entails and that is a debate in which everyone must have a voice.

  • — We are in the midst of a housing crisis in Ireland, again. Having narrowly avoided an economic collapse caused to a large extent by overspeculation and oversupply of housing, we find that we’ll need 180,000 extra homes by 2021 if we are to meet demand. The demand is particularly pressing in Dublin. We need to start building again and bring vacant homes back into use. The challenge is that simple, but we need to learn from our experience — from the past and from other cities — to do this better.

    What are the right homes to build in a growing city? Who can and should be a developer? Is finance available for bottom-up as well as top-down development? Do we have enough of the right skills to design and construct? Are design and development standards too onerous or too lax? Is housing just a numbers game or can people be empowered to be at the heart of home?

    Dubliners are creative, inventive and willing to embrace change; early adopters when it comes to things technological. Yet, when it comes to housing, we are deeply conservative. We are resistant to new typologies, even those that we admire elsewhere. There is no question, for example, that if we want to limit urban sprawl, new homes in Dublin will have to be built as apartments and not semi-detached houses. Yet, people are unconvinced that apartments make desirable long-term homes. Their suspicions are well founded. A third of all the homes in Dublin City are already apartments or flats, most built speculatively in the last twenty years. Within these, there are few examples to inspire lotto dreams. Dublin apartments at their best are perfunctory; at their worst, plagued with design, construction and management issues.

    Yes, we have housing challenges, but perspective is called for. Dublin homes are excellent relative to a hundred years ago, when the city was plagued with the worst slums of any city in Ireland and the United Kingdom. A slum household, according to UN Habitat, is lacking one or more of the following: access to improved water and sanitation; sufficient living space; a structurally sound and durable home; and security of tenure. Almost 900 million people, or a quarter of the world’s urban population, live in slums today, in conditions similar to Dublin’s inner city a hundred years ago. Then, 26,000 families lived in slum tenements, and 20,000 of these families lived in just one room. The slums filled the inner city, from back lanes to once fashionable streets and squares. Dublin’s slums emerged not from growth but from abandonment. Many of the owners of magnificent Georgian houses moved following the 1800 Act of Union, a process that accelerated with the coming of the railways and the middle class preference for cleaner, greener homes in the suburbs. According to the 1911 census, 835 people lived in the fifteen houses on Henrietta Street, palazzos once home to the political and social elite. Conditions deteriorated to the point where buildings were collapsing with residents in situ. The action taken over the following decades saw yet more people moving out of the city centre to new public housing in the suburbs. While some public housing was also built on the sites of the demolished tenements, many sites lay vacant and the city spiralled into dereliction and decline. It wasn’t until the 1990s that the city returned to being a place where people wanted to live, largely immigrants and young people attracted by burgeoning economic prosperity. Incentives to build homes and in the process, deal with the pervasive dereliction and vacancy, devolved into the speculation frenzy of the Celtic Tiger.

    History repeats itself. There is common ground between Georgian and Celtic Tiger Dublin. In each case a wealthy metropolis with its own parliament, a high demand for homes and a buoyant building industry that acted as a magnet for hopeful immigrant craftsmen. In each, vested interests and dynamic economic forces combined with Government efforts to control the urban environment. The Wide Streets Commissioners faced difficulties not dissimilar to those of Dublin City Council. In both eras, contemporaries bemoaned the effects of speculative cost-cutting. In both, government agencies and architects sought to raise standards. We can learn from the past in creating a future. Georgian development strategies — allotment, design code and lease — were sophisticated of their time and have great relevance today. A top-down approach saw estate landholders lay out an infrastructure of civic amenity (squares, wide streets, public buildings) while bottom-up, individual builders developed houses on behalf of residents and contributed bespoke and idiosyncratic touches within overall design codes (doorways, cantilevered metal planters, brick sourcing).

    The Georgian model was the inspiration for the City Council’s Dublin House project. Dublin House is not a hobby project. It is a pilot project intent on re-establishing a top-down, bottom-up model for urban development; City Council management and individual builders developing homes on behalf of residents as bespoke apartments, distinctive and generous in meeting the family’s current and future needs.

    Redesigning homes for a growing Dublin doesn’t stop at the front door, we need to be more intelligent and empathic in how we develop the city overall. People understand the argument for higher density; the more people living in an area, the more shops, businesses and cultural experiences they attract and the easier it is to provide high-quality public services and infrastructure. What people fear is that density involves compromise and loss. People want to live in green environments. They want to hear birdsong, they want tranquil space to sit in the sun, and they want their children to kick balls in a garden or park with their friends. They want this in or near their home, not at the end of a long car journey.

    Homes were a central topic in Dublin City Council’s recent Hidden Rooms design conference. The group exploring the theme ‘The Compact City’, learnt about Rotterdam City Council’s design strategy for successful densification. Working with architects and developers, the central hypotheses is that GREENIFICATION and DENSIFICATION must go hand in hand. According to Rotterdam’s strategy — “It’s not about adding as many dwellings to the inner city as possible. The challenge is to increase the number of attractive houses in such a manner that the overall quality, livebility and microclimate of the inner city improves. Smart densification goes hand in hand with the upgrading and expansion of urban green. The social advantages of proximity to others and urban facilities are coupled with environmental benefits, increasing the overall quality of life for new and existing inner city dwellers.” Another Hidden Rooms group looked at solutions for problems faced in many existing apartment developments. We can design better apartment buildings in the future but shouldn’t existing ones also be the best they can be, both as people’s homes and as critical architectural elements in the city? A possible solution is to apply a tried and tested strategy developed by the American Institute of Architects, called the Design Action Team programme. We’re piloting the project with a group of apartment owners and residents, to coincide with the HOME\SICK events programme. The project is called The Empowered City.