Achilles the lost boy said, clutching his trousers.
Isn’t this what makes up city and society?
Playing mom, dad, child under clay roofs of piety
The old city and its old ways are breaking,
With clusters of schizophrenic urban snaking.
Said the others, fear not, to take are new roads,
Leave the old city behind, and its old dying codes
Walk past the terraces, mansion-blocks and communes,
Garden squares, flats and dead living rooms,
And there you may find rising like lit spire,
In the new city, a house, with an apple sin fire
~The FAM-FAC, Nursery Rhymes, Achilles The Lost Boy
The Nuclear Family home which has come under increasing and close scrutiny, no longer serves its once dominant form of co-habitation and familial function.
In the face of many non-conventional forms of living disrupting the old Nuclear Family order, this project speculates a fictional future scenario where new forms of purpose-built housing are mass produced to meet this shift in family dynamics.
The project speculates a future in which a highly influential administrative body, (colloquially called the Family Factoryor FAM-FACin short) builds the infrastructure and helps shape the social life of the city’s inhabitants, in order to further the economy and other social, ecological and political agendas.
The FAM-FAC operates on the premise that; if the building block of society is the family unit, then to build a newly successful society it needs to build up its newly successful family units.
What prompted the project and why family housing?
Housing remains a central and fundamental question that architecture tries to answer for society. And Family housing, particularly nuclear family housing is closely being re-examined for its biases, relevance and ubiquity in modern society.
According to anthropological studies a “family” is simply identified as a group of people living together with varying combinations of consanguinity, affinity and co-residence. The word Family is dual in that it contains social and architectural implications within its structure. i.e.; to be in a family means to “reside together”.
An extremely successful model of family in recent history is the Nuclear Family Model but statistics show that in Britain less than 50% of all households live in this arrangement, and further projections show that this model is in fast decline, and new forms of co-habitation, including extended families, co-parenting structures and non-related family arrangements among many others are on the rise.
The project was prompted by a desire to further understand this scenario and follow its trajectories through to different ends, because though the nuclear model is in decline, political rhetoric and the cranes of developers still use this model as a de-facto standard in shaping their agendas and building housing.
What questions does the project raise about Nuclear Family housing, and what impact does it have on the way we live and consume globally?
Historically the model of Nuclear Family Housing is an anomaly, as the dominant arrangement of family typologies before this Western Model received global attention was extremely diverse, from vernacular intergenerational living systems and nomadic polygamous tribe structures, to socially engineered systems like Kibbutzim in Israel and one child families in China.
The breadwinner father, homemaker mother and kids as the quintessential family model, was a great tool of social identity building in the western world, specially from the 60’s as a mainstream middle class ideal to follow, and soon political policy and rhetoric along with consumerist opportunism exploited this general understanding to sell products that would appeal to this lifestyle and push national sentiments along the lines of protecting families. The large media focus on this family type through commercials, tv programmes and public address has made it seem like the only way to co-habitat as a respectable person.
The impact this model has on the environment however is hazardous, although it serves a growth economy well, because more separate nuclear units means more household goods, vehicles, appliances and homes can be packaged out and sold.
How do you see the influence of this model change in the future, and what do you think its implications are? Outside the fantastical scenarios of your project, is this something already happening?
In a vernacular way new models and old models once abandoned are re-emerging, but it remains a trend that property developers, policy makers, advertisers and product manufacturers still operate on the basis that a family by definition means a nuclear family.
This to me is a missed opportunity, and it forces new emerging trends to push back against a society exclusively catering for a model of co-habitation fast in decline, and which is ecologically and socially damaging.
There is much to be gained from experimenting with and promoting new forms of family co-habitation. Childhood development in scenarios where both parents have challenging careers can be paired off with single elderly generation home dwellers who suffer from chronic loneliness. Co- habiting parents and single parent families can join hands for economic support and income-pooling family arrangements. Career defined households like families with many members of medical backgrounds or teaching experience can restructure dwellings to facilitate their goal specific routines. By tying family structure to purpose driven consanguinity, as opposed to romantic notions of what it should be, this also allows the structure to be flexible and resilient to change, both increasing and decreasing in number and re-adapting to make itself work better socially and architecturally.
Although there are movements along these lines and many more similar emerging, they are slow, vernacular and lack central organization in certain cases, so the pushback is large.
You use historical precedents and current trends of alternate family models to find grounding for your project scenario. How do you learn from them and what do you take forward in creating your fiction?
A lot of the time fact is stranger than fiction. In the case of the Kibbutz model, it was a top down implementation to achieve social, economic and political goals of settlers. Large communities comprised of many families where tied to an area of land that was separated into many different programmatic zones. Men and women had to work, and all children grew up in a nursery only to see their parents for two hours a day for communal playing. Life was regimented and structured, and although it was successful as an economic model, socially the method has been deemed a failure, as was to be expected when the Top down method was heavy handed and swelling with nationalistic sentiments and stark contrasts to the previous lives and traditions of the people who lived in them.
My question after surveying other such examples and these factors; the slow and weak grind of not being represented, and the heavy-handed failure of being over-represented, was to ask what if you can have both things. To have highly centralised and organized social and architectural systems but at the same time to be constantly evolving and diverse?
How is the Fiction of the project constructed, and what role does it play in uncovering the future of its subject matter? Is it an exercise in Utopia/Dystopia building, or a narration of a cautionary tale?
The method I used in constructing the narrative; “reductio ad absurdum” is a technique in Logic used to uncover scenarios or philosophical and mathematical reasoning by leading things through to an absurd, ridiculous or impractical conclusion, as a means of testing the very extremes and furthest limits of an idea.
In this project the real life scenario of social, ecological and housing crises in London is filtered through the lens, of the steady demise of Nuclear Family co-habitation; to create this fictional narrative along with collected data and projections; and then pushing them into a fantastical extreme in the vein of reductio ad absurdum to question, rearrange and speculate on the trials and triumphs of trying to reorganize society from its smallest unit upwards.
What would a plot summary be for the project scenario and what medium is it Narrated through and why?
I have used the mediums of; paintings, a book of nursery rhymes illustrated with renders from within the social life of the scenario, a Dollhouse, conventional plans and sections, network diagrams and research drawings.
The painting was chosen due to the historic role it has played in depicting family life through the ages.
Books of nursery rhymes and dollhouses have been teaching methods traditionally used to convey to children family values, ethics and codes. Specially dollhouses which usually depict Nuclear Family settings. The book of Nursery Rhymes was influenced by the works of Dr. Suess, and all these mediums were re-interpreted to compliment the future scenario and world building of my project.
40 years into the future, London has been radically changed. It comes under the authority of the FAM-FAC, which identifies and places all citizens into compulsory yet varying family structures. In exchange for housing and structure, each family must spend a portion of their days engaging in activities sanctioned by the FAM-FAC. This could be anything from Tomato farming to upcycling. Whatever is necessary for the city to become more self-sufficient bit by bit. All homes are custom designed to allow for these extra activities while also moulding to the requirements of these new family types.
Achilles the lost boy, doesn’t have a home or a purpose in society. He seeks the FAM-FAC in order that it could provide him with these things so he could become a functioning cog of a society that no longer caters to stereotypes. This story follows his journey.
The Paintings seem very central to the project. What influenced them and how do they relate to the subject matter?
The painting presented were not meant to be final images or defining end results of the project. Rather they helped me as a continuing sketch of the premise, that started at the inception of the project with inquiries into housing types, and was periodically added onto as the project direction evolved, and new things were discovered or speculated upon.
The painting as a tool of inquiry has been very important throughout history, specially in the area of “Family Life” which is its own genre akin to “landscapes” or any other major area of study in fine art. The title of my triptych, “Home for Dinner” carries within it a dual meaning if read closely.
Precedents for me were Altar piece triptychs as teaching models, depicting religious notions of family, be it of mother and child or the original nuclear family; Adam and Eve.
The Victorian Family both as “subjects” or “Royals” is interesting through paintings of that period. Specially that the basic unit of society “The Family” can also be the ultimate authority of society as “Royal Families” setting up the quintessential Image precedent for all other “Subjects” of the crown.
Also, Vermeer and the Dutch domestic is interesting that unlike British paintings of similar eras, the Dutch depict moments of domestic production be it lace or feasts or the play of concerts. The ordinary, intimate and highly interior is also celebrated in many works such as Van Gogh’s “the potato peelers”
In Modern and contemporary works, Frida Kahlo and Nicole Eisenman were interesting precedents for me in questioning the “self” or “individuality” within the idea of roots, family and relationships and how they intersect. Specially Kahlo’s family tree paintings which have a strong external spatial element to them. All of these influenced my painting which deal with the same subject matter albeit through a future fictional narrative.
How do the renders help in exploring the message of the project compared to the paintings and how do you see the roles of these different mediums in helping your practice?
The renders follow a linear story line and are good illustrations to showcase the intimate interiority and social atmosphere of the world being built. The paintings on the other hand can be read in a non-linear manner and allow for more independent conclusions and narratives to be obtained by the viewer.
These along with the other mediums used in the project (like plans and sections or network diagrams), allow for a highly varied interrogation of the subject matter. They may not necessarily always rely on each other for consistency but viewing the same set of information from varying perspectives can be helpful and is a useful tool available to architects.
Specially in the realm of world-building and speculative prototyping of scenarios and narratives, all mediums become useful, but most importantly, what the medium can do for the subject and what it’s historical relationship or lack thereof with the subject becomes important, and is something I hope to explore further.