A Machine for Living in

Have you ever doodled on a piece of paper and discovered an hour later that you’ve drawn the floor plan of a house that exists somewhere in the depths of your imagination?  I bet you have.  So have I, and it’s a wonderfully self-indulgent exercise.  All those ridiculous inner courtyards I’ve dreamt of!  When you actually have the opportunity to bring to life a creation on paper, however, there comes a point where you have to ask yourself what it is that you want to build.  What is it that you want your house to be for you?

Is it a dream home?

It’s funny that many people have just assumed that we’re building our dream home.  I suppose that the magnitude of taking on a building project in a foreign land doesn’t make that an unreasonable assumption, but is this truly our dream home?  Call me a cynic, but it feels like that’s a pretty big label to slap on a house that doesn’t even exist yet.  There are just too many expectations that come with such an ambitious label.  Isn’t it better to aim for just a pretty darn fantastic house?

Knowing what will work for you seems to be a key concept in achieving even that.  Plus some restraint and of course finding the right people to help you make it all happen.  A daunting task, especially when you consider that even in the 1st century Lucius Annaeus Seneca, a prominent Roman statesman and philosopher yearned for “a happy age, before the days of architects, before the days of builders”.  Even worse, famous American architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005) once said that “architects are pretty much high-class whores. We can turn down projects the way they can turn down some clients, but we’ve both got to say yes to someone if we want to stay in business.”

So, what to do?  Tom had come up with a great basic design and our challenge was (if I’m to continue Johnson’s analogy) to find the harlot who would say yes and actually provide what we were after.  And I believe he was right: the emphasis should be on “high-class”.  Our research paid off and we were extremely lucky to find some local heroes (most definitely not harlots) here in Portugal – the people at Gaifem Ramos and ABO Arquitectos are all wonderfully talented and helpful people and I give thanks every day that they’re on board.  I think they’re also the main reason why I haven’t started having nightmares of flying bricks (although the other day I did have a fleeting vision of a wardrobe filled with gum boots and yellow hard hats, which was indeed a nightmare.)

So back to this house.  What’s the final word on what we’re trying to create?  I think I’d prefer to avoid all that pressure and not call it a dream house, but rather a desirable house, one that sits well in its world.  Yes, a desirable house, certainly an aspirational house and ultimately what Swiss architect Le Corbusier said a house is: a machine for living in.

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2 responses to “A Machine for Living in

  1. What an enjoyable read! Plato longed to for a republic without poets — good thing neither had his way!

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