Home Sweet Not Home

Instructor: Emanuel Admassu
Program: Re-imaging 432 Park Avenue
Year: Fall 2020, GSD
Studio: After Property
Team: Kyat Chin

In December 2019, a 21-bath 8 bed mansion in Bel-Air was sold for approximately 78 million dollars. In a world of constant connection, seclusion has become the ultimate luxury. The bathroom, once thought to carry diseases, now promises pure alone-ness and has become one of the last places where individuals can truly disappear from the world. At the same time the bathroom has expanded, other rooms have shrunk or become hidden. Architecture is a tool for seclusion and inclusion, and is a complicit of the borderization within contemporary property regimes. In our project, we examine the expansion and shrinkage of domestic spaces that lead to the erasure of bodies and objects and attempt to disassemble the imposed class hierarchy within the domestic sphere.

Our research began by examining the floor plan of houses from the early 1600’s to current and calculate the ratio of bathrooms to bedrooms. Not only has the American bathroom grown in number, the square footage per person in a single-family home also doubled from the 1970s to the 2010s, so did the typical size of a bathroom, from 35 sq ft to 70 sq ft. In the mid-1950s, most bathrooms only took up 2-3% of the total sq ft of a home, yet by 2018, in the case of 432 park avenue (fig.1b), the bathroom takes up 12%. In the last three decades, bathrooms have become more voluminous, and affluent Americans have transformed them into technological marvels and gizmos to reproduce various tropical microclimates. The deeper shower shelves and medicine cabinets, larger floor space and closets suggest that the bathroom has become a second living room for the bedroom - a sanctuary for self-reflection. According to a Zillow research, a simple bathroom remodel-such as replacing the toilet, adding a double or sink, or tiling the floor carries the best bang for buck of any home renovation. At $1.71 in additional home value for every $1 spent, it’s three times as cost-effective as a kitchen renovation. The bathroom has become the core of private property.

432 Park Avenue plan (fig.3b) indicates a service elevator that connects the service corridor to the kitchen, mechanical room, and utility room discreetly, away from the entry hall and the living quarters. The door and threshold system controls and borderizes the mobility of the service body. The rigid door in the service corridor secures the flow of movement and noise. The flush door separates the private from public. The sliding door controls the relative movement. This mechanism suggests the erasure of the service body moving through the corridor, kitchen, small bathroom, mechanical room, and the utility room. A similar use of the corridor is seen in Jefferson’s Monticello (fig.3a), where the corridor acts as 
a buffer to isolate the physical and auditory presence of the enslaved bodies. The hidden corridor is also connected with the stairs that lead to the living quarters. This demonstrates how the fundamental spatial tactics used during slavery still persist till the present day. In mid-century pattern books, race is marked in most instances by its apparent absence. This elevation,  found in William Gleason’s Site Unseen, is one of the few instances in which African American bodies are depicted in the white spaces. Here, the kitchen passage which leads to the separate kitchen building (a common southern typology at the time), is eerily similar to one of the 432 park avenue units where the service corridor is directly connected to the kitchen (fig.2b) as a way to prohibit their movement in public domestic spaces. Also found in Monticello were the dumbwaiters utilized for the erasure of the noise from the servant living quarters below. It also allowed the space to be privatized by muting conversation between the guests. Not only did the dumbwaiter allow residents to receive items without presenting the servant bodies to the guests, but its mechanical noise created auditory borders. The modern form of dumbwaiters is the service elevator which separates servicing individuals from the rest of the building, while still relying on their labor.

In the contemporary home, the service area takes up a quarter of the dwelling space. For decades, domestic architecture has aimed to emancipate household labor through inventions of maintenance tools such as vacuum cleaner, efficient piping, sewage system, equipping home and expanding its storage with mechanism for efficient living. However, the reliance on labor service has not changed if not increased. The use of modern materials, such as glass and marble, require the house to be cleaned more often due to the visibility of dirt. The advanced material technology requires complex maintenance solutions. The image of efficient living in modernity relies on this ever-expanding mechanism while attempting to hide and control the marginalized bodies and objects.

How can we reconfigure architecture’s relationship to the human/non-human divide? Through the mechanism of property, anthropocentric and humanist regimes have developed exclusionary architectural technologies like doors, windows, walls, and fences, alongside spatial strategies of enclosure, confinement, and division. To redefine architecture’s relationship to human and non-human divide, architecture must abolish the rigid, racialized, and capitalist modes of categorization to make way for a world after property. Architecture is an interspecies relationship: In Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as companion species, “Cereals domesticate humans. Plantations give us the subspecies we call race. The home cordons off inter- and intra-species love” (Tsing 2012).

We’ve defined 4  types of Property: Borderized Property signifies historic housing precedents, Current Property refers to the contemporary precedents, Super Property predicts the future of property, and After Property is a speculation of the world after the regime of property collapses.