The future of: Home

A post-pandemic reconsideration of home.

Coming out of a lengthened period of time spent in the home, there will be a refreshed perception of what is important to living. People will understand more lucidly what is essential in home-life; they will strive for health and well-being in the home in all aspects, from physical, to mental and emotional. This might mean an invigorated desire for meaningful human contact and interaction that used to be part of our daily rituals, from visiting grandparents for weekly dinners to chatting to neighbours in passing at the void deck or other communal settings.

Forced into our individual abodes, the present pandemic has highlighted the physical and conceptual limits of the modern hermetic ‘home’ - a bastard product of the modernist endeavor and late capitalism.1 For many, the reality of the domus is an efficiently-sized flat, neatly compartmentalised away from social spaces in which we enact many daily rituals. Indeed, it is not uncommon for dwellers of increasingly hyper-compressed units to consider their homes as little more than a ‘bare-bones’ space for basic functions of living. For many, daily rituals associated with the home are instead situated away from the private sphere, and in the public sphere - from drinking morning coffee and reading the newspaper at the void deck, to lounging around the playground after school. The overlap between the intimacy of these daily rituals and the publicness of the spaces in which they occur highlight how there is a blurred threshold between the ‘home’ and ‘city’ as socio-spatial concepts. For many Singaporeans, these public spaces are inalienable extensions of the home.
And yet, with the implementation of lockdown across the country, it is clear that a harsh boundary does exist between the two in terms of ownership and control. What we are experiencing is due to our built environment being designed as a series of “hard spaces”, where it is clear that “there is a drawing of boundaries that separate out the actions of life into neat functional and then spatial categories”.2 Performing usually house-bound activities in the public realm may superficially be born from lack of space, but it is apparent that these rituals have gained an aspect of sociality to them that is inextricably linked to the spatial context.3 The neighbour who habitually sits at the table at the void deck to read the newspaper can do so still at home, but now he has lost the casual chats with friends and inquisitive glances at passers-by. This autonomy to surpass the physical boundary between home and the ‘outside’ through individual mobility and occupation has been suppressed in times of national emergency. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it apparent that such a stark physical delineation between our houses and public space comes at a huge cost to our well-being.4 ‘Home’ cannot end within four walls.
In times of much needed solidarity, Italy has their balcony concerts and Spain their terrace parties.5 Amongst our dense housing typologies, what is the local equivalent of this dualised space, that exists within private ownership but is far from isolated? The appreciation for 'communal moments' that were part of our daily rituals, revealed through its absence during the lockdown period, might create a need for these moments to be closer to home, for the sake of well-being in times of isolation or otherwise.6 Coming out of this crisis, we expect to see greater interest in how design can break down the boundaries between these ‘hard spaces’, allowing aspects of public life to bleed into the private sphere in a way that is designed for but still controlled by the individual.

In this ideal ‘grey area’, we can choose to see and be seen without stepping far from the boundary of the private home or fully entering public space; we have the freedom of choice to operate under a ‘public face’ (at least to passers-by in the immediate vicinity) and the same freedom to retreat back into privacy when we desire; similarly, we can escape the sometimes overwhelming intimacies of the home to an outward-looking space that endows on us a more expansive frame of mind, specifically because we have traversed the mental (if not physical) threshold of the private abode.7 Within this emergent space, there will be tension between the human yearning for community, the desire for a ‘safely quarantined unit’, and the inescapable concerns of space-efficiency and profit.
Some spaces in our local building vernacular provide a faint glimmer of semblance, although they are curtailed by their lack of intentionality. Decorated doorways along the common corridors of public housing estates - be it with plants, or sparsely arranged furniture - function as appropriated vestibules that allow us to somewhat present ourselves in a public manner. But they are delineating, almost insular, in intent as there is not enough space for human occupation (in the case of a porch) and thus further highlights this boundary between home and ‘outside’. Private balconies that are staccatoed across the facades of high-rise towers fail as a liminal space as well. Unlike in Italy or Spain, where residential blocks are spaced closer together along narrower traditional streets, balconies in our context do not allow for neighbours to see and hear each other. Small frontal gardens in landed houses might allow some porosity to the street outside, but these typically car-dominated spaces are hardly nurturing for any form of public life. These all fall short of the moments of conviviality that we yearn for in our present time of crisis by design. The urban and architectural design of modern residential types has prized privacy, separation and neat categorisation, leaving us truly alone in our hard physical spaces.8

In this time of exceptional social isolation, we find ourselves performing new outward-looking rituals in the home, establishing new relations between the private individual and the ‘other’ that exists beyond the household; from staring out the window onto the streets below to talking to neighbours behind gated barriers. Post-pandemic, how can our homes adapt to create a more nuanced and varied relationship with the outside world to remind us of our connectedness even when alone? In our land-scarce context, how can the home provide desirable private accommodation, enough communal living space within the household, and this conceptual ‘grey area’ that allows us to feel interconnected while technically still in the comforts of the abode? This doesn't mean the more social amongst us will stop lingering at void decks or coffee shops, but maybe those who are not predisposed to neighbourly chats in completely public spaces will have the choice to graft some of these more convivial moments into their realm of comfort, expanding the notion of home no matter what kind of house we live in.

1 Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991).
2 Jeremy Till, Architecture Depends (London: The MIT Press, 2009), p. 124
3 Ken Worpole, The Social Value of Public Spaces (London: The Policy Press for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation)
4 Bridget Cogley, “Coronavirus Pandemic Reveals Inequities in New York Housing Say Local Architects,” Dezeen, April 14, 2020
5 Jason Horowitz, “Italians Find a Moment of Joy in this Moment of Anxiety,” The New York Times, March 14, 2020
6 Ann Forsyth, What Role do Planning and Design Play in a Pandemic? (Harvard University Graduate School of Design), March 19, 2020
7 IKEA, An Exploration of Privacy, Life at Home Report, 2019
8 Zygmunt Bauman, Alone Again: Ethics After Certainty (London: Demos), 2000