Thinking outside the box, housing our selves

  public art in Vancouver

Houseboats Coal Harbor, Vancouver

I've been thinking a lot about housing lately. With the turmoil and foreclosures it seems a natural time to revisit assumptions. We tend to accept choices given to us without questioning what else there might be. Why choose between city apt or center-entrance colonial? Single family homes are the blindly accepted "goal" of many. Thought to be a haven in a heartless world the isolation of that kind of living can be deadly boring and sometimes, just deadly. Just look at the news.

It's as good a time as any to think about community, too. How to break the isolation? What about something like an extended family, but one of your choosing? While I love solitude probably more than most, I'm also one who thrives on social interaction. The trick is finding a way to have both. The article that triggered these ruminations is called To each her own.  It shows how two women created separate but connected living spaces in one large shared floorplan. They've worked out a way that gives them privacy and individual lives but companionship when they want it and how they choose it. Not the forced intimacy of being roommates but sharing a physical space in distinctly separate but connected living spaces. (I don't recommend the loosey-goosey legal and financial arrangements, especially between friends, but it's their choice.) Remember "good fences make good neighbors?" Boundaries are good to know. The paradox is that it's freeing to have them.

Co-housing is another idea whose time has come. An arrangement that varies in form it usually includes separate living quarters with a communal kitchen and meeting space. Members define how much contact and contribution is desired or required. Reading about this Burlington VT co-housing community at meal time makes it seem very appealing. When so many of us no longer live in extended families, co-housing can offer the multi-generational living that is more natural than how many of our lives end up being structured. The point is it's ours to choose. We can live independent disconnected lives on parallel tracks without ever sharing a meal with the family or the single person that lives next door, or not. There are more options than we typically think of.

For women in particular I think that one's own place is of greater importance than most of us realize. It's more than space in the closet or decorating choices, it's a physical manifestation of your self. It is your toe-hold in the world, your connection to the rock whether the waters around you are angry and lashing or calm and mirror-like. In my college days I knew a couple who, at the time were probably the age I am now. They were both artists and lived in separate wings of the same house with common rooms in between. It always struck me as ideal. Each time I saw them, I thought they looked deliriously happy with each other. I attributed this in no small measure to them having the space in their lives to choose to be together how and when it was best for both. Their children also went to boarding school. My husband could not have been more accommodating with my move into his space. But as long as we are here, it will be that. His space. I have lost mine. In some real way I lost my place in this world. It's more than a metaphor. It is a loss I grieve nearly every day and one which I know he struggles to understand. 

Maybe there are more opportunities in the housing market if we think more creatively about them. Certainly the two women in the NYT story had the experience of coming up against confusion and disbelief. Only the architect got it. 

For a completely different spin on architecture see this boîte in HK.