Tom Foster's Architecture Column
Tue 7 Jul 2020
01647 24436 www.TomFosterArchitecture.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org
Foolish, writing about Covid-19 a month before anyone will read it – anything could happen meantime, and this could seem off-beam, obsolete.
Lockdown eases now – but is it ‘recovery’, or is the virus roaring back as you read this? Does this beautiful summer we’re blessed with continue, or is drought reviving last year’s focus on Climate Emergency?
A great fear now is that everything will return to ‘normal’, in the rush to start earning again. Unlikely - we hope – this is not merely a 2008, another crisis that our superiors skilfully finesse, to emerge more entrenched than ever. We have all experienced, rediscovered a great deal, and we have to insist that there will be no going back.
Here in relatively-rural Devon, for many it’s been actually quite blissful. The relief from planes flying, and from all the noises of busy-ness, subtle but striking, has been a revelation of ‘how it used to be’ – and therefore could be again. The air has been quiet, clean, and the birds have loved it; the veg garden blooms like never before. We feel simpler, more ‘real’.
For others, cooped up in city housing, it may have been hell – I count my blessings. But there is a vision of … call it Conviviality … that has come to almost everyone. From clapping the NHS, to the Zoom phenomenon, it’s a long-lost national, even international, shared experience of agreeable togetherness, even though we haven’t been meeting and ‘socialising’. As the anxious addictive pseudo-connectedness of Social Media begins to lose its grip, something more truly human re-enters our modern, wide world.
For many self-employed and others working from home, it’s also swiftly become a new and liberating way of enjoying work. Schooling and higher education too. More of life may be lived at home from now on, but paradoxically on a wider stage.
At best, this out-going potentiality has been accompanied by an inward rediscovery of what’s simpler and good for us individually, which mainly means ‘at home (and garden)’. For some, ‘home’ may have become like a prison – or we can begin to see how to make the best of what we’ve got, just for ourselves - and for the nature that embeds us.
There’s work to do, now. As our homes become less a dormitory before frenetic travel to activity elsewhere, we see how vital they are as the 24/7 support for a richer private life. So we re-decorate, move furniture and lights, create den/workspace/Zoom ‘studio’, re-do the garden.
There’s potential to take this much further. Most houses are designed for a bygone era, a collection of undersized cuboids because that’s how the Estate Agent’s ‘3 Bed 2 Recep’ room-count can be maximised with least imagination. But that makes them readily transformable.
I have no ready-made architectural formula for your home, to fit it for the radical new priorities of this 21st century. But I do know my clients’ pleasure and amazement at what’s possible, beyond expectation, as we work it out together. Now is the time to re-vision our homes to more than meet our new and age-old needs, a mix of new kinds of autonomy and conviviality.
My motto is ‘Space and Light’, because an impression of light airy spaciousness and connection to the green outside, even where actual space is limited, is the most fundamental economy. Another great economy is to get rid of unloved corridors, to throw their wasted precious space back into the useful whole. Creating fewer, more generous spaces doesn’t equal wide-open characterless rooms, when there’s freedom to for example create secluded cosiness in one place, opening out to splendid light spaciousness elsewhere. No need then for separated boxes labelled ‘Dining Room’, ‘Stairwell’ etc.
We may in the end thank Covid-19 for bringing us to our senses, to start rowing back to a sane, healthy, kinder world. Already, there are clear, strong realisations and calls to action. Much starts at home, and I can help with that.
I specialise in new, old and historic buildings, for work or home.
Expert in EcoBuilding, ‘Passive House', Planning Permission, DNPA, Building Regs, build-contract admin;
or perhaps you’d just like some can-do advice.