The power of home

Dear all,

I hope you’re keeping well in the weird and-not-that-wonderful ‘new normal’ we’re all living in. I’ve been staring at my walls far too much lately and subjecting them to far more scrutiny than they deserve poor things as a result the bathroom has been repainted and most of the pictures in my flat rearranged!

It’s also been changing my attitude to the homes I am currently designing (all 480-something of them) for a development in central London- if we are expecting people to be at home more does it change the way we should think about designing them? We had a big discussion on plug socket locations (yes, architecture really is that glamorous) to allow for a more flexible work from home set up and I hear rumours that people think this may spell the end of open plan living (what with multiple zoom calls happening simultaneously). But should this be more than an adaptation of plug sockets, and a more careful search of local broadband capability when moving house? Are we slowly returning to the live-work spaces of the past where home and business were intertwined; and will this fundamentally change more than the number of desk chairs in the house?

Historian Judith Flanders wrote a lovely book called ‘The Making of Home’ - which I have finally, after 3 years on the shelf, gotten around to finishing. She makes the point that the industrial revolution changed the way we classify work by moving ‘real’ work outside of the home. Up until the industrial revolution almost all work was done from home (carpentry, piecework, tailoring, professional services etc.)- this was industrialised and moved out into factories, workshops and later offices.

As a result the work that remained within the home became de-valued to the point that it no longer counted as work (cooking, cleaning, growing vegetables, raising children, keeping livestock etc.). This disproportionally impacted women’s roles and had a significant impact on the widening of the gender pay gap; as it tended to be the roles that men had traditionally taken that were moved out into specialised spaces and as such were more generously remunerated.

If these specialised spaces become slowly less important will these attitudes adjust? As we pull more aspects of our life back into the home will it impact not only the plug socket locations but our attitude to running the hoover over the floor? Will we start to re-frame caring and cooking and cleaning as a valuable calling and profession? Will the value society places on certain professions shift?

I don’t think anyone has the answer just yet, but what a wonderful silver lining to an awful pandemic if it readjusted our society to placing more value in caring for one another.

In other news this week I very much enjoyed reading about the oyster shells below Sailsbury Cathedral spire; continue to worry slightly about the impact of planning reforms in the UK and had great fun writing my architecture fresher's guide in my monthly column for Building Design.

Until next time!