Designers Dwell on Dwelling

Event: Rethinking Domesticity
Location: The Urban Center, 10.19.07
Speakers: Elisa Orlanski Ours — Vice President, Planning & Predevelopment Department, Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group; Joel Sanders, AIA — Principal, Joel Sanders Architect & Associate Professor of Architecture, Yale University; Calvin Tsao, FAIA — Co-Founder, Tsao & McKown Architects & President, The Architecture League of New York; Lois Weinthal — Director, BFA Interior Design Program, Parsons The New School for Design
Moderator: Marisa Bartolucci — Editor & Writer
Organizer: The Architectural League of New York, as part of House & Garden‘s Design Happening program series

Nolan Park

House in Nolan Park on Governors Island.

Jessica Sheridan

Do contemporary dwellings reflect current living habits and desires? Are people truly ready to see the radical changes in their daily lives reflected in their living spaces? By serving as liaisons between clients and designers, integrating new technologies into old typologies, and reinforcing new trends through publication, designers can actively address issues of domesticity in their work and influence the shape of contemporary dwellings.

Currently, much of the domestic realm is shaped by status symbols and nostalgia, neither of which reflects actual living habits. A preference for McMansions may have less to do with the need for square footage and more to do with displays of wealth, according to writer and editor Marisa Bartolucci. Likewise, our sentimentality for vestiges of the past — such as formal dining rooms — may explain why certain unused spaces continue to haunt contemporary dwellings.

While old conventions influence dwellers’ decisions about their homes, attention must be given to forms that more accurately embody modern life. There is an increasing emphasis on spatial flexibility, leading to new definitions of privacy and work habits. Thus, today, a dining room might double as a home office or be integrated into the kitchen itself — a flexible and efficient solution that responds to practical needs in a time when space is at a premium.

Domesticity cannot be limited only to architecture; economic and social considerations are relevant and necessary, especially when it comes to effecting change. Yet, class and income do not necessarily dictate general domestic habits. Calvin Tsao, FAIA, co-founder of Tsao & McKown Architects, noted that apartment plans for residences in Bed-Stuy and Manhattan are similar in both layout and square footage, with only significant differences in materials, details, and location. Clearly our living habits are deeply engrained, and this comfort may ultimately be what maintains the status quo when it comes to contemporary dwelling. Architects continually generate innovative alternatives, but whether dwellers are ready to break free from conventional patterns and embrace these new changes is something that has yet to be seen.