Monday, June 6, 2011

rituals and sacrifices

This afternoon I’ll stop by the Trevi Fountain and toss three coins over my shoulder. Hopefully I’ll hit water, not other tourists, since that would be really bad luck. I usually treat superstitions with derisive laughter, before nervously and dutifully observing them, and the Trevi Fountain coin toss is no exception. I always do it, and I always end up back here. Clearly it works.

In fact, I’m a little freaked out about neglecting to grind my heal into the private parts of the mosaic bull on the floor of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan. One must propitiate the gods of travel with appropriate rituals and sacrifices.

The rituals surrounding the Trevi Fountain, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II and other public spaces bring into sharp relief the difference between the meanings intended by a building’s designer and the meanings generated by use over time, and the importance of both. Spaces accrue meaning over time, and the social and political content of a place depends on its constantly shifting cultural context.

In the case of tin box, one question we’ve been grappling with is the quality of “home,” which is clearly not reducible to the programmatic function of “house.” How do you invest a building with this enigmatic quality? Most writing on the subject deals with memories associated with spaces, and which are triggered by some sensory experience (like Proust’s over-cited Madelines). How do we design the settings for future memories?

We’ve tried to design our home to allow for a wide range of experiences – from solitary reflection to large scale parties, from sitting in the shade to watching the torrential rains fall, from gardening to cooking to dining. We’ve tried to create a variety of spatial relationships, different experiences of landscape and of the changing qualities of natural light, and a variety of ways of engaging our neighbors through outdoor spaces. Each of these gestures or moments begins with an assumption about the kinds of activities and experiences they’ll enable, and we eagerly look forward to the unanticipated layers of experience that the house will add its own. Each has the potential to generate the quality of “home” that we seek.

But at the same time, we know that the house will have qualities, associations, meanings and memories that we will never have intended. And if people start throwing coins in our garden, I won’t complain too loudly.

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