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by: Bernard Teo

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Tue 08 Jan 2008

"A house is a machine for living in.”

Category : Commentary/HouseMachineLiving.txt

I've finally settled in at my new place (though I've still ten boxes of books downstairs in the shop space that I don't yet know what to do with - perhaps I should just start a second-hand book store). It's been hard - I was wondering why this move was so hard, harder than I've ever experienced before, when I realised, of course, I was moving both my home and my office, together for the first time, and it's what I'll probably be doing for the rest of my life, having an integrated work-life, and that I'll be moving both my home and my work life together, wherever I would be going next. And so I've been paring down on all the junk, jettisoning all that's not essential. And it's been exhausting and time-consuming, but I think I'm ready to get back to work now.

It's Le Corbusier who said that "a house is a machine for living in”. And so it is. I'm surprised to find ourselves liking this place quite so much. As you come up the stairs from the shop space below, you're hit by so much light you think you've left the lights on. But it's all streaming in from the window.

And you feel the wind, not just the breeze, as you walk towards the window, and you know somehow, somewhere there is water, and so there is.

This could be probably be the coldest place in all of Singapore. For the first time ever, for a very long time, I could sleep without air-conditioning, and if I do my work in the kitchen at night, with the wind in my face, I would need a sweater.

The wind is good here. Good enough, and space enough, for wind surfing and sailing. So they're building a jetty where it's currently boarded up by the green hoardings. And they're building new tracks for the cyclists, skaters, joggers, etc, to bring the people closer to the water.

This is a most peculiar place. At the front, from the hall, and from my kid's room (and it's such a big room we could all sleep in it and we do) we look out into the park and it's mostly quiet and it's like a resort.

But at the back, the kitchen looks out over the back-entrance to a 24-hour foodcourt, so there's life round the clock. There's grime, sweat and noise. Contractors loading pipes, traders loading rice sacks and jars of sauce. Lorry-loads of them. It's not where one would like to park a BMW. And we live right next to a rag-and-bone lady. Although we worry about rats, etc, if we have to live next door to rag-and-bone person, then we're glad it's her because at least she's neat, and there's a story in there somewhere.

She works till 3 a.m. every night. Right now, it's pouring and the stuff she's collected are all drenched and our heart goes out to her.

So, that might answer the question why not more people do what we do, i.e., choose to live in such a place. People take one look at the scene at the back and it's like living in a hovel. Yucks. No thanks.

But if you trace back the ideas that went into mass-produced public housing, you'll reach back eventually to Le Corbusier, and the idealism that underly it all. Like Corbu's Unité d'Habitation, if we think different for a moment, we can find beauty if we look past the surface ugliness and the brutality of the concrete. (Like the way a Bernini can see a St Theresa in a block a marble.)

Posted at 6:29PM UTC | permalink

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