Over the next several weeks, we will be posting highlights from Lunch 11: Domestication. The following is the issue's editorial essay.
Domestication is the attempt to control or govern objects, spaces, and life forms: to use their value to enrich one’s own quality of life. The desire to manage and organize space, to situate oneself in a home, and to enlist the environment in the construction of identity are all key aspects of human fulfillment and well-being. But this control is never complete, and so domestication must be understood as an ongoing and mutually transformative negotiation.
Rather than examining “the domestic” as a condition, Lunch 11 explores domestication as a process, emphasizing practices of familiarization, affiliation, and assimilation that help people to construct domestic space. Lunch 11 is concerned with modes of domestication that individuals and groups initiate for themselves, driven not by a desire for total control, but by a need for allegiance and identification with the built environment. In these pages, contemporary designers critically assess existing processes of domestication and propose new techniques, seeking to establish more equitable and responsive relationships between species and spaces. We believe that domestication is a reciprocal transformation, not simply mastery and obedience; it is a dynamic, active, and often contentious relationship, rather than a final state. Domestication is not the eradication of otherness, but the recognition and celebration of relationships that situate us in the world.
Home starts by establishing some measure of control over a space, but this is just the beginning (Mary Douglas, "The Idea of a Home: A Kind of Space," Social Research 58:1, 289). Domestication is realized through time; it is on an ancient tradition of “beating the bounds”--walking their parish boundaries each year to ensure that the community’s spatial extents are remembered and maintained across generations. Such traditions reveal the essential temporality of domestication; the home is defined by formal marking of boundaries, but also by regular care and maintenance of the bounded space. The temporal dimension is crucial to an understanding of domestication as a negotiation between domesticator and domesticated. As Donna Haraway explains, the process of training a dog changes both the dog and its human trainer, generating “coconstitutive relationships in which none of the partners pre-exist the relating, and the relating is never done once and for all" (Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003, 12.) In spite of all attempts at complete domestication, there is always, “significant otherness at every scale" (ibid., 24).
Recognizing the desire for control embedded in the concept of domestication, we advocate for practices of domestication that engage critically with their own relational dynamics, power structures, and histories: an ethic grounded in the understanding that control is always incomplete. The freedom to create and control domestic space is fundamental to the identity, dignity, and cultural survival of marginalized people; the right to domesticate is a prerequisite for social equity and justice. Describing the lives of enslaved people in the American South in her 1990 essay “Homeplace (a site of resistance)”, bell hooks explains:
“Despite the brutal reality of racial apartheid, of domination, one’s homeplace was the one site where one could freely confront the issue of humanization, where one could resist. Black women resisted by making homes where all black people could strive to be subjects, not objects, where we could be affirmed in our minds and hearts despite poverty, hardship, and deprivation, where we could restore to ourselves the dignity denied us on the outside in the public world… When a people no longer have the space to construct homeplace, we cannot build a meaningful community of resistance.” (bell hooks, "Homeplace (a site of resistance" in Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, Boston: South End Press, 1990, 42)
The act of controlling space by constructing boundaries, however porous, allows for the creation of a “homeplace” defined against dominant political institutions and narratives. It is not the dwelling per se that is the “subversive political gesture,” but rather the process of constructing and maintaining the dwelling space, both physically and culturally (ibid. 43).
In the discipline of architecture, domestication has been enacted through two major strategies: the transitive (housing), in which one party domesticates another and exerts control over the other’s conditions of domestic life, and the reflexive (homemaking), in which a party creates its own domestic space. While these two modes are not precisely opposites, they provide a framework for understanding historical modes of design intervention in the domestic realm, and how these domestic spaces have aggregated to form the city (Pier Vittorio Aureli, "Means to an End," in The City as a Project, Berlin: Ruby Press, 2014, 37-38). While interest in alternative modes of domestication has waxed and waned, the history of architecture has been marked by periods of intense interest in transitive practices, perhaps because they articulate a clear role for the designer--the person who, before the space is inhabited, decides the activities and relationships that will be permitted and proscribed there, what will be encouraged or discouraged. A top-down approach often precludes the rigorous and empathetic study of reflexive practices, but some architects, including Herman Hertzberger and, more recently, Alejandro Aravena, consciously accommodate reflexive domestication in their designs, employing a methodology that cultivates potential for creation of a homeplace.
The continual construction of the homeplace is a fundamentally civic act that is not limited to the traditional boundaries of the house. The city comprises a network of overlapping realms of domestication that, rather than fitting neatly into a public-private dichotomy, extend and collide across the urban landscape. The city can be understood as a matrix of complex and contradictory domestications. To grasp this shifting terrain, we propose a close reading of the reflexive processes of domestication, building on traditions of community-based design and environmental psychology. Taking people’s observed spatial behaviors and preferences as the foundation for design is crucial for architecture to remain relevant in physically and socially diverse urban environments.
Understanding the city as an extended field of the domestic, Lunch 11 juxtaposes small-scale practices of space-claiming with systemic policies of domestication, thereby confronting the complexity, controversy, and excitement of making ourselves at home in the contemporary world.