What is it about a building or space that makes us feel connected and feel a sense of place, a sense of belonging? Maybe it’s a question of asking what does Architecture capture and how we feel about it. Maybe it captures light, captures the rawness of materials, maybe it captures vastness or maybe its smallness, neatness and straight lines or chaos and randomness, maybe it captures the past. It really does depend on what we as individuals relate to, what we fall in love with and what makes us feel connected or at home.
These are questions that I am asking myself after watching Kelly and Joe build their Villa on the first episode of Grand Designs New Zealand with Chris Moller, particularly in response to Kelly’s desire to feel at home by replicating the past in her new home.
I think for Kelly her connection to history and her past gives her a sense of place, a place to feel at home, a place that has a history of being home. Architectural style and buildings last longer than our own lives and so give us an opportunity to connect with lives and lifestyles before us, to history that walked before us often in the same place as we now stand.
So how does Architecture capture history? Buildings and their spaces change over time. The way we live our lives and in the influences in it change. Architecture tells a story, a story of its occupation. The best story is one that is honest about its beginnings and truthfully tells what was before and what is now. Our spaces change, morph, react and respond to its occupants and their lifestyles. It is a romantic notion, going back to the good old days and getting a sense of what life was like. A place that feels like home, one that has a history, conjures up the notion of establishment, a building that has stood the test of time and often reflects not just past lives, but our past life, our childhood memories and the story of our lives.
So, it was an audacious exercise to create a new home with the essence of history and the past by replicating a grand old villa on a new site that only allowed modern-day materials and technologies. Replication just duplicates something. It doesn’t create a connection, it doesn’t create history and it tells a story of wanting to be something rather than a story of being something. It simply is made to look like it has a story. I think Kelly will be disappointed with her next new build because what I think she is after is a sense of belonging. A place where she feels at home not because of what it looks like, but because of how it makes her feel. She wants to feel the footsteps that have gone before her and have a connection to the past. If buildings were likened to a book, she wants to be part of the story right in the middle, not a mention in the introduction or first chapter.
Put simply, when telling a story with Architecture, new builds are the beginning whilst renovations are a new chapter. If history is important, look for spaces that already have it, because we cannot duplicate or re-create the past. My advice to Kelly and Joe would be to not build another new house, find one that feels like home, that gives you that connection and then make yourself part of that building's story. History can only be captured by time, and time is what allows the architecture to tell a story.