Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Home is where the hearth is

The above shot is of the backyard of my parents former house, taken from the pool slide in the back. From this angle you can pretty much see everything that worked well about the place.

The house itself, a ranch-style home from the suburban obsessed fifties, is a classic of the type. Low lying, eight foot ceilings, and the front’s main design feature a two car garage. Inside there’s no sense of space, a lack of center replaced by that ubiquitous hearth of a television. Even the spaces held over from 19th century residential design, living and dining rooms, were amorphously blended into each other, reflecting the still developing tenets of modernist design.

Contemporary designers somewhat derisively refer to them as ‘ranchburgers.’ Enough time has passed however that these houses are now viewed fondly in a nostalgic sort of way. But that’s as far as it gets, as there’s not much interesting that can be done with them; and to do anything with them can be a bit of work, as they are often a strange tectonic hybrid. Space and design are almost throwaway, akin to temporary architecture, but they are often built to last; in the case of this house double brick construction with most of the major infrastructure (plumbing and gas) embedded in the concrete foundation.

These houses, like most of suburbia, have a strong temporary feeling to them. There’s nothing permanent, and visions of these endless square miles a thousand years in the future yield nothing more than images of dust. They remind me of many ancient archeological sites – all that remains of Angkor Wat, a city of a million people, is the central stone core of the city. The inhabitants all lived in wood housing surrounding it, and nothing remains of that save for some occasional post holes. Most cities are like this – a central area of ‘permanence’ surrounded by miles of transitory structures that might as well be tents.

Creating a sense of home in this environment is the same as changing a campground into a place. Nothing exists in the house to invoke a sense of belonging – often the design and fabrication counters it. My memories of 5422 East Rosewood are entirely that of family and friends. Events that happened to take place there, not events that were brought about by the house.

Save for the backyard of course. Marked by two main features, an enormous ash tree (which, unfortunately, is probably on its last legs) and the large even by Tucson standards pool. Those both created events and created place. And those are what I will miss. My parents have no love lost for the pool, mainly for the same reasons that Kathy and I have no real love lost for our car that we got rid of. Tons of maintenance and quite a pain in the ass to deal with and worry about. But the backyard was the one part of the house that was truly enjoyable to spend time it. That’s the place that I will miss.