Poetic Value of a Dwelling


Indonesian language does have a deficiency when speaking of dwelling. The problem is either the word house or home are generated into one single word, ‘rumah’. Based on the definition of ‘rumah’ in Dictionary of Bahasa Indonesia, the word ‘rumah’ could be interpreted equally as a house, which means a building for someone to live in. If by the word ‘rumah’ means only a place defined by walls and roof, then what is the meaning of home?

Gaston Bachelard, in his book The Poetic of Space, discribed the poetic side of a house as a corner for human  being securing him/herself from the world; that the true function of a house is to protect its dreamer within. ‘Rumah’ could become a home when it allows human to dream. Maybe this is the feeling that the writer of Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk, did not grasp when he still lived his family’s apartment in Istanbul; a place decorated with a piano that has never been played, desk that never been used, porcelain locked in a glass cupboard that have never been touched, and a library with books that have never red. For Pamuk, this house is more like a museum; full of rules that cannot be violated. “To my childish mind, these rooms were furnished not for the living but for the dead,” he wrote.

Opposed to Pamuk, Peter Zumthor, who is praticing as an architect, grasped a whole different experiece being in a place when visiting his aunt’s house. He narrated his ‘dialogue’ with the house not through architectural description; he did not talk about the shape, the style, the scale, nor the ornaments, but through the sense that he got when grabbed the door handle, or when he saw soft reflection of the sunlight, or heard the solid wooden door squeking, or smelled wet oil paint from a recently furnished cupboard. That is home for Zumthor, and these characters have become criterion he try to achieve in every of his architectural works.

According to Bachelard the latter is a phenomena where the status of a house escalated from a place that protect its dreamer to become a part of the dream itself. Or for short, a level-up. This phenomena happens only when the house could give enough space for its dweller to dream in the first place. This level-up phenomena happens not because Zumthor is an architect, this could happen to anyone in various scales, depends on the environment and the human’s sensitivity. Unfortunately, the existance of this phenomena has been suppressed by modern real estates that come with typical houses. Human rights to build his own dwelling has been limited by nominal values that mostly unaffordable. Hence this phenomena arises to the surface through some more subtle ways, and not as easy to be seen at a glance.

In 1948, an American psychologist, John N. Buck (1906-1983), discovered a personal evaluation method through hand drawing called the House-Tree-Person Test (HTP Test). Consistent with its name, this test required the subject to draw three essential objects : a house, a tree, and a person according to his/her own imagination. This drawings will be read as a notion that could be used to evaluate someone’s personality, the level of emotion, cognitive ability, the way of thinking, also detect neural damages. These show how someone, when detacthed from his/her real life, has a dream about an ideal world or universe, along with a dwelling where he/she could feel at home.

The reality of living in the city does have the abilty to destroy someone’s dream. Only a few can withstand the high price of land, construction cost, property tax, maintenance expenses, access to public facility, down to the signal and internet reception of the area. Take a look at Witold Rybczynski; an architect, educator, and writer from Canada, who was in order to fulfill his dream and build a boatshed had to searched within 45 miles radius from his hometown in Montreal, knowing there was no big enough land in the city he can afford. This happened around the 80’s. Nowadays in Jakarta 45 miles radius should not be enough to find a land with an affordable price for people with average income. The city could be a place for people persuing a better life, but does not always mean living in a better dwelling.

Nevertheless it does not mean that home could not be present in someone’s life eventhough he/she lives within the uproarious city. However a home is built from memories, and memories exist beyond the walls and roofs. The value of a home could be present in a small house, or absent from a large house. For a house may loved partly because its physical condition, but partly due to its positive association with its dwellers.

Rybczynski has a an extreme perspective regards this issue. When he was asked about the meaning of “The Most Beautiful House in the World” as titled in his book, he answerd, “is the one that you build for yourself,” as the way he built his own boatshed. For him, the process of building a house is a process of putting someone into a place where it is ‘save to dream’.  A strong association between the dwellers and the house is what makes a house ‘the most beautiful house in the world’ – makes it a home. That is why a house that personally designed and built by someone, even if it is just a shed,  always more affecting than a house designed and made by someone elses, no matter how fancy it is.

"Together Under One Roof"
” Together Under One Roof” – Source : Rybczynski, Witold (1990). The Most Beautiful House in the World. Penguin Books. USA

Today, to build a house by ourselves just like Rybczynski did is probably underrated or seen as a naïve dream. Therefore, time is another available option that can turn a house into a home. In Architecture of Happiness, Alain de Botton described how a house could grow into an all-knowing witness while watching a family being built and adding members, up until the children are all maturate and every days in between.  So it is not something impossible for a typical real estate house to grow into a home. If a house cannot be built with a strong association with its dwellers, then give it some times for us to make good memories within the house, one by one, until the house grow into a home.

“A room is still a room

Even when there’s nothing there but gloom

But a room is not a house

And a house is not a home

When the two of us are far apart

And one of us has a broken heart”

A House is not a Home

(Bacharach & David, 1964)

March 2017

Untuk artikel ini dalam Bahasa Indonesia


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