Functional kindness (or what kind architecture is not)
I’m slowly recovering. I use walking stick now, for which I’m grateful. A few weeks ago, it was a challenge to crawl to the bathroom. My friend has been patient, and I’m thankful that the path from my bed to the bathroom is accessible. Accessibility, I realise, is fundamental to kind architecture.
Kind architecture is accessible. It’s easy to navigate and accounts for health and ability. What ‘easy’ is, however, is entirely dependent on the person, as kind architecture is also individualistic and customisable. Therefore, it’s judicious to define what kind architecture is not.
In 2008, Arakawa + Gins manifested an antagonistic abomination of how buildings should perform. The Bioscleave House has undulating floors, obstructive walls and counter-intuitive layouts making the simplest household tasks difficult.1 Arakawa and Madeline Gins, arguably artists rather than architects, believed that death was immoral; it can be avoided by shunning comfort and making every-day physical activity challenging.2 I think their idea that comfort as the ‘precursor to death’ is absurd: disease and illness are in fact the most common ‘precursors’ of death.3 The concept is perversely naïve. Architecture is not sufficient to prevent any disease, illness or death.4
The Bioscleave House is the nemesis of kind architecture. The concept stems from unfounded, blinkered opinions. It is insensitive to its landscape and unsympathetic to the variable human condition. Art may have the breadth to accommodate such negative and exclusionary connotations, but architecture does not.
While architecture cannot prevent or reverse suffering through illness and disease, kind architecture can reduce some suffering in a small way: making life somewhat more pleasant (or at least tolerable) while enduring adversity. Kind architecture doesn’t impose challenges on its inhabitants. Life is challenging, even more so when affected by disease, illness or injury. Kind architecture supports us when we are well, and nurses us when we are not through intuitive, unobstructive and efficient forms.
- Arakawa + Gins, “Bioscleave House (Lifespan Extending Villa),” Reversible Destiny Foundation.
- Fred A. Bernstein, “A House Not for Mere Mortals,” The New York Times (3 April 2008).
- World Health Organization, “The Top 10 Causes of Death,” www.who.int.
- Arakawa himself died after a short stay in hospital, presumably of illness. Gins never revealed his cause of death. Gins died of cancer in 2014. See Fred A. Bernstein, “Arakawa, Whose Art Tried to Halt Aging, Dies at 73,” The New York Times (20 May 2010).; Margalit Fox, “Madeline Arakawa Gins, Visionary Architect, Is Dead at 72,” ibid. (12 January 2014).
A retroactive manifesto on recovery and architecture.
Part 3 – November 2015