Essays
Published in ,
Price: € 49,95

Shifting Scales

Affordable Housing in India

The search for new models for affordable housing in the world’s growing cities has never been more urgent. Good, inexpensive housing is needed to confront the challenges of urban segregation, and to make it possible for those with little or no means to access and inhabit the cities that have the promise of providing a better future. India has been addressing these issues since its independence in 1947, resulting in a series of housing design experiments that can still inspire, but also clearly demonstrate the near impossibility of finding successful and lasting solutions.

Despite India’s recent economic success, the state’s inability to actively and effectively deal with the country’s rapid urbanization have led to megacities such as Mumbai and New Delhi that threaten to succumb to the unrelenting pressures of distress migration. At the same time, there has been an exponential rise in the number of smaller cities growing at an even faster rate than the large metropolises. Still a predominantly rural society with only about 30 per cent of its entire population living in urban areas (about 410 million people),1 India is expected to add an additional 500 million people to its cities by the year 2050.2 As urban India surges forward, construction and planning have been unable to keep up with demand, leading to a situation where large informal settlements or slums have become an inevitable consequence of this rapid growth. Today, in India, the enormous task of providing housing for new migrants as well as improving the conditions of those living in the already existing self-built informal settlements has never been more acute.

Designing affordable housing in large numbers is a constant process of balancing opposites. The way people can live in the city is a key factor in the transformation of traditional rural society into a modern urbanized economy. Should affordable dwellings be designed to accommodate a traditional rural way of life, or should they immediately aim for a future urban lifestyle?

The opposites of rural versus urban, of tradition versus modern, and local versus global played a key role in the formation of a new and independent India. Mahatma Gandhi, for example, always stressed the origins of Indian society. ‘India is to be found not in its few cities, but in the 700,000 villages’3 is a famous quote of his from 1936. On the other hand, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, was a firm advocate of the modernization and urbanization of the country, and initiated the construction of a new state capital, Chandigarh, as a symbol of the new, free and modern India . . .

Notes:

  • http://www.worldometers.info/worldpopulation/india-population/. Accessed 16 August 2015.
  • A. Dhar (2012), India Will See Highest Urban Population Rise in Next 40 Years, available online at: http://www.thehindu.com/news/india-will-seehighest-
    urban-population-rise-in-next-40-years/article3286896.ece. Accessed 16 August 2015.
  • Speech by Mahatma Gandhi at the 50th session of the Indian National Congress, Faizpur, Bangalore, in: A.K. Thakur, Economics of Mahatma Gandhi: Challenges and Development (Delhi: Deep and Deep Publications, 2009).
Published in ,
Price: € 49,95

Affordable Housing as Development Aid

Michel Écochard: New Roles, Methods and Tools of the Transnational Architect

It was not by coincidence that the UN Economical and Social Council decided in 1948, only a few years after the actual foundation of the United Nations as an organization, to start a division on Housing and Town and Country Planning.1 This division was a central component in the larger so-called technical assistance programme that the United Nations developed to help countries that were in need – ranging from war-affected countries in Europe to newly independent nation-states in African and Asia. Among the members of the council, there was a clear understanding that affordable housing was a universal human right, as well as a main matter of concern and a prime field of intervention for the new international organization.2 . . .

Notes:

  • This research on the United Nations and the HTCP was undertaken together with Maristella Casciato. An introduction to the various activities of the Housing and Town and Country Planning can be found in the various issues of the periodical Housing and Town and Country Planning (New York: United Nations. Dept. of Social Affairs, 1948).
  • Adequate housing was recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was approved by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and of which article 25 states: ‘Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing . . .’ It was confirmed in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Erratum:

The articles by Luce Beeckmans, “The adventures of the French architect Michel Ecochard in post-independence Dakar: a transnational development expert drifting between commitment and expediency”, The Journal of Architecture, 19:6, 2004, 849-871 and Kim De Raedt, “Shifting conditions, frameworks and approaches: the work of KPDV in postcolonial Africa.”, ABE Journal: (4/2013) 1-28 have, for respectively the texts parts on Dakar and Fria, functioned as important sources for this essay. Passages from these articles have been strongly paraphrased (in first, second and last paragraph on Dakar, and in third paragraph on Fria) but erroneously not referenced (Beeckmans) or only partially (De Raedt). The authors wish to apologize for this omission, explicitly recognize the role of the articles as sources and underline their scientific importance.

 

 

Published in ,
Price: € 49,95

Mediating Informality

The Urban Visions of Peru's Law 13517

In 1949, Lima’s modernist apotheosis appeared imminent: the Plan Piloto, the city’s first master plan, had applied the techniques of scientific planning to analyse the city at its various scales – from the historical core to the agricultural areas supplying it with food – and to establish a logical course for ‘channeling its urban development’.1 But by 1954, a follow-up study warned that ‘the overflowing vitality of the metropolis in its blind force of expansion’ was setting in train problems which would only intensify over time: ‘the traffic congestion endlessly increases . . . delinquency grows; the city is choking itself in a dreadful ring of clandestine dwellings . . . a drop in the standard of living threatens.’ All this was the result of an unprecedented rate of population growth, largely due to rural-urban migration: established planning processes were being overtaken by the rapid emergence of barriadas (squatter settlements), as authorized housing could not be built quickly and cheaply enough to meet the demand. Reluctantly, the study confessed: ‘An economical system of urbanization and construction that would allow us to avoid the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions that appear in the “clandestine neighbourhoods” has not yet been devised.’2

The establishment of the improvised ‘Ciudad de Dios’ (City of God) on Lima’s southern periphery, achieved through a large-scale land invasion on Christmas Eve 1954, dramatized the desperate nature of the capital’s housing crisis. Although this method of forming barriadas had proliferated over the previous half decade, the Ciudad de Dios invasion, involving 8,000 people, was by far the largest to date, testing the limits of the state’s tolerance for extrajudicial development and provoking it into a more assertive response. After initially insisting that Ciudad de Dios would be forcibly closed down, in 1955 the government turned to planning law to broker a solution, devising new guidelines that could better accommodate – but also more effectively regulate – these emerging patterns of urban development. This tactic culminated in 1961 with the comprehensive set of reforms advanced in Law 13517, which outlined a new approach to understanding and shaping the selfbuilt city. While prevailing urban planning techniques had failed, confidence remained that once its techniques were recalibrated in line with a revised regulatory framework, planning professionals would again be able to deliver rational and effective solutions to ‘channel’
urban growth. This article assesses how efforts to apply the new regulations unfolded and how they fared in practice . . .

Notes:

  • Oficina Nacional de Planeamiento y Urbanismo, Lima: Plan Piloto (Lima: ONPU, April 1949). The plan was produced under the direction of Luis Dorich, the first Peruvian architect to formally study urban planning, completing his studies at MIT in 1944. Josep Lluís Sert and Paul Lester Wiener’s unrealized project for a new civic centre for Lima was one component of the Plan Piloto.
  • ONPU, Lima Metropolitana: Algunos aspectos de su expediente urbano y
    soluciones parciales y varias (Lima: ONPU, December 1954), 5, 8.
Published in ,
Price: € 49,95

To be Continued . . .

Housing, Design and Self-Determination

Self-help housing is a timeless social practice to satisfy people’s need for shelter. In broad terms, it can be defined as an activity where citizens, individually or collectively, develop a great deal of self-determination in housing production. It does not mean, however, that it implies complete autonomy or autarky. In effect, self-help housing is far from a monolithic category. In pre-capitalist societies it was pervasive and arguably the most common form of housing provision.1 With the emergence and rise of the capitalist mode of production in Western societies, providing proper living conditions became a key element to secure the reproduction of the labour force necessary to support industrial development and capital accumulation. This was then the heyday of philanthropic ventures promoted by bourgeois reformers to provide decent housing for the working class. Ever since, in periods of capitalist expansion, self-help housing in the urbanized world has been swiftly replaced by marketbased housing production. In periods of crisis of capitalism, however, self-help housing returned recurrently. This time, however, it was the bureaucratic apparatus of the state and its extensions that exploited it, thus creating the so-called aided self-help, or in more actual terms, assisted self-help housing. In central Europe, for example, this was the case after the Franco-German war of 1870-1871, in the aftermath of the First World War, the Great Depression in the 1930s, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the first oil shock of 1973, and more recently the financial crisis that started in 2008.2

Many authors, especially those examining assisted self-help housing from a Marxist point of view, see it as a politically charged concept, usually associated with a withdrawal of the state from its role as provider of affordable housing. There is a great deal of mystification in this understanding, though. In fact, self-help has been historically part and parcel of housing policies championed by a wide political spectrum, a phenomenon that was particularly evident in Europe throughout the twentieth century. Indeed, governments controlled by communists, fascists, socialists and liberal democrats have all employed housing policies based on assisted self-help. Despite this versatility, or perhaps because of it, self-help housing policies have seldom been credited intellectually and politically as a key housing policy.3

This does not mean, however, that its influence in shelter delivery processes around the world can be neglected. For example, between 1972 and 1982 the World Bank alone promoted a particular instance of assisted self-help, the sites and services approach, lending money to finance shelter projects or components in 35 countries, that yielded accommodation to some 3 million people over that period.4 Indeed, in the 1970s, the sites and services approach was championed as a pervasive housing policy for the developing world, and an influential contribution to the re-emergence of human settlements based on the
concept of incremental housing and participatory design as tokens of democratic architecture. This approach became ‘a sort of new orthodoxy in the housing policies advocated for developing countries’, as Lisa Peattie put it.5 The ‘Habitat: United Nations Conference on Human Settlements’, held in Vancouver in 1976, was arguably the touchstone event that established the sites and services approach as the major figure in the housing policies used in developing aid. It contributed a great deal to what another important figure of the Habitat conference, Barbara Ward, called ‘planetary housekeeping’.6 . . .

Notes:

  • Hans Harms, ‘Historical Perspective on the Practice and Purpose of Self-Help Housing’, in: Peter Ward (ed.), Self-Help Housing: A Critique (London: Mansell, 1982), 45.
  • An insightful account on the emergence of self-help housing can be seen in Harms, ‘Historical Perspective’, op. cit. (note 1). Recent appraisal on assisted self-help has surfaced from different disciplinary fi elds. See, for example, the April 2015 issue of the magazine Volume, dedicated to the theme ‘Self-Building City’, and the prominence of assisted self-help initiatives in Jan Bredenoord, Paul Van Lindert and Peer Smets (eds.), Affordable Housing in the Urban Global South: Seeking Sustainable Solutions (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014).
  • For a discussion on the diverse political nature of the endorsement to assisted self-help, see Richard Harris, ‘Slipping through the Cracks: The Origins of Aided Self-Help Housing, 1918-53,’ Housing Studies, vol 14 (1999) no. 3, 281-309.
  • Jan Van der Linden, The Sites and Services Approach Renewed. Solution or Stopgap to the Third World Housing Shortage? (Aldershot: Gower, 1986),
    47-48.
  • Lisa R. Peattie, ‘Some Second Thoughts on Sites-and-Services’, Habitat International, vol. 6 (1982) no. 1-2, 131.
  • Barbara Ward, ‘The Home of Man: What Nations and the International Must Do’, Habitat International, vol. 1 (1976) no. 2, 125. This text reproduces Barbara Ward’s talk at the Habitat Conference, delivered on Tuesday 1 June 1976 at the Conference Plenary Hall, Queen Elizabeth Centre.
Published in ,
Price: € 49,95

Cross Pollination in the Doshi-Habitat

A Report from Ahmedabad

Students of Delft University of Technology have been taking part in the Habitat Design Studio in Ahmedabad since 2010. The design studio is organized annually by Balkrishna Doshi and his firm Vastu Shilpa.1 For two months, the students work on a task related to the explosive growth of the city together with other European students and students from India. This may involve slum improvement, urban densification challenges or design research with regard to self-build practices. For the 2015 edition, the construction of a new subway line was reason to investigate its possible effects on the existing urban tissue. All studio editions centred on local neighbourhood communities and how these can be best enabled to reshape their own living environment. The students live in Ahmedabad for two months and their work at Doshi’s firm immerses them in the culture of India, the context of rapid urbanization and the conflicts arising between twenty-first-century modernity, growing new middle classes that embrace a materialistic lifestyle, and the influx of migrants who try their luck in the city while still holding on to a much more traditional lifestyle . . .

Notes:

  • For a brief overview, see http://www.vastushilpa.org/international-studio.html. The studio dates back to 2003. Architecture Schools in Australia, Denmark, France and Switzerland have taken part in the Habitat Design Studio. The students are supervised by a multidisciplinary team of teachers. Especially the contribution of prof. em. Neelkanth Chhaya should not go unrecognized.
Published in ,
Price: € 49,95

An Urban Manifesto

I believe in the cities of India:
Like the wheat fields of Punjab, and the coalfields of Bihar, they are a crucial part of our national wealth.

They generate the skills we need for development:
Doctors, nurses, lawyers, administrators, engineers – not just from the great metropolises, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, but from a hundred
smaller urban centres across the country.

Cities are engines of economic growth:
There is no way, either politically or morally, that we can divert rural funds to develop towns and cities. On the contrary, cities, properly managed, can generate surplus funds not only for their own development, but to help subsidize the surrounding rural areas as well.

Cities are centres of hope:
Too often we look at our cities from our own self-centred point of view. So we see only the shortages, the failures. But for millions and millions of migrants, landless labourers and wretched have-nots of our society, cities are perhaps their only hope, their only gateway to a better future.

 

Essays
Published in ,
Price: € 29,50

Lebensraum

Notes on Hannah Arendt and the Private Realm

In her novel The Fountainhead (1943), American author and philosopher Ayn Rand describes an interior within the first four pages: the student room of her protagonist, architect Howard Roark. This early introduction of an interior is an indication of its importance, in novels as much as in daily life. A previously unfamiliar interior can tell us a great deal about its occupant, and not just the obvious things like the style of furniture he or she has chosen (from IKEA or Milan) or what books are displayed in the bookcase (if there is a bookcase at all). It also reveals something about the life being lived there. And an interior also poses a challenge: it invites the visitor to relate to the occupant, precisely because it is an everyday and in some sense a shared environment, which evokes either recognition or alienation.

Rand uses the interior as a mechanism with which to shed light on her protagonist’s character. The novel opens just after Roark has been suspended from his architecture degree. His landlady is waiting for him in front of her house…

 

Published in ,
Price: € 29,50

‘In welchem Style sollen wir wohnen?’

Exhibited Interiors in a Debate about Style

In ‘The Exhibitionist House’, Beatriz Colomina highlights how the house has become ‘the most important vehicle for the investigation of architectural ideas in this century’.1The role that what I would call ‘style rooms’ – exhibited house interiors – have played in this process should not be underestimated. These temporary and relatively simple architectural installations are not only able to quickly demonstrate an idea to a large audience, but can also transcend the manifesto, the sales brochure, or the promotional leaflet by evoking an immediate illusion of the interior.

In my article, I want to position several of these style rooms in a debate about style and interiors that up to the present day remains of great importance to architecture and design. These specific interiors played a role in this debate at crucial moments in the first half of the twentieth century. Style, a key architectural concept, forms the foundation of many architectural-theoretical considerations and polemics,2 and is defined in the dictionary somewhat laboriously as the ‘collective characteristics of (…) artistic expression or way of presenting things or decorative methods proper to a person or school or period or subject.’3

Style also plays an important role in the private interior of the home. The personal character of the interior and the relative ease of adapting it to changing needs and tastes mean that it is often difficult to maintain ‘collective characteristics of artistic expression’ in the long term, but style is nonetheless an inescapable issue in the interior of the home. The major changes in society over the past few centuries, such as the rise of the middle class, increasing industrialization, and the development of the free global market, have turned the home, and by extension the interior of the home, into an architectural assignment. Style in this sense is not so important in terms of its art-historical significance, but rather in describing the aesthetic choices of the designer in terms of space, proportions, coverings and comfort, which are indeed eminently architectural concepts.

In the nineteenth century, style was the subject of a lengthy and intense debate among historians and architects.4 In welchem ​​Style sollen wir bauen became the lofty phrase that managed to sum up that debate within the field of architecture, with all of its eclectic freedom, but also the nervous despair that was implied by the question itself.5 The question goes far beyond the choice of this or that historical building style: style represents not only an era and a culture, but also takes on a strong ethical and political meaning as an expression of power, or a projected ideal. In the process, the inherent relativism of the style debate is consistently beset by a desire for a ‘natural’ style that is supposed to express the new era.

The question of whether and how this kind of Überstil should or could arise forms an important breeding ground for the theoretical edifice that architect Gottfried Semper constructed in the middle of the nineteenth century, one that is still important today for reflecting on architecture.6

Notes:

  • Beatriz Colomina, ‘The Exhibitionist House’, in: Richard Koshalek, Elizabeth A.T. Smith and Zeynep Çelik (eds.), At the End of the Century: One Hundred Years of Architecture (Los Angeles: Museum of Contemporary Art, 1998), 126-166. See, for example: OASE, no. 42. (1995).
    H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler (eds.) The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964), 1282.
  • Mitchell Schwarzer, German Architectural Theory and the Search for Modern Identity (Cambridge/New York/Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 33-87.
  • Nowhere was the style debate more actively contested than in the German language countries. The title In welchem Style sollen wir bauen appears at least three times: in Heinrich Hübsch in 1828, in August Reichensperger in 1852, and in Albert Hofmann in 1890.
  • Ibid., 331, 332, 336.
  • For a concise version by Semper himself (translated by Harry Francis Mallgrave
    and Wolfgang Herrmann), see: Gottfried Semper, The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 101-129.
  • Udo Garritzmann gives a good summary of the theories of Semper: ‘From the Colour of Dressing to the Dressing in Colour and Back Again’, in: Suzanne Komossa, Kees Rouw and Joost Hillen (eds.), Colour in Contemporary Architecture (Amsterdam: SUN, 2009), 172-196.
Published in ,
Price: € 29,50

Model Interiors and Model Homes at Expo 58

Exhibited Interiors in a Debate about Style

Model interiors and model homes were a recurring element at the world fairs of the previous century. At Expo 58, the Brussels World Fair of 1958, these forms of presentation were also a common feature. Various participating nations saw the model interior or the model home as a powerful didactic instrument with which to draw attention to the idea of successful post-war reconstruction, a new national identity or a promising future. Model homes offered an accessible formula, instantly recognizable across national borders and extremely suited to the synthesis of industry and culture.1At the same time the model home was a rewarding formula for participants with a more commercial purpose. Within the Belgian Section,2 especially, contributions such as the pavilion of the Buildings and Dwellings group or that of the furniture company Vanderborght provided an overview of what the Belgian market had to offer – or might be offering in the future.3 As well as giving expression to progress, these model homes and interiors often appeared to be referring explicitly to the overall theme of the world fair: ‘A balance sheet for a more humane world.’ A good or comfortably furnished home was a basic need, the social importance of which had been brought into sharp focus since the horrors of the Second World War.4

The model homes and interiors at Expo 58 were extremely wide-ranging, not least because of the diversity of the participating nations and businesses and their different visions of ‘modern’ or ‘better’ living. Besides, by the end of the 1950s the model interior was familiar to the general public, which had become acquainted with the national promotion of ‘new’ and ‘good’ living during the post-war years. Expo 58 gave designers the opportunity to deploy this tried and tested exhibition formula in a range of different, often subtle and innovative ways, stretching from realistic, full-scale models to fictitious or evocative settings in which furniture and other furnishings played a significant role. This article sheds light on the rich palette of model homes and interiors at Expo 58, and reflects on examples that pushed the medium’s boundaries…

Notes:

  • We would like to thank architectural engineers Iris Bauwens and Céline Goessaert for their archival research into the model homes in the German, French and Dutch pavilions. They wrote
    a Master’s thesis about these model homes: Iris Bauwens and Céline Goessaert, Modelwoningen op Expo 58. Drie cases: de Nederlandse, Duitse en Franse paviljoenen (Ghent University, Master’s thesis, 2006). They subsequently published an article based on their thesis: Iris Bauwens and Céline Goessaert, ‘Modelwoningen op Expo 58. Drie cases: de Nederlandse, Duitse en Franse  paviljoenen’, Gentse Bijdragen tot de Interieurgeschiedenis, no. 36 (2009), 87-107.
  • The world fair was divided into different sections based on the nature and origin of the exhibitors. They included a Belgian, Foreign, Colonial, Commercial and Global Section. Inside the pavilions, the exhibition was organized in ‘groups’ encompassing the different aspects of society. Each group was divided into different ‘classes’. With its encyclopaedic approach, Expo 58 fits
    into the nineteenth-century exhibition tradition.
  • Fredie Floré and Mil De Kooning, ‘The Representation of Modern Domesticity in the Belgian Section of the Brussels World’s Fair of 1958’, Journal of Design History, no. 4 (2003), 319-340.
  • Paul Betts and David Crowley, ‘Introduction’, Journal of Contemporary History, no. 2 (2005), 213-236.

 

Published in ,
Price: € 29,50

Superstudio: Inhabited Space

[Part 1: Karma Sutra]

Renowned architect Giovanni Michelucci and art critic Laura Vinca Masini were the two principle curators for ‘La Casa Abitata’ (the Inhabited House), the 1965 Florentine biennale on interior architecture and design that introduced a set of walk-through room installations inside Palazzo Strozzi. The all but forgotten Florentine exhibition brought together some of Italy’s most noteworthy architects and designers to showcase new and creative visions for the contemporary domestic environment.1 In a feature article on the exhibition published in Domus, the editors lamented the fact that this kind of research of the home by such an esteemed group of architects and designers had not originated in Milan at the Triennale.2

While Vinca Masini stressed in her catalogue introduction that there was a complete lack of consensus among the selected participants, her premise was to raise ‘awareness of the inability of contemporary homes to perform an exact function, conditioned by the market, the general building situation and the crisis of our cities, dominated by an increasingly anonymous building program that is ever more confined by the immediate needs of the masses.’ She went on to stress: ‘It seems clear that the average person can save himself only by rediscovering his own measure, by recovering his freedom, where the conditioning, incommunicability and inurement provoked by propaganda and advertising, imposed by all means by all the means of the “culture of affluence”, can be brought down to size and re-established within the limits of their meaning through an individual thought process.’3 With this exhibition, Vinca Masini wanted to show that it was possible for man to gain a real freedom of lifestyle…

Notes:

  • Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi Catalog: La Casa abitata: biennale degli interni di oggi, (Florence, Formatecnica Publicazioni, 1965)
  • Domus editors, ‘Introduction,’ Domus, no. 426 (May 1965) reprinted in Charlotte and Peter Fiell, Domus Vol VI 1965-1969 (London: Taschen, 2006), 552.
  • Lara Vinca Masini, ‘The Inhabited House’, Domus, no. 426 (May 1965), in: ibid., 553.
Published in ,
Price: € 29,50

IKEA and the Dutch Domestic Landscape

In 2013, IKEA, the furniture store from Sweden, celebrated the 35th anniversary of the opening of its first branch in the Netherlands. The retrospective exhibition in an old factory building in Amsterdam told not only the history of how IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad had turned a simple catalogue firm into a multinational, but also the success story of IKEA’s impact on the Dutch interior. The impact was primarily contributed to the annual door-to-door delivery of the thick sales catalogue; that explains why all 35 covers of the IKEA catalogue were printed on large banners, providing the visitors with a nostalgic look back. In addition, the curators of the exhibition had asked holders of the IKEA Family card (that is, the IKEA fan club) to take pictures of themselves with their favourite IKEA trophy. Of the many framed pictures of proud owners on their IKEA sofa, at their IKEA table, or in their IKEA bed, several were selected to be printed in a large format, professional portraits with a detailed explanation of what the piece of furniture or lamp meant to them…

 

Essays
Published in ,
Price: € 29,50

The Room

An Exploration of Personal Space

Once upon a time, many years ago – just 20 years ago, in fact – I was living in a dormitory. I was 18 and a first-year student. I was new to Tokyo and new to living alone, and so my anxious parents found a private dorm for me to live in rather than the kind of single room that most students took. The dormitory provided meals and other facilities and would probably help their unworldly 18-year-old survive. . .

The paved path leading from the gate circumvented the tree and continued on long and straight across a broad quadrangle, two three-story concrete dorm buildings facing each other on either side of the path. They were large with lots of windows and gave the impression of being either flats that had been converted into jails or jails that had been converted into flats. However there was nothing dirty about them, nor did they feel dark. You could hear radios playing through open windows, all of which had the same cream-coloured curtains that the sun could not fade.

Beyond the two dormitories, the path led up to the entrance of a two-story common building, the first floor of which contained a dining hall and bathrooms, the second consisting of an auditorium, meeting rooms, and even guest rooms, whose use I could never fathom. Next to the common building stood a third dormitory, also three storeys high. Broad green lawns filled the quadrangle, and circulating sprinklers caught the sunlight as they turned. Behind the common building there was a field used for baseball and football, and six tennis courts. The complex had everything you could want.1

The Student Room

When you read this description through the eyes of Watanabe, the 18-year-old protagonist of Haruki Murakami’s novel Norwegian Wood, the student room – as the first (in)dependent residence after the first stage of life (namely as a child who is part of a protected family life) has been completed – can be seen as the starting point for the next phase: life as an independent, young adult scholar-in-training. The universe described by Murakami is the campus of a private university in Tokyo, where the main building, three residence halls, and sports fields form the main elements.

Notes:

  • Haruki Murakami, Norwegian Wood (London: Vintage, 2012), 16-17. Passages from the novel Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (original title: Noruuei no mori), which was first published in 1987, and in which the protagonist Watanabe describes how, as an 18-year-old, he wound up in his first student room on the campus of a private university in Tokyo in the late 1970s.