Friday, February 6, 2009

Spacing and Culture

I’m reading The Hidden Dimension by Edward T. Hall. The book is about how spacing correlates with culture. Nowadays we all know about intimate, personal and social distances, but Hall, I believe, was the first who started talking about such things.

In one chapter Hall describes fixed-feature space and how people organize layout of cities, villages and even internal layout of their houses. He says:

“The layouts of villages, towns, cities and the intervening countryside is not haphazard but follows a plan which changes with time and culture. Even the inside of the Western house is organized spatially. Not only are there special rooms for special functions – food preparation, eating, entertaining and socializing, rest, recuperation? And procreation – but for sanitation as well… Actually the present internal layout of the house, which Americans and Europeans take for granted, is quite recent. … rooms had no fixed functions in European houses until the eighteenth century. Members of the family had no privacy as we know it today. There were no spaces sacred or specialized.”

I was born in the Soviet Union and spent my childhood in a soviet commi-block. My parents had two room apartment at the seventh floor of 9-storied house. We had no bedrooms – rooms that are dedicated for sleeping only. The room where my parents lived was also a living room, where TV and a piano stayed and where parties took place. I shared another room with my elder sister. It was a very typical apartment, most of my friends had ones with the similar internal layouts. When my sister got married, she and her husband moved to the smaller room and I moved to the parent’s room. Again, it was not something extraordinary, many families shared flats. One room per family was taken for granted. And, you know, we lived a happy life. None of us suffered from the lack of privacy. I was a teenager when we moved to a bigger apartment and I got my own room.

I really don’t think that our living conditions were awful. They were just different. Today, my husband and me live in a three room flat, that is just Ok. Less would be very uncomfortable, as we both work at home and need a space at least to put all our equipment. Why my parents and me felt good living in a tiny, overcrowded apartment?

I think, the main reason is that we didn’t have a concept of privacy those days. The culture was different, and the spacing was different too.

In my school, back in 1990-th, a teacher of German language was a native German from Bavaria. When we started learning “house and home” lexicon, he brought photos of Bavarian houses – nice private mostly two-story houses sinking in flowers. For us, they looked unreal, like fairytale, as all we lived in ugly old soviet condos. The teacher asked us if we wanted to have homes like those in the photos, expecting positive answers from us. To his surprise, my classmates said “No, no way.” They explained, “Living in a house isolated, separated from everyone would be too boring and even frustrating”. I think, this illustrates the concept of spacing and privacy very well. I should admit, it changed very fast when the soviet time passed by.