"Home"- The Unique Relation Between Dweller and The Dwelling

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“Although a house is an object, a part of the environment, home is best conceived of as a kind of relationship between people and their environment. It is an emotionally based and meaningful relationship between dwellers and their dwelling places. Concomitant with this distinction is the assumption that the concept of the “housing problem” is not identical to that of “homelessness.” Indeed, the housing problem can be, and often is, solved in a manner that creates homelessness.” -Kimberly DoveyTo start with, based on this quotation, it would be worth to define the term ‘Home’ in a relatively more philosophical and metaphysical understanding. It is often mistaken with the term ‘house’. Although the fact that both of them are the “two key aspects in the analytics of housing pathways” as we could find in David Clapham book, Chapter “Houses and homes”, we need to realize the distinction between “House” and “Home”. Home is not a physical building; it is a special relationship with an individualized place, as expression of the personality, family, belonging and patterns of life of its inhabitants. Whereas, house is the place where we aim to develop all those aspect, but itself, it is just an object, with no feelings involved. In home all the privacy is contained and hidden, starting from secrets, dreams, desires and future hopes by fears, rhythms, routines of everyday life, finishing on the senses of safety themselves. The matter of time is crucial, home cannot be created at once, whereas house as the building - can, depending only on the construction work on site. “Home is not limited to connections with the past but extends into a connectedness with the future.” Time dimension and continuity of the relationship between occupants and their home highly depends on the individual world’s adaptation of the dwellers and the dialogue with the building as a physical object.

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People do buy and change dwellings and houses. Treating them as containers, shells for the staging of personal memory sometimes even as a matter of “commodity/ pension/ financial asset/ income, with ‘home’ being last on the priority”, what is then influencing the communities giving them no change to grow. That is why, it is highly important to introduce element of relationship between inhabitants and the dwelling and incorporate their active participation in the building process to create an emotional bond. That will result in forming a secure place of certainty and stability and will allow gaining the identity of the place in the environment.

Otherwise, the architectural house container is a series of hierarchic spaces and structures, with composition of light and colours, whereas the home itself should be formed around behaviours, objects functions and symbolism. “As well as being a symbol of protection and order, home can, in negative life situations, become a concretization of human misery: of loneliness, rejection, exploitation and violence.” The relationship between dweller and their house is highly dependent on the memories created within the shell and the settings of the house that people have. Home can be matter of safety, comfort and togetherness as Pallasmaa mentioned in his work and as we can see in the book “Crime and Punishment” by Dostojevski, it can be a symbol of violence, threat and homelessness. To prevent this kind of negative emotion from appearing, it is crucial for the development of basic connections on various dimensions to start with all the excitement and positive attitude from the very beginning of the housing building process,. In the context of relationship between the dweller and the dwelling, it would be worth to consider, what is the role of an Architect himself in this process, where mostly he is not involved personally with either the dwelling or the dweller? Generally, architects are not limited in understanding the feel about people, relationship and space. They are “taught to design houses and dwellings not homes.” (1) They are mostly concentrated and more concerned about the “perfectly articulated architectural object” (1), rather than the actual living space for future dwellers, losing in that the element of the empathy for occupants. It could be noticed as well that kind of separation between architect’s nature as a practitioner and a human being is visible, especially when the role of the architect change slightly. As playing a role of architects, they aspire for a meticulously articulated and temporally one-dimensional environment, whereas as dwellers [themselves], [they] prefer a more layered, ambiguous and aesthetically less coherent environment; the instinctual dweller emerges through the role values of the professional.”(2) As far as we follow the quotation, it could be interpreted that, the architect, depending on the position he will find himself in, would design in a different way.

Pallasmaa also adds the structure of home itself “as a lived in institution differs from the principles of architecture” (9). The architecture currently has the tendency to start behaving as a profession which gradually detaches its initial background, being rather a discipline, fully determined by its own rules and value systems , than an appropriate service for people, at the same time, becoming a form of art with a lack of understanding of its essence. As self-evident fact, architecture is still tied to its practicality and the environmental conditions that forms its foundation. Nevertheless, another key to remember is that architecture should be “ a direct expression of existence, of human presence in the world” (451) and when it does not fulfil those basic conditions it will be unable to influence the emotions. Those primary feelings linked to our souls are building up the image of home, largely based on our body language, feelings and strongly related more to an act itself rather than the object. Today’s architecture seems to lose these kind of life aspects turning into the pure fabrication and business investments. In particular, it is taking away from homes all the values and leaving them homeless even if inhabited. Houses, entirely build by the developers are fully removing people from the building process. “This means that we no longer have the intimate connection we once had with ¬our homes.” Looking into carried out by RIBA survey, participants preferred old properties as they discerned the lack of the housing features that newer homes offer . “ Old homes were perceived to be more spacious as having more space, more character and more potential for adaptation. Surely, if occupants could be more actively engaged in building new homes, these could be better tailored to their needs from outset.”

To prevent the inhabited homelessness from appearing, known in the continental Europe housing systems were a right solution to explore, especially self and custom-building schemes, usually followed by production in a better quality and fit-for-purpose housing. The self-builders are prepared for the process requiring a lot of effort. What is more, finishing the house perfectly is in their interest, so they can live in it for a long time creating home with a right sense of space and community. For the comfortable once, custom-building is a good way of realizing their “home” values by buying a ready shell and then filling it with them. George Clarke’s, in his show ” George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces”, makes a great point answering for the questions: “What makes space special?” The answer was “People” .Following this logic, for questions: Who creates spaces, homes and communities? Moreover, who builds for the communities?

The answer would be the same. Why then the division into roles of the architect and the dweller should be so obstinately highlighted if technically all of us should have a right to build. The right way would be to allow the designers and homeowners to bring the houses ‘soul’ and identity back again. As it was previously specified, the level of involvement significantly influence the further relationship inhabitants with their “homes”.Based on further examples of, self–build and custom-build housing ideas, respectively, I would like to compare how the involvement of residents affects the further connection in every of those situations. To give an illustration of what a self-build system is, let us have look at the case of Ashley Vale project, located in former 2.1 acre scaffolding yard, near central Bristol, United Kingdom. It was managed and fundraised by the Ashley Vale Action Group (AVAG), a group formed in 2000 by local residents of St. Werburghs, who wanted to avoid undesirable housing development on the site. To be taken seriously in presenting the alternative solution, they formed an action group that tried to influence the process.

From the opposition stance to a new 35 fairly identical houses development proposal on a former industrial site, they began to develop on their own housing for local people creating the opportunity for them to build their own home. As far as the purchase of the site and the overall masterplan was negotiated by the directors, the self-builders collectively financed the yard on the following year. They planned to develop 20 self-build plots with different designs suited to their family or individual needs, six housing association homes and leisure space. Since, the housing association, originally involved, was unable to continue with the project, the community group as a part of custom-housing system developed a row of six bungalows for self-finishers. Most of the self-build homes were completed in very high environmental standards. To a redundant office on the site, an additional level was added, allowing for incorporation of six further apartments in the building, with a large multi-use community room, office and art space for the community, as planned before. The project is a good example of the successful practise of the group of people with common purpose that take control over the development of their neighbourhood. Their involvement provided the sustainable infrastructure and environment fitted to their needs. The scheme compromises the number of unique self-build individual housing designs each reflecting the needs of ‘home values’ for every individual occupant. The self-builders on early stage already felt that they build a community along with their homes, forming a close bond by helping, advising and assisting each other.

As an effect of a demographic mixture, starting with young families with kids to the older residents and depending on the creativity and aspirations of the builders, the design of the houses varies in a certain extend despite the similar basic structure. Some of the self-builders had some technical knowledge, which they shared with those that had no building experience. We could make a link here between the lack of the architectural consistency and the result of the self-build housing strategy. This project’s architecture mostly does not fulfilling the architectural beauty rules and values, sometimes missing the aesthetic connection with the surrounding. This was caused by the different approach to the design by the builders, in this case being the future dwellers and the architects themselves. This arouse a visible enlarged concentration on the functional meaning rather than the architectural aspect. Whereas the independent, uninvolved architects or developers, would be most likely to create series of shells not knowing future occupants’ personal needs. That was the issue that the local people wanted to avoid.Despite the fact, that design of the scheme might be lacking some architectural appraisals, it still exemplifies the community spirit of the belonging and the place to live. Being adjusted to individual dwellers requirements, it gives them the opportunity to own their own home with a ‘soul’ applied to it by themselves in the process of creation.

The architects, Clare Nash visited residents of Ashley Vale and had a chance to talk to them:“Interviewing the residents at Ashley Vale was a really rewarding experience as everyone was so keen on the development. People rated the community very highly and everyone seemed to know everyone, even the tenants. Local people in surrounding housing have also benefited with increased home values, communal green spaces and low fear of crime.” All of the residents found their homes very comfortable and they all agreed that they like how the houses look. Additionally, as a great mean of collaboration during the construction residents reported “a high level of information sharing and collective help on all projects.”

As Clare Nash followed of one of the most interesting recent examples of Independent Group Custom Build in the UK, she summarized the project on her website as a – “real inspiration, and certainly a good example of how to deal with the housing crisis” .The project had a great impact on housing strategies, because of: its commitment to green values, the way it was started, the variety of types of buildings, the effort made to incorporate affordable housing and the extensive direct user involvement with help from the whole community. It would be appropriate to highlight that the increased involvement, in case of the Ashly Vale project, clearly indicates the depth of the engagement of the future dwellers in the process, which brings a bunch of satisfying results, especially in terms of the emotionally based, meaningful relationship between dwellers and dwellings. We can assume quite accurately that the emotional bond, about which Professor Kimberly Dovey debates in his essay “Home and Homelessness: Introduction”, will be existing from the very beginning of the ‘home’ development. The strong feeling of the space will be engendered in the house from its origin and then continuously build up, evolving within the time of occupation.

Architects in case of self-build investments, where the level of users’ involvement is great, would not play the main role. Would that be then a disadvantage, having a negative impact on the project? Not necessarily. Despite the small failures in design, the shame still won ‘The Great Neighbourhood Award’, what makes it even more valuable case study for the successors.As we can see that kind of close collaboration between architect and user might mean a fully successful proposal in terms of the client’s satisfaction even if the role of the architect is minimised to the minimum. Leading into the second example, illustrating the custom-build housing system it would be worth to start with a question:What would happen if the proportion of the architect-user collaboration involvement would be changed? The New Islington Project allocated along the canal in Manchester is a developer-led custom build scheme. It was an effect of collaboration of the Urban Splash and Shed KM Architects who specifically designed the HoUSe modules on which the whole project is based. The proposal was offering clear, but limited set of options and it was aimed to provide a high quality finished 44 homes, build in four phrases completed in 2016.Urban Splash are currently one of the most innovative UK’s developers. They introduced their own, way of dealing with the home-housing crisis by self and custom build. The HoUSe project developed terraced houses with a modular system allowing the future dwellers to select between several layouts, specifications and various sizes. The modules concept provides the customizing opportunity of the arrangement of the spaces within the segment. Clients could order two (1000 sq. ft. – 93 sq. m) or three (1500 sq. ft. - 139.4 sq. m) story house, what allows for 1-5 bedrooms, with a balcony. They could also decide on placing the building on the plot, in front or the rear of it or even on colors and furniture within the interiors, satisfying the buyer within their own needs and preferences. Once the prefabricated modules, are transported to the site they are carried up and fixed into position. The partition walls are added when the layout decisions are made.

The whole process of creation of those houses, took 20 weeks to accomplish (including 16 weeks to get home built and modules delivered and 4 for the internal finishes).The design can be categorized as developer-led custom build as well as ‘self and custom’. As ‘custom’, we understand delivered by the contractor or package company and by ‘self’ - build by people. However, in this case specifically, ‘adjusted’ by them, is more adequate. People are not participating in the process physically; they only specify their preferences. This lowered attendance of users in the direct process, makes the role of the architect great. We can notice that this contribution influences the design itself. The overall project presents high standard visual experience, being coherent within the whole scheme. It is maintaining the same appearance on the outside, being diverse on the inside. It is sharing an exterior of grey paneling, metal-clad pitched roofs and black-framed bay windows. The concept design, relieved in 2014 attracted a great group of people from house sharers, individual investors to families and retirees and in 2015 it was all already reserved.The entire HoUSe project represents an inspiring attitude bringing the importance of the dwellers involvement to the project in a very distinctive way from what we saw in the Ashley Vale project. It is also a successful alternative to unwanted “empty” shells offered by many volume house builders, where the cost of the construction are reasonable offering the flexibility of ”architect-designed properties”.

Urban Splash chairman, Tom Bloxham, mentioned that their company noticed the lack of diversity in new residential areas in UK cities. That would incrementally bring all their older and richer, traditional customers to the terraces in the suburbs instead of new properties. About the project, he said that: “HoUSe is born from our desire to create something for customers who want to live in well-designed homes and stay in the city center HoUSe is our way of offering them something in the city." “They also happen to be homes that people are proud to live in." summarized the ShedKM director Ian Killick. The whole company and architects believes that their project offers a good model approach to residential development in the cities and that it will be a great opposition to housing shortage in UK. The scheme offers lower prices comparable to city center flats and surrounding houses and relatively low maintenance costs regarding the standard they provide.

As a conclusion, both of the two examined housing build systems, are supporting the ways of direct uses involvement in establishing the emotional relation and strongly being oppose to the homelessness of empty containers. They both have their own advantages and disadvantages that only their users could criticize and rate. The choice of involvement level implemented depends on the single needs and willingness of the house builders themselves. Some of them will find the custom housing as a perfectly fitted to what they want and by collaboration with the architects in the design, they will already perceive the house as their future home. Working with a specialist developer to help deliver your own home without, extraordinary effort is a less stressful and easier process than self-build. It keeps all the difficulties away from the inhabitants, already cutting their worries about the safety of the development and proper organization, what also makes the whole process quicker. However, this choice is mostly based on the architects’ visions with usually a limited variation offer and people might not get as much of the dreamt design and layout of the home they want. Nonetheless, that depends on the developer- a good one should be able to tailor it to match the requirements.On the other hand, there still will be some who to create the feeling of belonging with the space will need more complex relation. This could be an active participation in building the house with their own hands, taking care of the materials, design and organization by themselves.

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Taking into consideration this strategy, and bring in mind the amount of labor, endeavor and length of the process, there is no doubt that the house builders will be an extremely proud of what they achieved occupants, full of hopes and dreams connected with their “home”.Systems illustrated in the essay present that the process of producing houses, seemingly not important, is crucial for creation of the identity and an emotional tie that the home should have. The mean of that for the architect is changeable and the best compromise for the domestic purposes and architectural aesthetic would be finding a happy mean between users’ involvement in the process created by the architects and the architects or developers themselves, at the same achieving the beauty and the functionalism of the pure architecture.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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“Home”- the unique relation between Dweller and the Dwelling. (2018, August 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
““Home”- the unique relation between Dweller and the Dwelling.” GradesFixer, 28 Aug. 2018,
“Home”- the unique relation between Dweller and the Dwelling. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 1 Oct. 2023].
“Home”- the unique relation between Dweller and the Dwelling [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Aug 28 [cited 2023 Oct 1]. Available from:
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