On Spaces

This is a quick writing I made for my Research Methodology class.

“Activity in space is restricted by that space; space decides what activity may occur, but even this ‘decision’ has limits placed upon it. Space lays down the law because it implies a certain order – and hence also a certain disorder (just as what may be seen defines what is obscene). Interpretation comes later, almost as an afterthought. Space commands bodies, prescribing or proscribing gestures, routes and distances to be covered…”

Lefebvre, p. 143 (1974)

As a child, I would always evaluate two things in a house: the living room and the bathroom. This progressed to a deepened appreciation of living rooms and a certain aversion to bathrooms. Both are very intimate in very particular ways.

In my previous works, I’ve discussed the interplay between my feet and the act of transport. My feet carry the weight, they transport the goods. But they also follow a very straight forward pattern, a route of sorts that “grounds” me by taking me straight to the living room. The particular space between the television and the couch is my favorite.

It is empty, but this emptiness may have different intentions. In more TV-centric families, is to keep the line of view clear. Some do it for the sake of a cat, while others have it as a social space. I think it is one of the most unnoticed noticeable spaces. If a house lacks a living room, you notice. One of the longest years of my life began when I decided to share a house without a social area. Despite being a large place and having a big social kitchen, I felt suffocated.

Lefebvre points out that every space implies a particular order. This is very true in the case of living rooms. The rules of civility are very obvious in this space, from how you visit to how you behave. In words of my mother: “Take your feet off the couch and no soda cups on the coffee table”.  Rarely you will see this order broken, unless you are the owner of that space. While I expect my guests to use the emptiness of the living room as a neutral ground (old-fashioned as I am), I use it as my physical practice area. But why?

O.F. Bollnow writes in “Lived Space” (1961): “To dwell is not an activity like any other but a determination of man in which he realizes his true essence. He needs a firm dwelling place if he is not to be dragged along helplessly by the stream of time.”. Beyond being a social space, the living room emptiness it’s what makes it alive. People need this space to think, to move, to find an intimate inner space and escape the outer space as Bollnow puts it.

For me, the activity that my living room beckons is to dwell. Sensitive as my feet are, I painstakingly clean the floors every week: vacuum, water, and perfume. This act allows me to walk barefoot most of the time in my living room, exploring the ground through my feet, finding my way in the emptiness of my own home.

Additional source: Bollnow, O. F. (1961). Lived-space. Philosophy Today, 5(1), 31-39.


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