A Home is not a House. Reyner Banham, 1965

What is a house if not a place for everyday life, when it consists of mostly mechanical services and structural devices? When a house is made out of the complex of piping, flues, ducts, wires, lights, inlets, outlets, ovens, sinks, refuse disposers, hi-fi reverberators, antennas, conduits, freezers, heaters – “when it contains so many services that the hardware could stand up by itself without any assistance from the house, why have a house to hold it up?”

Reyner Banham addresses the issue by saying that the reason for this “drama of mechanical services on show” is because the time can not cope with the development of the industry. Therefore, the mechanization is threatening the culture of architecture and its traditions. In other words, mechanical services are “too new” to be absorbed by us, and to be integrated with architecture. Or is it rather us being too slow to cope with?

Banham focuses on the North-American houses of large single spaces, as being built without proper protection from different weathers. The result is a general waste of energy due to inefficient heat barriers, and a production of an “environmental machinery” pumping out more and more heat, light and power. Indeed, large single volumes need other ways to be lighted, heated and cleaned compared to smaller, subdivided volumes, as more (traditional) domestic spaces for example.

So how could the project of mechanization go hand in hand with the free plan, fulfilling modern needs without losing the flexibility? Banham observed the American beach as the ultimate combination of outdoor and the clean, for the American obsession of freedom, pleasure and freshness. Yet, of course limited to good weather conditions. With Buckminister Fuller’s experimental dome in mind, Banham imagined how the two could be integrated, the beach-realm and the dome, to keep “dirty old nature under the proper degree of control.” 

But can the mechanical services cope with the level of mobility on the free plan? Heavy weights of such services tend to work better when they have a certain permanence. Yet, there are many Americans who have already decided to live in mobile homes, with plug-in facilities to connect to reality. Even if they may never be moved, one can believe that those un-houses perform better as shelters than other ground-anchored structures do.
They are also more economical and weigh less.

That kind of “self-contained and regenerative standard-of-living package”, could lead to a domestic revolution, and simultaneously also bring people nearer to nature. Banham relates to the basic ways of how people started to control the environment, on the one hand by hiding under a rock or a tree or a tent or a roof, or on the other hand, trying to cope with the climate by gathering around a campfire. The latter one, Banham argues, is more relevant for the matter of freedom and variability. Perhaps also for a free plan?

Source: A Home is not a House, Reyner Banham and Francois Dallegret, 1965