Thursday, September 3, 2009

Industrial Revolution, part II: Identity and comfort

The industrial revolution brought about many changes for human kind. These changes not only took the form of machines and architecture, but were also evidenced in society structure. Some historians have compared this transformation to the Neolithic revolution (Tate & Smith, 1986, pp. 221), when humans began practicing an agrarian society. The industrial revolution also transformed society in a way that allowed people to become individuals, prompting them to question authority and, for the first time, to question their fate. As more and more factories were added, more jobs and wealth was created; people saw this as an opportunity to “make” something of themselves and to “climb” the social ladder.

The ideas of “comfort” and “privacy” were still somewhat new to 19th century society yet architecture was beginning to take notice of these desires. In the early years of American history, most of the houses had been small and had few rooms however; most of the houses in the 19th century were separated into spaces that focused on the activity at hand (i.e. sleeping, eating, entertaining, cooking). This idea also translated into commercial spaces; hospitals, shopping centers, churches, and government buildings were all separated based on their unique operations. In addition, due to the efficiency of the machine, people were able to enjoy more relaxation, hobbies, and entertainment. Libraries, museums, and theaters were opened to accommodate leisure activities.

While much of the architecture (exterior and interior) during the Victorian period was comparatively similar from house to house, it was the interior décor that provided “identity” and “comfort” to the owner. The more décor, the higher the owner’s intelligence and social standing were gauged. How do you believe this relates to society today? How do you define comfort and identity? What examples can you cite? Be specific.


Elizabeth Harr said...

It seems like architecture has come full circle. What I mean is that the basic Victorian period architecture is the same as today’s architecture. For example, “Victorian period was comparatively similar from house to house.” This part is the same as today. The cookie cutter houses that are popping up everywhere have no differences they are the same specific layouts. Another example is like townhouses and apartments each living space is practically identical according to the floor plans and layouts. It is the interior décor that provides “identity” and comfort” to each individual owner. Each person’s living space is different in ones own unique way. Social standing can still been seen through the décor somewhat nowadays. Meaning one can usually tell if a person is really rich depending on their décor. This is not the case usually. Nowadays décor has become very cheap and inexpensive. It’s just a matter of the owner decorating the space. For example IKEA is the perfect example of cheap inexpensive design. Their slogan says it all “affordable solutions for better living”. Comfort and Identity are two important words. I would define comfort as a space that is relaxing and non stressful for the occupant. On the other hand I would define identity as a way for someone to individually express them self. For example relating to design someone’s identity would be their own personal taste with the specific things they like.

Robin said...

It must be the case that a certain percentage of us are hard-wired to try to acquire as much as we can. It seems to me that the last few decades in the U.S. have seen a major increase in the number of huge houses (McMansions) and that owning such a house (and I assume furnishing it as well) are status symbols, at least to some extent. That doesn't seem much different than the Victorian era.

But there's also a counter-trend. I'm thinking of the Not So Big House and an emphasis on quality rather than quantity in the home environment. It seems like more people are interested in having a home that makes them feel good in a different way than just as a status symbol (not that everyone with a big house is trying to be status-y). And, green building emphasizes building smaller as well as smarter in terms of energy and resource use.

For me comfort is definitely about creature comforts: decent air, pleasant temperature, running water, a working stove, good light. But comfort is also about having things around me that please me: nice colors, good flow, open windows, a place for the things that matter to me and that I use regularly.

As an expression of identity I want my great grandmother's cotton cards, photographs, and other things from my friends, my family, and my past. But I also want more than things. When we moved to the mountains of Kentucky from Alabama, I painted my house much brighter colors than I'd ever have imagined. It was part of me craving more light, the brighter ambient light of the place I know as home. It surprises me still sometimes to see those colors. But they cheer me up and remind me of who I think I am.

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.