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A Home or A Vanilla Box

Contra Taller de Diseño

SALEM, MA, July 9, 2018 – I hear the sounds. I smell the sand as it hits the water and the Cemento Titan. I hear the shovel mixing, slicing, and grinding the materials together. I was only 12 or perhaps 13, yet I was there helping. I was told I would earn my summer camp trip if the construction went well.

I could barely lift the wheelbarrow, yet I did. I would never forget the jokes made by the construction workers and the love songs from the GC about him loving her and her ignoring him. At the time, it meant little and it meant a lot.

Construction, architecture, building, and all of those now second nature topics were unknown to me back then. I just remember enjoying the process; the days going by, sometimes fast and sometimes almost too slow. The workers became family. The concrete mix became our fuel as we poured it into the rebar frames and the plywood forms.

Geez, I was so young and yet these memories are solid like ice and as permanent as my now urgent desires to build.

I was recently approached to design a new Home on a site rather as poetic as bizarre. I walked the site and as I listened to my client, for some reason I could only hear the words Home mixed in between the sounds of my former and first real construction adventure.

When asked whether to prefabricate the building or to build it on site, I answered as honest as I could. I said, “I might be putting myself out of a job but if you want a Vanilla Box, quick and cheap then prefabricated would be ideal.” I did not realize one thing and it is that the client will get a building but might not get a Home.

A Home is crafted, rooted, planted, and embedded. A Home is fluid and settled. It is fixed yet soulful. It has life and life has it. It is made in situ because it is lived in situ. The workers are its first inhabitants before it even begins. Nature is its history and pre-history at once.

You might have a cheaper, faster, stronger Vanilla Box but a Home is not measured by the same metrics. It is not an “Apple’s to Apple’s” comparison. I can only make Homes maybe because that is indeed the thing I lack of the most. Having lived half of my life as of now in one country and the other in another makes it almost impossible not to know or miss what a Home is like. I can feel where the wind blows and how it can be directed. I can envision the “Honey I’m Home window” as I walk through the land that cries for help.

The site will indeed miss the sound of the workers spending long summer hours. It will miss the building of a soul and the breathing life into itself. I did put myself out of a job when competing with such loud forces but I did not put anyone out of a Home. They maybe louder, bigger, and stronger yet their sounds make noise rather than peaceful music. Their process is almost too controlled to be free and real. I prefer a Home and that is what I live to design even if contracted to do a Vanilla Box, you will get a Home.

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