The Meaning of a House in Today’s World


Building or owning a house is one of the most important stages in one’s life. Not only is it essential, but also a commonplace and natural process. This might be analogous to our development process—from being fully dependent on someone else to the stage of expressing and articulating our own self-existence.

When we talk about trends in house design, it is important that we have an understanding about it. Trend should not be regarded one-sided as a developer’s way to sell its product, but instead as the change in the articulation of house design idea in connection to the dynamics of the people. In this case, there should be a lot of factors and variables at play. Building a house, or living in a house, then becomes more than just a simple matter which happens automatically and appears at will. There is more that you should know.

Building a house definitely needs preparation. A developer is one of the ‘actors’ that can dominantly gauge people’s ‘taste’ in a house, especially in large cities. Meanwhile, in smaller towns, the main idea is still to find a parcel of land and personally build a house there.

Another variable that plays a significant part in shaping the ‘taste’ of the people, or at least inspiring it, is the media. Indeed, media can provide information and become a source of inspiration. But it can also become the only source for people to find house design references. Here we can see how the complexity of taste can shift and change from time to time. Yet, we can also see how building a house, which should be a fully sociological process, is reduced to a mere economical matter and a fulfilment of ‘visual sensation,’ something that is done to appease the desire of searching for a shape or background for establishing self-identity.

In the era of information openness, references for house design are widely available. It is easy to create ‘cross reference,’ in the meaning of style or trend, cross geography and cross period. Hybrids designs are rampant, even unavoidable. This is actually quite natural because the creative process of creating something often follows this path.

In fact, because technology enables all, we sometimes fail to notice the relevance of the geographical condition of the natural surroundings. A house then becomes an autonomous ‘capsule,’ which is nearly separated from its surroundings.

This topic is not comprehensive, and therefore not representative to be called a study on house design trends. It is more like a footnote on the thought process that articulates a value or achieve a meaning.

A House with a Message

The design need of a house does not only stop at the functional programmatic level of comfort, but also explains about the narrative that you want to use to describe it. This narrative then becomes important because it shows the stance or awareness of an idea. Therefore, it is crucial to have the clear narrative articulation in order to create better understanding of the social message being conveyed.

The late Yusuf Bilyarta Mangunwijaya—an architect, a writer and a Catholic religious leader—referred to this aspect as ‘image’, which complements the aspect of ‘use’. Also known as Romo Mangun, he was known as the father of modern Indonesian architecture and was bestowed with many awards during the 20th century. According to him, the message or narrative behind a house design creates an almost limitless explosion of variations, where each individual needs to reinforce self-identity. Yet, in the more open society, there are also several discourses that inspire or influence the idea of a homeowner. At the moment, there is an awareness to ‘let nature win,’ as a response to the environmental crisis that lies ahead.

From Swimming Pool into Works of Art

Creating a natural element inside the house is a natural occurrence for a human being. Whenever the situation permits, this natural episode is certain to be taken. The presence of a tree or sunrays that penetrate into the room, or simply the chance to see wandering clouds in the sky or hear the trickling of water, is an expected luxury.

A private swimming pool in a house used to be a symbol of status in house design, something that indicates opulence. Indeed, this is not always true because there might be a pressing necessity to conduct swimming activities in the house. But there has been a change of meaning in having a swimming pool in the house. Nowadays, the inclusion of a swimming pool or a bathtub is a cause for a negative criticism because of the current reality that prompts us to rethink about the excessive use of one of the most natural resources in the world, namely water. We must use water wisely and responsibly, and our responsible use of water reflects our awareness of future concerns. A sensible use of water nowadays will be seen as a pro-environment act.

Today, instead of using water excessively, a house’s sense of luxury can be conveyed through the placement of artworks as part of the interior of the house that creates mood. Artworks can also become an indicator of the owner’s appreciation towards the finer world of art.

From Closeness into Openness to Natural

It is a fact that some people consider living in a tropical land as somewhat of a nuisance. The high temperature and humidity can indeed create stuffiness—a problem for some people. A design solution that incorporates cross ventilation and a large number of openings might not always be effective. So, many designs are reliant on the technology of air conditioning. This is a perfectly acceptable solution, until we become aware of the new information that indoor pollution caused by flawed air circulation can be detrimental to our health. After all, naturally fluid aeration is a better option. Therefore, a home design will not become like an airproof aquarium, but more like an active interface that is responsive towards its surroundings. A building can be more flexible in opening or closing its structure during interaction with its environment.

Technology Towards Human Warmth

Despite the fact that there are people who pretty much crave for solitary freedom, we are at the very core social creatures need other human beings in our lives. Technology, which is advertised as a replacement for the role of humans in domestic maters—like something straight out of a science fiction movie: automated paraphernalia, smart buildings—is still a far-fetched substitute for our values in life. A home design that relies heavily on the advancement of technology is still not fully applicable today. It might be because the technology is still imperfect, or perhaps it is still not compatible with our way of life that still respects the cordiality of affection and human interactions.

Spirit of locality

In addition to the appreciation towards local climate, there is also more awareness regarding the spirit of local vernacular in house design. Apparently, amidst all of the rapid changes and shifts that are happening in the world, there is a hollow space inside a human being’s subconscious mind, a void that needs to be filled, especially regarding one’s origin and cultural identity. Local spirit is visible again, not in the use of old-style construction as seen in the 1980s, but more in the application of materials with a touch of new design aesthetic—a hybrid of old materials with a modern flavour. Materials such as wood, stones or local bricks are often used to offer gravitas for locally-themed spaces. Innovative details in the construction are also needed to provide articulation that local does not necessarily mean ancient and passé.

A house will eventually return to its original purpose as a nest, as a vessel that accommodates the identity and meaning for its occupants. In line with the spirit of time, each generation will possess different attitudes and efforts to achieve meaning. The collaboration of young designers and young clients will provide a significant contribution in the development of house design. The openness and courage to mix and concoct various elements of design will eventually generate a larger variety of house designs. This will boost a sense of pride and appreciation towards local vernacular and environment.

The design trend will not become too relevant in its physical form, but will come more in ideas or narratives that shape it. A house design will eventually become a stroke of colourful rainbow. Although each is a different colour, they are beautiful in their true manifestation.

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