Houses and the Idea of Home

As the son of an architect and an interior designer, it was likely inevitable that I would find some part of my imagination either architectonic in nature or taken up with architectural artifacts, themselves real or imagined. And so I have spent plenty of time as a child with architectural volumes from my parents’ college classes or with architectural magazines spread before me imagining myself in those spaces. It is certainly the case that my travels have been focused on structures, sometimes resulting in me being more taken with a museum than its contents. I have through the years also found myself in remarkably rich spaces in my dreams, which often took the form of complex classroom buildings, student unions, or conference hotels. (Such is the imaginative life of an academic!)

With the arrival of the web, I found myself regularly fascinated by the tours of spaces that videos offered, especially those of ordinary people. And what as once single, small volume that I carried around, Lester Walk’s Tiny Book of Tiny Houses which chronicled historical houses like Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond, blossomed into a variety of Youtube efforts, many of which were channels dedicated to tiny houses. Explorations of alternate housing led to explorations of alternate technologies and techniques for houses. Straw bale houses, earth ships, rammed earth construction. All of them have found a way into my video consumption over the last ten years.

As we approach a moment in which down-sizing becomes likely, I find myself capturing more information on housing possibilities, some of which are below:

Does Not Compute · Collaborative Fund

Morgan Housel writing in Collaborative Fund makes a case for economists and others involved in finance re-thinking the role of rationality in the markets. Somehow he gets from re-thinking rationality to the importance of stories, noting toward the end of the essay:

Last is the power of stories over statistics. “Housing prices in relation to median incomes are now above their historic average and typically mean revert,” is a statistic. “Jim just made $500,000 flipping homes and can now retire early and his wife thinks he’s amazing” is a story. And it’s way more persuasive in the moment. If you look, I think you’ll find that wherever information is exchanged – wherever there are products, companies, careers, politics, knowledge, education, and culture – you will find that the best story wins. Great ideas explained poorly can go nowhere while old or wrong ideas told compellingly can ignite a revolution. (“[Does Not Compute][]”, 5 January 2022)

There is, of course, a great deal of research demonstrating that the ability story’s have of conveying to their audiences a sense of the lived experience, what some call qualia, is the source of their power. It’s sort of a version of “you were there” that is a product of our neurons firing similarly when we read about someone running as when we actually run.

There’s no sense that the same neurons fire for different people when running, nor is there much work yet, of which I am aware, that people are imagining similar running: each of us is our own heuristic horizon after all and bring different experiences and competencies to all our activities, including receiving narrative texts.

But there’s another dimension of the quote above that caught my eye, and it’s the story Housel embeds about Jim. Is it a story? Or is it simply a point of information, a fact? My sense is that it’s the latter, and thus I would argue that there are more modes of discourse that deliver up qualia than narrative. It may very well be the case that narrative discourse does it best, and I think many narratologists would agree, but we do need to get past the idea, I think that stories are the only form of discourse that do.

Does Not Compute