Monday, June 6, 2011

Post about the Hakka Tulou by Emily (photos by others)

For me, one of the more fascinating aspects of architecture is its capacity not only to shape space but also those inhabiting the space. In the case of family dwellings, this aptitude implies a possibility for the architecture of the home to both describe values concerning the family, and to (de)construct the family's interpersonal relations. To cite a close-to-home (for the reader) example, the initial appeal of Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie homes (of which Buffalo's Darwin Martin House is a particularly exquisite example) was derived not from their formal sensibilities, but their perceived ability to save the traditional family in an age of increasing social change by means of sheltering cantilevers and spaces for family time unbroken by excessive walls.
I have been thinking more on this relation between built and familial structure in light of visiting the tulou. The tulou, found primarily in Fujian province, are massive, multi-storied circular or rectangular dwellings constructed out of loam. Traditionally, each tulou would house many interrelated families in apartment-like spaces that encircle a shared courtyard. While the form of the tulou may be seen as a practical response to the problem of self-and-family-preservation, I think the architecture of the tulou is also certainly conceptually suggestive in terms of its relation to traditional Chinese family architecture. In that the tulou is primarily shared space, this lends itself to the creation of filial bonds between familial inhabitants. The classical Chinese philosopher Kongzi (Confucius), whose thought is deeply embedded in even contemporary Chinese society, said "... that filial piety and respect for elders constitute the root of Goodness" (Analects, 1.2) and serve as the necessary root of the best possible society. The multi-family, communally-centered design of the tulou may be seen as both an expression of this traditional moral imperative toward dutiful family relations, and a means by which they are developed.

In the contemporary United States we frequently hear (or voice) outcry about "the destruction of the family" and "the erosion of traditional family values". One of the few things this societal malaise is not linked to is the architecture of the typical American, middle-class home. But consider - the driving force behind American home architecture is isolation. Thus the development of the suburb ("let's get away from all these other families, including those related to ours") and the design of the home as a series of boxes that allow and perhaps even encourage the separation of family members from one another. Perhaps if we wish to construct stronger family and even societal relations we should consider the tulou and the influence of home architecture.

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