New identities of the house between analogue and digital
text by Francesco Scullica*
In recent years, the pandemic has brought a rethinking of domestic living, which has (re)placed this sphere, especially for what concerns urban centres, in a more central position than the subordinate and complementary one that the domestic space had acquired until the period immediately preceding the COVID 19 emergency, with respect to other places, spaces and typologies such as office-work spaces, those for dining, entertainment, exhibition and culture, as well as spaces for wellness and care, where people used to spend most of their time. During the lockdown, the house has become once again the perfect 'shelter' against the emergency, but also a place full of activities and relationships, especially due to the use of new technologies.
At home we feel good
The domestic space is increasingly about well-being
Such a period of 'health emergency', but also 'relational emergency', brought a very strong acceleration of digital technologies. On the one hand, it reactivated the spatial-functional and relational links between the house and other places of our everyday life; on the other, the house, as well as many other areas, has undergone considerable changes and transformations.
In particular, for what concerns large urban areas, the domestic space is now configured mainly as an area for rest, relaxation, regeneration, but also for ‘self-protection', as opposed to an 'external' space that is often understood as a place where we have to 'protect ourselves’ (and the pandemic has often emphasised this meaning) at various scales and levels (for example hygiene, safety, pollution). As a matter of fact, it can be said that this concept of interior design has a neo-rationalist matrix that has been combined with experiential needs and contemporary technologies. A new style that is attentive to lay-outs in function of the exposure/orientation, to materials and furnishings, to all the elements that allow to 'safeguard' the inhabitant and his or her 'living' and 'life quality'. All of this is combined with a holistic approach under the banner of a general 'well-being' and also with a specific focus on sustainability (environmental, social and cultural, economic...). The relationship with outdoor spaces, and in particular with the 'air' and the possibility of spending some moments of our domestic life in the open air is a need generated by the pandemic that is transforming the offer of many residential housing units on the real estate market, with an increasing presence of outdoor spaces (balconies, loggias, porches, terraces) intended not as mere 'appendages', but as spaces and areas that are fundamental for the well-being of the inhabitants and their quality of living.
Customisation and high comfort: the house is like a hotel
Iconic design objects, complements and accessories, interaction with sensory elements: light, colour, microclimate, sound-proofing.
If we look at the internal organisation of the house taking into account the sleeping area, as well as its accessory areas (bathroom, laundries, wardrobes and walk-in wardrobes...), we can observe how these are becoming more and more important: if in many cases the apartments in large western metropolises are pretty small, their design and furnishing should be understood more as something referring to neo-hotel 'suites' (even small ones) rather than to traditional type apartments. 'Small size' but with high comfort and great customisation (e.g. through the choice of highly iconic object elements, but also finishes) and with a strong level of flexibility and versatility in which (also) the sleeping area has an increasingly important role. Rest, relaxation, care for the body, intimacy with the partner... have become basic elements for a global well-being, both medical (hygiene and sleep care vouch for the health of each individual's immune system), but also psychological and relational. An idea of living that is profoundly transforming the domestic space in its distribution, finishes, furnishings, components and accessories, up to the interaction with sensory elements: light, colour, microclimate, sound-proofing. In particular, great importance is being given to the balance between private and public needs, between 'exclusivity and privacy' on one side and 'sharing and socialising' on the other, and this is also related to the 'online and remote' work activities performed in the domestic space, which were introduced massively during the pandemic emergency as a consequence of the development of digital technologies.
The house as an interactive, multimedia stage
Alongside the sleeping area, which is perhaps the new 'heart' of 'good living', where the bed is becoming a multifunctional platform (where you can also work) following the model of many hotel rooms and suites, also kitchen areas are acquiring a new dimension that takes into account the preparation and consumption of food but also the possibility to meet and share between inhabitants and guests, as well as the possibility to perform other activities (work and entertainment). As the sleeping area is increasingly forming a key part of the new house, also the kitchen is extending into living areas: the living room often 'does not' encompass the 'kitchen area', but especially in small spaces it is the kitchen itself, also in relation to the role and importance of furnishing systems and technological equipment (islands, peninsulas, storage units, new appliances and increasingly intelligent systems) that incorporate the space of the living room. This space is centred mostly on the sofa, another multifunctional platform with the same importance of the bed, and on the relationship with the various screens (in some cases increasingly integrated into the space and furnishings) and with the 'IOT’ devices and components that are invisible and camouflaged in the layout and furnishings. We could therefore say that the 'home' is increasingly resembling an interactive and multimedia stage where it is not the 'theatre' that stands as the main archetypal reference, but the television studio, which represents a hybrid element of transition and relationship between 'real' and 'virtual', between 'analogue' and 'digital', the mirror, therefore, of a new domestic lifestyle .
*Polytechnic University of Milan
Francesco Scullica, architect, Ph.d. in interior architecture, professor of industrial design at the Design Department of the Polytechnic University of Milan, is president/coordinator of the courses in Interior Design (three-year degree) and in Interior and Spatial Design (master's degree) at the School of Design of the Polytechnic University of Milan. He lectures, researches and gives consultations on interior design, a theme on which he wrote various research papers, articles and publications and on which he coordinates conventions, conferences and round tables. He is the scientific director of post-graduate master courses centred on new interior design scenarios.
In the field of interior space design, he gives particular attention to the new formats of domestic, work, hospitality, entertainment and wellness/health spaces.
Between 2017 and 2019, he collaborated with Fiera Milano as the director and scientific curator of the HOMI-Hybrid Lounge, an innovative multi-purpose space dedicated to showcasing the main trends in the field of interior design finishes and materials, but also a place where the various interior design players (designers, consultants, companies, journalists) could meet, relate and discuss. Once again with Fiera Milano, he also coordinated and moderated significant talks on scenarios and trends concerning hospitality (at Host) and living (Milan Design Week).