I met Sigried some years ago when I was working on a Parc project in Brussels and we had long discussions about the way she looks at the balance between public and private space. Between then and now she experimented around public – private space in Istambul, the Netherlands, Brussels and chose to practice her philosophy with her boyfriend, a product designer by living small (We Live Small is an on-going experiment developing tools to make living in small space possible.)
When we meet again she comes back from a week working in her apartment and starts explaining why they chose to live small. For her living in a condensed space within the city is ideal if you design it well. In Belgium people have the reflex to buy fast, and you feel a societal pressure around it. Because buying in the city become impossible, people find big houses farther away from the city. But big houses means a lot of possessions, and it means working harder in desk jobs in the city, which means again more stress. So the logical decision to stop this infernal spiral for them was to choose to live small, really small, and use the exterior as complementary.
The secret of living decently in the city is to manage space and time differently, but she is aware that it becomes more difficult. Public space isn’t anymore a space for everybody, but a space for nobody. A cleaned-out space that only looks pretty. Because our fascination for more sterile environments we lost the skills to interact with each other. Who needs to interact with your neighbour if you have all the space you need inside your private home. Living small could bring back the necessity of interaction and borrowing stuff from your neighbours, helping create a much-needed social fabric to your neighbourhood.
When she works for the semi-public private space project Huis VDH she finds the same logic. Creating common spaces that gives the feeling of a home, but are able to invite people over to use it in certain ways. Why have a big living room with kitchen for social events that you organize four times a year at home when you could share such space with other people. Some things can be privatized but not everything. In the same line of thought she sees empty spaces above shops or pubs and restaurants as an opportunity to create common spaces for people living small. You could think: why not set bigger apartments above those places? That could immediately make it difficult for the bar or restaurant holder to continue his night live activities, and also this plays an important role in the city.
‘But how could it directly be linked with care?’, i asked her. She takes the example of elderly care, also discussed in the interview with Ginette where people even if they live in big houses don’t have the time anymore to care for their elderly and put them into homes, from own experience we conclude that the home isn’t the best designed space to give good care. Making effort to create a nice environment for the elder people could help them feel well longer. We know from studies that interaction is a key in stopping elderly dementia. So having public spaces designed around giving care and sharing part of your lives with unknown people could be a major incentive for our future problems with ageing population.
When living in Istanbul it occurred to her that people interacted much more easily with each other in the street, even complete strangers could discuss with each other when waiting for the bus. She doesn’t know exactly why it occurred much more often in Istambul then in Brussels but she had the feeling the way we use time was part of the solution. Living small gives you much more time to just sit around, be outside and make you car independent. Only this simple part, of not having a car makes you much more able to interact with the people you see. But don’t be alarmed; this discussion didn’t became a ‘everything was better in the past’ discussion.
Cascoland was another project where she worked around public and private space. One of the tasks she had was to implement a sharing community inside a mixed neighbourhood. Like in Germany or Suisse they printed out little signs of objects anybody could put on their door to show they can lent this out. What was interesting was the conclusion: when explaining the concept to people with only Dutch roots they answered almost all the time: but I have nothing to share. For them it was a difficult step to share something of their belongings with their neighbours. When explaining the concept to people with Arab roots for example they didn’t have a problem with sharing and where found of the idea, but had a problem with the fact the stickers would become an opportunity for other people to come inside. Inside their community they already had all the needed interaction and didn’t want something external extra. A compromise could be the organization Tournevie that puts in disposal several tools for the community. A semi-private public space, as we understand it.
We conclude on the fact that the creation of digital tools will not alone be the solution, what we need are well thought of spaces that give people the possibility to live at a descent standard without needing to fall in the spiral of a purely private ownership.
Sigried will be participating to the Open&Change Workshop in Brussels and will be working on the scenography of the place to give it a welcoming space to be creative about care solutions.