Far from being a haven of tranquillity, the house is not only the battlefield of social and personal conflicts of class, gender, and ethnicity, but it is also arguably the most important workplace. However, while in the pre-modern era the productive vocation of the home was not qualified, the refined division of labour that is a hallmark of early capitalism expelled the production of goods from the home, leaving behind the unwaged and unseen toil of women. The institutionalization of reproductive labour, that is to say the sum of the efforts needed to generate, maintain, educate and care for the workforce, is perhaps the single most effective act of primitive accumulation we can imagine; in this process, half of the population is dispossessed of any control on their work which becomes a simple natural destiny sweetened by the trappings of domesticity and familial love.
The home of the middle and working classes, which had hardly been a concern for European architects until the late Renaissance, is invented precisely as a tool to optimize this process. The presentation will use projects and writings developed in France from Sebastiano Serlio to Charles Briseux, the Grands Ensembles, and Lacaton and Vassal to retrace the way domestic space has been choreographed first as a mechanism to separate production and reproduction, and later as a disciplinary microcosm of which the housewife is both victim and villain. Such a critique is all the more urgent today as the last decades have seen the ambiguous blurring of reproductive labour into the ungendered, micro-entrepreneurial field of ‘affective labour’. It is perhaps in such a conjuncture that architecture could claim the responsibility it refused to assume before, and think again housing within and against the realm of labour.
We will present this research at the Labour & Architecture Symposium at the AA, 13 November 2015. Join us there!