New Image of Home

Part of a now-shuttered exhibition,
a rendering by the author illustrates the pervasiveness of digital screens in homes. Image by Johan Voordouw

It is difficult to overstate the burden of COVID-19. Right after you hit hyperbole, you hit reality. It has shuttered our institutions and our professional practices. It has far-reaching social, economic and political repercussions. Now that our non-essential services are temporarily closed, we grow appreciative when someone reaches out—whether by phone or e-mail—a reminder that our essential relations remain open.

Over the past year, I worked on a project called New Image of Home. It was meant to be a simple visual art exhibition exploring Canadian ideas of home. The work was generated through a photographic and spatial analysis of every single-family and small multi-unit residential project published in Canadian Architect magazine since its inception in 1955. The research resulted in a series of twenty-four new images that comment on the role of technology in the home, and on how domestic interiors are represented in professional publications.

Ironically, I was in the process of mounting this exhibition on the Canadian home one weekend before we were all compelled to stay at home. One might even call it uncanny that the images in the exhibition comment, in part, on the pervasiveness of media in homes—and now, with the exhibition space shuttered, the screen has become the only way to view the work. The exhibition lecture lives on YouTube, the catalogue as a PDF online, the Q&A presented via Zoom, and the images on the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism’s website. This article is the only product to make it to print.

The aim of the project was to create a new way of drawing through pixel-like dots. As the work progressed, it began to also explore other modes of image-making that could question the conventions of both architectural drawing and the photography of interior space.

Architectural drawings are typically dominated by lines, or by photo-realistic renderings. How could drawing with dots represent space differently? Interior photography tends to foreground material-spatial qualities. Could an alternative set of representations foreground inhabitation, and point to a tighter relationship between individuals and the material objects in their spaces? The drawings in the exhibition include everyday items that are common in the home, but are frequently excluded from view. They display the messy banality of the home—of these ordinary places, in extraordinary times.

This surreal banality reached a conclusion when I recorded my lecture: it was spoken to the plate of glass that is the screen of my laptop, seemly leading to nowhere. A couple of days later, I led a question and answer session through Zoom. On my laptop, I saw a collection of students and fellow faculty in their homes, surrounded by their clutter of possessions. My screen became a window to my friends and colleagues.

It reinforced to me that in times of crisis, architecture does not narrow—it shifts and expands. Rather than collectively sitting together to discuss the project, this was a rare opportunity to share many spaces—our own spaces, our own homes—while talking about the architecture of home.

Johan Voordouw is an associate professor at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University.