Opinion 

Residential Continent

Residential Continent
Opinion 

Residential Continent

Luis Fernández-Galiano 
28/02/1999


Europe is a continent without content. An inventory of its most recent residential architecture confirms this venial diagnosis: the withered maiden suffers from plain emptiness. Devoid of purpose or dreams, her smug life perseveres beneath an elegant and frivolous attire. From the suburban sprawl to the urban interstice, European housing continues to build placid and predictable landscapes, where satisfied inhabitants live the routine of prosperity. Conservative at heart and innovative on the surface, this harmless dwelling combines the convention of types with the invention of skins, and it is in this superficial subversion against the norm where both its tactile and visual lure lies.

While the suggestive seduction of the facades may take us by surprise, the narcotic regularity of the floor plans has more to do with habit than with discovery. Sheltered by its everyday nothingness, the European residence indulges in the matt gloss of geographic privilege, feigning a capacity to defend itself from the violent territory of extreme want: this careened continent only has room for contained contacts, which equally dull emotions and transits. Amid the indifferent equanimity of the European environment, housing construction displays a versatile gamut of eclectic projects, from the towers and blocks of the modern tradition to mixed macles and surgical sutures.

In most cases, the skin of the city is rouged with the refined material of painstaking claddings, and in some the combination of an unexpected form with the impassive beauty of a unique countenance even makes the dwelling stand out in the urban fabric. But though it occasionally takes pleasure in architectural spectacle, in none of the cases is the European residence a dream factory. Long divested of its modern Utopian dimension, where the form of the house was a way of representing the form of the city, and where designing the residential future amounted to designing the urban future, contemporary housing no longer proposes different ways of living: our house sleeps, but dreams not.

Withdrawn in its labyrinth, Europe is reluctant to look beyond its fragile frontiers to the massive crisis of the Islamic world, the convulsions of change in Russia, the muscular disarray of Asia, the deep-rooted horror of sub-Saharan Africa or the brittle hope of Latin America. Perhaps only the dramatic fracture of war on its own soil, with the nightmarish image of the crowds of refugees, can rouse Europe from its barren slumber. And it may be precisely in the ephemeral cities of tents md mud, which shelter the tenacity of the displaced survivors, that Europeans will finally wake up and this fatigued continent will find its insomniac content.


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