Living Together Apart
Talking about the resonance of the instruments and the musicians playing in an orchestra, how they join with one another in a symphony, and in the notion of sympathy, professor of anthropology Tim Ingold in a recently held conference about architectural anthropology, used two words for such a musical experience: ‘together apart’. He was not only talking about the notion of human beings and things (instruments, etc.) coming together, assembling, but also about the human activity of gathering and commonality: the feeling of togetherness, of going along together and at the same time, the knowing that each individual is on his or her own with each their instrument. This is the doing and sounds of the instruments, the collaboration, doing things together. The thoughts Ingold presented are connected to human dwelling and the making of a community. The proposition ‘together apart’ can have both positive and negative connotations, depending on whether one prefers to be together or apart, but there is something essential about it. We cannot run away from this condition of human life; maybe the best is to try to balance how to be on individual terms and at the same time being together, respecting both the need for privacy and the need for commonality.
I was born into a large family with aunts, uncles, and cousins, and a grandmother, who was in many respects the center of the family, as she was taking care of all us grandchildren. We lived quite nearby each other. At one point, I remember that two of my aunts were living with their families in the same small village as my grandmother. Therefore, we saw each other on a regular basis and did everyday activities together, for example, we were often drinking tea or dining together. When my grandfather died and at the same time, my parents got divorced, we were staying with my grandmother in her house for half a year. Helping and caring for each other on a daily basis was a natural thing in my large family. I think it was a gift of my childhood to be part of this commonality, and that it formed me as a person. I know the fun and the benefits of commonality. The motivations for researching co-housing is rooted in these experiences from my childhood. Today, we still care for each other but we live much more separated, further away from each other, and we do therefore not see each other on a daily basis anymore. This is also the case for many other people in our society: we live separated in each of our small households, with distance to our relatives and friends. Our homes, workspaces, and shopping facilities are separated. This separation of functions and spaces for living, working and other activities in daily life, is something we have got so used to that we mostly do not even question this way of living. However, people in co-housing do ask questions like this and many dissociate themselves from residential areas, where people live in detached houses divided by fences and hedges not having much to do with each other. For residents in co-housing, an important notion is to know the neighbours and have a social life connected to the dwelling, while still having space for privacy and life in each household. In one way, they seek to live together apart.
By Anna Falkenstjerne Beck
Industrial Ph.D. fellow at Danish Building Research Institute and Kuben Management