Shelter: Survival, Sense of Place + Social Status (Part 2)

By Brett Marlo DeSantis

All living things on this planet need a form of shelter to survive. A fairly simple concept—shelter—something that forms a place of protection. Yet the subject is far from simple. How do we meet our basic needs in today’s built environment?

We have become a somewhat static civilization. Most of our dwellings are built on-site and are completely location-dependent. In our contemporary civilization, we do not need nearly as many of the survival skills that our ancestors required to avoid fatal interactions with other humans, animals and plants. Once the basic necessities to sustain life are met, we then have the privilege to engage our freedom of choice. We thrive when we a have a place to call home.

A sense of place plays a critically important role in how we decide on our desired type of shelter. People form a relationship to place and others by sharing a particular space. This relationship, or attachment, to place links us physically, emotionally and socially. It is incredibly likely that we will have more than one type of relationship that forms the bonds of sense of place. Perhaps it is a historical or familial bond to a place that keeps us around, as in being born there or residing there as a child. It may be the case that we are entirely dependent on specific place due to economic opportunity, such as location-specific occupations. Possibly, we depend solely on another person who is tied to that location. Different but not less insignificant, we may be drawn to a place due to a moral or ethical responsibility to place, congruent to one’s religious or cultural beliefs. Conceivably it may simply be because we have a sense of belonging intuitively drawing us to that place. Whatever locale you choose to call home, place has an anthropological and perhaps architectural history.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, the built environment reflects our love of our climate by attempting to seamlessly connect the indoors with the outdoors through expansive windows, blending our seasonal colors and employing local woods with a great appreciation of craft. The Pacific Northwest type and style embraces fine woodworking, whether it is a shelter, house, boat or kayak. Do we consider the connection to place also a positioning in the social stratum? Are our identities connected to our choice of shelter? Is our concept of social status and its connection to place a prime factor in our choice of shelter?

In the not-so-distant past, most American single-family households lived in small houses or shared larger houses with multiple generations. As decades past, the single-family residence grew bigger and bigger. Did it grow to meet our physical needs or merely for status? Are we considered a more important person to others in society due to our choice of shelter? Due to economic hardships, the true cost of materials, utilities and land, houses are getting smaller again.

Thankfully, we now can see a shift in the trend of building; bigger is no longer better. Affordability and resourcefulness has become desirable, thoughtful, perhaps even considered more sophisticated. Shelter, while a fairly simple concept, requires much thought in the face of contemporary options.

What will the future housing of our region look like? Imagine what future neighborhoods hold. Will there be pockets of unique housing options as well as what currently exists in our housing market and typifies the PNW thus far?

Will prefab, modular or kit-homes, once popular in the early 1900’s, become commonplace? In this region, you may find these homes in timber-frame, log homes, yurts and paneled houses. They offer the opportunity to cut and assemble in a controlled indoor environment. The onsite construction costs are lower as these kits are designed to more effective with less material waste. They may be constructed by the homeowner, a general contractor or a combination of the two.Imagine the future neighborhood. Will they be more about the outdoor rooms than the inside ones? Will they share amenities like solar, shared gardens, rain-harvested water or water treatment?

If you could design your own village or community would all the houses be the same type, size and shape? What shelter will you choose and why? You are lucky enough to have a choice. So how will you choose a shelter that encompasses your sense of self, the self you want to show the world + the self that cares about the world around you?