Martin Pawley – The Time House

From the 1960s onwards, the scholarly interest in examining a “concept of home” has grown exponentially. Though encompassing a broad range of research activity – as indicated by the submissions to a dedicated journal on the issue, Home Cultures – most of the current published research shares a general common theoretical ancestor. Not a specific study, but an approach: that the concept, as articulated by Fox, is about examining the “X factor” of what makes a house a home.

Looking back at the development of this field of study, which we broadly characterise as home studies, a number of core, antecedent studies are cited in support of this general common approach, such as Dennis Chapman’s “Home and Social Status” in 1955, or other sociological research.

There are, however, a cluster of studies and arguments within architectural studies in the 1960s which have gone largely ignored. The most notable of these – in my view – is Martin Pawley’s conception of “The Time House” (see: Martin Pawley, The Time House, (1968) Architectural Design,  pp.399-402). This short blog seeks to draw attention to this ambitious (and very under-utilised) attempt to practically address the importance of the home in architectural design.

Sitting in the same theoretical vein as the “X factor” studies, Pawley’s argument focuses on the capability for architects to more adequately create houses which work to effectively support the development of these more intangible experiences of home. As he argues, for most designers the “conception of meaning and purpose of environment” is dealt with differently in their work as in “the way in which they feel it.” (Pawley, 1968: 399)

He argues that time and identity are central to the construction of a home, and that the modernist developments of the time, particularly the development of housing designed to meet immediate needs but not necessarily sustain the inhabitant over the life-course, were ill-suited to being lived in as homes. Likewise, the ability to construct an identity through housing – through possessions, or particularly in his view, the inter-generational homes of the landed aristocracy – has not been supported through the availability of technology.

His solution is to try and practically apply the sociological thinking that underscores the importance of time and identity to home meanings, in the construction of “The Time House.”

The figure below, pre-produced from the original article in Architectural Design and modestly edited to modestly improve the image quality, demonstrates his thinking.

Time House Drawing

Here, Pawley imagines a home as a form of recording mechanism, where the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants are recorded indefinitely and preserved for future viewing and reflection. He describes the design of the home as follows:

“Under the optically black aluminium polyurethane sandwich dome a silently rotating boom carries a camera, microphone and sensor complex which responds to impulses received from ammonia sensors installed throughout the house and continuously records the behaviour of the occupants. The video/audio recording, together with synchronised recordings of other environmental data are transferred to computer tape and stored in the basement memory to await recall in the reply room.”

(Pawley, 1968:402)

He argues that this “process will give the occupant a new perspective on his existence, for the neutral objectivity of the recording mechanisms which surround him will provide an image totally different from the partial insights of any human observer” (Pawley, 1968: 402). Here, the reconfigurations of the home that occurs over decades and centuries are captured and available to recall at any time by the occupier. The home stops being a finite entity, where the experience of permanence is all but lost as memories fade, but instead becomes a place where its permanence and its changes can be recorded and reflected upon.

This re-imagining of the home – however, ambitious – is an interesting, and largely neglected, early attempt to practically apply some of the findings of the sociological literature on the home which had developed across the late 1950s and early 1960s. These architectural studies are an important part of the early development of the current home studies literature, which should be accounted for when exploring its origins and tracing the evolution of the “concept of home.”