Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pulling Maintenance on the Machine for Living

So I'm trying to clean house. Which is more about re-arranging; the usual method of "stick all the loose stuff in a closet and then mop the floors" doesn't work when there is more stuff than will fit in the available storage. These units are so small, indeed, that even adding more storage spaces (shelves or cupboards or wardrobes or whatever) is also not a simple solution. There is too little wall space, too little floor space, too little total room.

I've seen a couple of the other tenants add giant free-standing cabinets. That managed to get almost everything off the floor and out of sight, but it made getting across the apartment like navigating a claustrophobic wooden maze. Since to my mind the whole point in putting stuff "out of the way" is to allow easy movement across the apartment, unobstructed sight-lines, and a feeling of space and openness, any scheme that requires you to turn sideways in order to get past the shelves is NOT on.

Plus, even if there was a huge closet, you'd end up with the things you need buried so deeply it was not just hard to get at them, it would be hard to remember you had them in the first place. This goes double for renting storage space off-site. I don't own things just to own them. I own tools. The vast majority of those tools will get used within the space of a month.

And that makes the storage even more complex. The point is not to get things tucked out of sight...what I am trying to achieve is having the electronics parts and soldering station, the drill press and grinder, the monitor speakers and keyboard, all where I can leave them set up for a couple of weeks or more as I work on an electronics project, a prop, or a composition.

This isn't a bad apartment if what you want to do is live in it. The "Machine for Living" idea enunciated by Le Corbusier carries with it the same flawed assumption behind so many stores like Orchard Supply or Radio Shack. And that is an assumption of domain. "Work" is done at a work place; a large factory or lab that has an owner; a place you go to spend the productive day. "Home" is where you go with your time off, to recover between sessions of productive work. You might chose to "Play" some at home by doing similar things to that which is done at the factory, but it isn't "Real" work.

The denigration is still there when you have a little shop -- if the shop is more like a garage or a rental. Although the more you move out of your designated "eat and sleep" area, the more it is allowed that you might want to use power tools. It even denigrates those activities that do not require a large space, 220v power and forced ventilation, by labeling many of those productive tasks as mere "crafts."

A problem with this attitude is that today's economy, due in part to the technologies now available, makes more and more use of the productive efforts of home work. Entire industries are on a cottage model, with the largest workshop being a shared-use rental by two or three amateurs who pooled their money.

There has always been an element of this in theater, which has the pressures of needing non-mass production items on a schedule and on a budget that precludes many of the usual suppliers. Theater has always been made at least in part in people's homes. In my own concentration, sound effects are created, light plots designed, even bands recorded in home studios and small drafting spaces. Props are also built, costumes stitched, special effects worked out...and even bits of scenery built in spaces that are really far too small for that!

I am by no means a comic book artist but this is the space they need to work; a large drafting table, a shelf of reference books, perhaps a space to take reference photographs, and a good internet connection. A professional artist will usually have a room dedicated as a workshop but more is just silly. Ditto for a writer. Add space for a piano for a composer. None of these need a garage to work in.

These are all industries, then, productive industries that take place in that space that is designed for and honed over the years to support an entire other class of activities. The design of a typical apartment is a place to sleep, to cook small meals, to shower, to store clean clothes. There's space to read or watch a movie or play a game in the few hours of personal time between work and sleep. There's closet space for the surfboard or the gardening tools or whatever it is you dedicate more hours to on the weekend.

Building a theatrical prop, designing circuitry, or even, yes, writing a novel has to be retro-fitted, crammed into a space that was never designed to hold it. When you've got a larger apartment or house to play with it can be easier to make the fit (although you are always fighting the architect's original vision; that spare rooms are playrooms or guest bedrooms -- they don't have ventilation, power service, loading doors, water....

For people in my situation the crunch is acute. The era of the cheap loft is over. Work-live spaces were a great idea but they got taken over by people who WORK elsewhere and PLAY at being an artist on the weekend (if ever.) The death knell was when the people moving into the loft spaces started complaining to the zoning boards about all the power tools being used in the adjoining spaces.

If I were smart, I'd surrender partially. I am in no way likely to earn enough soon to afford to take my messier work elsewhere. So the best option is to try to limit the activities I do. They are, against the expectation our society still seems to hold about the divisions between work and play, mostly paying activities. When I compose, it isn't to relax after work; it IS the work. It is the day job. It is what pays the rent. But I don't believe I can support that many different things without needing more apartment to do them in.

Which in a way is a blessing. I can't spare enough ME to do all those different things, either!

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