Lately, passive buildings have been getting a lot of press. The technology behind it has finally reached the point where such buildings are insulated so well, extra heating is hardly necessary. A notable example is the zero emmision Prinsess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica. But with insulation also comes isolation from the outside world.
But isolation is generally excepted here in Europe as a good quality to have for your building. A house should protect you not only from the elements, but nature in general, such as wild animals and insects. It must keep out sounds and smells. It should afford privacy from nosy neighbors. In other words, the perfect home should keep everything out with the exception of invited guests and sunlight. So much so that we simply take this for granted.
Returning to Malawi was therefore a revelation. I had forgotten what it was like to live in an open house. You notice the difference the moment you step inside. Most of the places I stayed at in Malawi where mostly built with one goal: to protect you from the rain. People here live most of their lives outside anyway. Cooking, eating, washing, socializing, it’s all done outside. It not only makes you feel healthier, constantly being exposed to the elements probably also builds your resistance. In that sense, we are quite spoilt here in the west. I came to this conclusion when I realized I could, live, work and do my groceries without having to spend more then three minutes outside in a single day. The rest is all spent inside, isolated from the rest of the world.
Living in an open house on the other hand is like living in a tent, only with a bit more room and comfort. Even though you are inside, you can sense the changes in the weather. You can hear everything around the house loud and clear, as if you weren’t surrounded by four walls. Mayoka Village, a hostel where I stayed went even a step further. Taking a shower was a real sensation. You could do so while enjoying the view of the bay. You could even hold face to face conversations with passerby’s without fear of exposing the rest of your body. Basically, you’re half inside, half outside.
And it was inspiring. With that in mind, I’ve created the Mayoka house. It has no windows and no doors that can be opened and closed. Everything is left exposed. It simply functions as a placeholder in our lives. A sort of marker that states this is sort of the space where we live around. The layout itself is very basic. It has bed, a table, a built in shelf and a washing area that is a bit more protected to offer its occupants some privacy. But even in this enclosed area, one can always maintain complete contact with the outside world.
In other words, it’s not a space to live in, but more to live around.