Jolanda Devalle – Never Innocent: Architecture, Anthropology and the Concept of House-Type

The study of houses in anthropology is as old as the discipline itself.  Starting with early proto-ethnographic accounts from the New World, it became increasingly evident that houses were more than mere physical structures; they embodied and shaped a culture’s way of thinking, living and dwelling. This intrinsic correlation between a house form and social form firmly established domestic architecture as a critical analytical category within the social sciences. Furthermore, the study of houses evolved into a primary means for speculating on the origins and ideal forms of human society.

This research looks at how architecture and anthropology have historically converged over a mutual concern with house form and typology, most often of cultures distant either in time or in space. This shared interest in the “domestic other,” fostered a unique alliance between the disciplines leading to an exchange of theories, methods and enduring myths that persist today. Terms such as primitive, vernacular, typology, communal, traditional, but also concepts, methodologies and forms of representation, are examined and called into question.

This work builds a historical cross-section by delving into a carefully chosen group of paradigmatic case studies, spanning from the late Enlightenment era to the present day. Its primary focus is on examining this cross-disciplinary engagement with domesticity and the resulting implications for architectural theory and housing design. In light of the recent resurgence of interest for an anthropological understanding of architecture, my aim is to shed light on the historical trajectory of this alliance and critically assess the legacies and underlying purpose behind enduring terms, tools and tropes. Against the never innocent use of indigenous sources, this thesis problematizes the relationship between the western tradition of architecture and its “domestic other.”