Friday, 18 August 2017

How to build a house Part Zero: A world of pain!

A lot of people have an idea about an ideal home.​ Some have dreamed of it for years, some have an evolving plan in their heads. ​But unless you are very humble or very rich, the ideal home will be beyond your budget​, and ​unless you are very practical​ or somewhat unimaginative it will ​probably ​not be physically possible to build.

​On top of this, people tend to embark upon building projects with partners, spouses or other family members​, and the chances of two people sharing the same aesthetics are small. ​The process of building a house involves a steady erosion, and sometimes brutal ​dismantling of your dreams.​ The paradox of the creative process is just how much destruction is involved. Rather than lofty ideals, the battle is ​usually ​won by our incredibly low standards ​for acceptable living conditions​, and our ability ​to adapt to our environment. We are often like lobsters in pans of steadily warming water, who will never try to jump out even as the water boils.

Des res in Ishigaki.
We have ​a stereotype of the cavemen, living in dark, damp caves. I'm sure some of them did, but for the most part that is probably just where they died, especially if they did something as stupid as build a fire in an enclosed space. The only reason we have such ancient archaeological remains from caves is because the caves preserved them so well.

They said they'd be putting the roof on next Tuesday.
​Evidence of other structures goes back​ to​ remains​ found in Japan half a million years ago. A couple of years ago we visited the Saxon village at West Stow in East Anglia where they found some remains of structures a mere one and half thousand years old. At first they thought these were pit-houses, and they tried to reconstruct these dwellings with a roof over the pit in an enterprise called experimental archaeology. After trying to live there, the experimental archaeologists soon found how unlikely they were to have been pit houses, since the pits rapidly filled with mud and water. Instead they hypothesised floors were built over the pits. So old buildings were probably less primitive than we think. At the same time, it's hard to believe that shoddy building is a new phenomenon. Here's a story ​from the BBC ​of someone who found hundreds of things wrong with his new house, in case anyone thought building in the twenty-first century was perfect.

Brand new sling.
We also visited Greece, and saw throughout the countryside partially finished houses which people had begun to live in but left floors or walls missing for tax reasons. As I visited ​some of the ancient remains I begun to wonder whether they were really in a state of decay or whether they had just been half-built in antiquity. 

Same old rock.
So back in the new house project, at some point Stockholm syndrome sets in. Stockholm syndrome was named after a bank raid in the Swedish city when bank employees were held hostage over five days in 1973. The hostages developed emotional bonds and loyalty to their captors over this time. It took less than a week. Five days was enough to not only develop love of an aggressor, but also coin a term that we still use half a century later. And this is about the time it takes for you to become a hostage of your house. You may develop the syndrome with your architect much earlier.

And then when it's finished, you'll end up being sent something like this satisfaction questionnaire.

Read about Ben's housebuilding adventures here on Retire Japan.