Space: the architecture of community

The way in which space is organized, and the use to which it is put, also contributes to creating and maintaining community. The warm climate permits Kandokans to spend much of their lives outdoors. They cook, visit, and work outside, either on their verandas or in the shade under their houses. Recall the generous social space under our house. This arrangement was ideal for us because it was a convenient meeting-place for villagers. There were often several people resting, working, or talking under our house so we did not have to go far to find people to pester with questions. It also enabled our neighbours to observe our activities without being intrusive. Where people live outdoors, in the view of others, they know each other well. Villagers enjoy and seek out the company of others, and a person who shuns others is behaving abnormally and is carefully watched for evidence of either an intent to commit suicide or to practice sorcery. The desire of villagers for contact with other people is present even during serious illness or approaching death.


Friends and family visit a dying person under the awning

 Adults who are dying move to a bed under a temporary shelter in front of or beside their house. The construction of this shelter alerts others to the expected death, and the word is spread to the dying person's business associates, trading partners, creditors, debtors, friends, and kin in other villages. All come to visit, to hear the dying person's wishes regarding the disposal of personal property, and to bring to closure ongoing relationships.

This organization of space discourages reclusiveness and facilitates ongoing communication, intense social interaction, and a sense of community.

Most North Americans would probably find it difficult to live in the view of others as the Kaliai do. Our values and architecture stress private rather than public lives. Ideally, each child has its own bedroom, and most of us prefer to live where the walls are thick and do not allow others to overhear our words and actions, or us to know about theirs. This ideal is exemplified in the modern, suburban subdivision where there are no sidewalks or front porches with swings to invite neighbours to visit, and where houses are set far back from the street. Outdoor family life, if it exists, takes place either in the fenced back yard or in a public space such as a playing field, swimming pool, or park. Garage and front doors are shut and locked. There is no implicit invitation to visit informally and, RVers tell us, neighbours often know or care little about each other. The move to these suburbs began after World War II when new affluence enabled city dwellers to leave crowded neighbourhoods, where - as in a Kaliai village - everybody knew everybody else's business. They fled these neighbourhoods in search of peace and quiet and privacy. Now, four decades later, members of the generation that fled to the suburbs disenchanted with their decision, for although they went in search of privacy, what they found was isolation. RVers seem to be trying to reverse their decision, for many of them seem to be actively searching for companionship, mutual trust, involvement with their neighbours, and meaningful social interaction. They want to create a sense of community.Like the Kaliai, full-time RVers live much of the year in a warm climate that enables them to spend a lot of time outdoors. And, like the Kaliai, they cook, visit, and work outside, but in the shade under their awnings rather than on their verandas or under their houses. The awning on an RV accomplishes several things. It creates living space for the RVer, it makes the outdoors part of the RVer's home, it creates an area that is neither intimate private space -- as is the inside of the RV -- nor impersonal social space, such as a park's recreation hall, club house, or swimming pool. Like the front porch in older neighbourhoods with sidewalks, it is a personal but neutral social space where casual, friendly interaction can occur without commitment to intimacy. Because the space inside a rig is small, when the weather is nice people sit under their awnings to drink coffee, read, or do craft work. Their presence is an invitation to their neighbours to stop and chat, to bring over their own lawn chair and cup of coffee and visit. There people meet and talk, share news, gossip, and maybe a snack, and come to know each other better. The RVer's awning, like the villager's veranda, facilitates the social interaction that is essential to the creation of community.

RVers gather under the awning

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