November 19, 2020 - Canadian Centre for Architecture - What It Takes to Make a Home
e-flux Architecture
November 19, 2020
November 19, 2020

Canadian Centre for Architecture

What It Takes to Make a Home, 2019. Video, 29 minutes. © CCA.

What It Takes to Make a Home
First film of a three-part documentary series produced by the CCA

Screening and conversation: November 26, 2pm, EST with Charlotte Biddle-Bocan, Edith Cyr, Maya Cousineau Mollen, and Bruno Demers (online)
Screening and conversation: November 27, 1:30pm, EST with Giovanna Borasi, Cristina Cielo, Juha Kaakinen, and María Inés Plaza Lazo (online)

Canadian Centre for Architecture
1920 rue Baile
Montréal Québec H3H 2S6
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Home is really complicated. I really feel that I have been able to find solace in community, the people that make me feel safe. I’ve never felt safe in a place that’s enclosed by four walls. If anything, I feel like a rectangle that defines a space as home has more defined a space where violence occurs, where displacement occurs. So I’ve had to learn how to cope with this idea that the navigation of going from one space to the next has been home.
-Kevin Recinos, life skills coordinator at Safe Parking Los Angeles

—When people think of architecture and homelessness, they think of shelters.
—And the idea of shelter is good, trying to get someone off the streets for a day, or maybe a week. But the downside is that people almost always return to the street.
I think that’s an important thing to put on the table—are these for a special community, or are you really trying to make something that integrates, in some way, these communities with the rest of the city as a whole?
—Yes. There is this stigmatization, and I don’t want to have it visible in the design. I hate to do a special kind of architecture for special parts of society. I hate that. But I try to use our design to make it not special, so that the stigmatization will not grow any longer if we start to do our work.
We were criticized that we were doing a human experiment here. Students and homeless living together? But this is not about creating something special. The project is about designing a togetherness.
— Well, one of the criticisms I heard—often—was, why are you building something that’s so nice for the homeless community? And what I think is really at stake there is that architecture having a strong aesthetic is a tool to say that homelessness cannot be an anonymous problem. The aesthetics of architecture set up the dialogue. It’s the way that architecture communicates. The people who are living in this building, they are part of the larger citizenry of the city. And there’s a real quality and value to that community.
-Michael Maltzan, architect, Los Angeles; and Alexander Hagner, architect, Vienna

What is the hardest thing? I’ve got to tell you, the hardest thing is that everything, everything, takes a huge amount of time. Where before—you’ve got to do something, it takes you an hour or two and you’re done. But here, it’s different, being homeless, you’ve got to transport everything somewhere. Washing my clothes takes forever. I’ve got to pack everything, take it down to the laundromat, and it’s a huge amount of money to do it. A lot of things have taken the wayside. There’s always something that needs to be done.
-Vincent L. Brown, veteran and construction worker, Los Angeles

What It Takes to Make a Home (2019, 29 min) is a short documentary conceived by CCA Director Giovanna Borasi and directed by Daniel Schwartz. It considers the role of architecture in addressing housing insecurity—not through proposed solutions, but through multiple perspectives, including those of both architects and individuals whose lives have been affected by homelessness. It uses Alexander Hagner’s VinziRast-mittendrin housing project, in Vienna, and Michael Maltzan’s Star Apartments, in Los Angeles, as ways to enter and to turn over the question.

Following screenings at film festivals and institutions worldwide, including at the United Nations headquarters in New York City as part of the 58th Session of the Commission for Social Development, What It Takes to Make a Home will be made available online as of November 30. To mark the release, the CCA has planned two digital screenings and conversations: around urban hostility, homelessness policies, and recent events in Montreal, on November 26, at 2pm EST (in French); and around responses to homelessness coming from the Global North and Global South, and their implications for the role of the architect, on November 27, at 1:30pm EST (in English). The events are presented in collaboration with Architecture Without Borders Quebec, and in partnership with the Architecture & Design Film Festival, and Arts of the Working Class.

The film is the first in a three-part series that casts new light on how architecture intersects with wider social, economic, and political contexts reshaping urban life. The series aligns with an institution-wide set of initiatives, collected under the title A Section of Now, that explore the urban and architectural interventions that accommodate, influence, and even pre-empt our contemporary realities. A Section of Now takes shape through the films, an exhibition and series of events (opening spring 2021), a publication (available spring 2021), and a new CCA web issue to expand the conversation (release December 2020).

Canadian Centre for Architecture
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