- Editors’ Introduction
The articles in this issue of Buildings & Landscapes address a wide range of subjects: bathrooms in early twentieth-century workers’ housing, floating houses in Cambodia, sidewalk cafes in Philadelphia, and the neighborhood of Bogside in Derry, Northern Ireland. Yet, even in the midst of their wide differences, these articles clarify a number of key interpretive themes that have animated the field of vernacular architecture studies in recent years.
The first and foremost is a focus on spaces rather than objects. Each of these articles engages as its primary subject a space or a set of spaces: bathrooms, domestic interiors of houseboats, sidewalks, and neighborhoods. By focusing on spaces we resist the fetishism of the object and we enter into deeply engaging discussions of the public and private spheres. Two authors directly take on the nature of public space. Stephen Nepa’s discussion of the sidewalk cafes of Philadelphia examines the phenomenon of the appearance of more than three hundred sidewalk cafes in the past decade, when before there were almost none. He argues that these new cafes “provided Philadelphians and their visitors a higher degree of cosmopolitanism, a more pronounced feeling of safety, places for gathering, and an appealing way to experience the city,” showing that these new spaces have participated in the transformation not only of the city’s physical landscape but also its civic identity and sense of place. Yet he also questions whether these cafes are not stages for the performance of a new public, one that leads to the exclusion of the heterogeneous public from publically owned property. He notes that the cafes appear only in upper-middle-class neighborhoods that created safe “public” spaces, which were “seemingly impenetrable to the protracted problems of infrastructural decay, abandoned properties, and crime” that plagued other regions of the city. And, as he shows, these spaces occasionally became flashpoints for disagreements over the use of public space.
Sara McDowell and Catherine Switzer offer a new perspective for our journal by analyzing the implications of violence on vernacular spaces. They walk us through the history of the neighborhood of Bogside in Derry, Northern Ireland, first through its massive physical transformation in midcentury redevelopment, then through the three years of street violence in the late 1960s and early 1970s now called the Northern Ireland Troubles that culminated in Bloody Sunday (January 30) of 1972, and finally, the more recent process of memorializing those events in the landscape. Although it takes place in a landscape filled with buildings, their story focuses on streets and open spaces where violence broke out and where people were killed. More tragic than Nepa’s, their narrative shares his concern with the parameters of public space. Who has the right to represent the civic good and whose side of the resulting conflict is memorialized? They examine both “the organization of memory [and] the organization of silences.” Drawing on de Certeau’s examination of the practice of everyday life (also the title of his seminal work) these authors understand the space of the city “as a place controlled and resisted.”
Kim Hoagland scrutinizes the emergence of the early twentieth-century bathroom: she uses a rigorous microstudy of working-class houses in a copper mining district of northern Michigan to examine the slow transformation of houses to accommodate the individual fixtures of sink, bath, and toilet in a single space called the bathroom. Refuting earlier claims that the modern three-fixture bathroom emerged fairly rapidly as a room in middle-class American houses, Hoagland demonstrates convincingly [End Page v] that “nearly all working-class houses nationwide acquired this new space, but its introduction was strategic, idiosyncratic, and incremental.” She introduces us to families with sinks in their bedrooms, toilets in their basements, and privies outside their homes. Families often installed indoor toilets, bathtubs, and sinks as individual fixtures before there was a dedicated space in the house to receive them. While many families began by locating fixtures in basements of older houses, some experimented with putting toilets in closets. Hoagland also notes how the removal of the toilet from the yard transformed that space as well; family members no longer needed...