Memento Vivere

Ellen Key’s Strand is a house with a very special purpose behind it design. As author and public debater Key devoted her life to the improvement of the life of children and women. When in her late fifties Key wanted to retire in 1910, she had Strand built to first serve as a home for her where she could entertain guests such as Werner von Heidenstam and Prince Eugene. But she also had in mind letting the house be the summer home for working women in need of rest, after her death. The design of the house is bright, warm and clean, with light furniture easy to arrange to support conversation and reflection.

As a house built by a woman and not designed for a traditional family, Strand could have been included in Katarina Bonnevier’s PhD thesis ”Behind Straight Curtains – Towards a Queer Feminist Theory of Architecture”. In this amazing new thesis, three women and their houses are presented: Selma Lagerlöf’s Mårbacka, Natalie Barney’s literary salon at 20 rue Jacob and Eileen Gray’s E.1027.

The thesis is an exploration into the theatricality of architecture, where a house is viewed as a scene where we can take on different roles. Bonnevier is fascinated by what she calls the enactments of architecture. One way the thesis explores this thought is in its format, written as a series of lectures where both fictional students and historical persons are provided with voices. They are not notes from lectures, but written as dramatic scripts in order to become living representations of their contents.

One of the important thoughts explored in this thesis is to what extent architecture is the result of our view of the world, but also how architecture can change our perspective and afford certain activities. One curious similarity between Key and Gray is that they both used text to decorate the walls and make the guests reflect on life. Key with Latin such as “Memento vivere” and “Accende et arde” while Gray’s included messages in French such as "entrez lentement".

I think it is very important to look at seemingly neutral phenomenon with new glasses and also to use other than traditional protocols for theses and presentations. I wish I had more of that kind of courage and imagination when I wrote my thesis ten years ago.

Bonnevier’s thesis has changed my perspective on architecture in a similar way that Sophia Ivarsson and Lina Edmark’s work on gender aspects of international rescue missions provided me with a whole new view. In their report they reveal how the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is viewed by the Swedish rescue service, and how it has been implemented. It also provides very concrete advice on how to improve the implementation. For example, in an area where women traditionally search the woods for sticks to make cooking fires it does make a tremendous difference if the rescue team only look for landmines on the paths. Still, new perspectives are difficult to introduce why it is important to support collaboration such as the Operation 1325 initiative.

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