jean fourastie

Here is the second chapter of the second part (Level of living) of the translation from Machinisme Bien-être (1951), by Theodore Caplow (The causes of wealth, 1960).  According to Theordore Caplow, chapter VI, on Style of Life, has been extensively amended to make it more meaningful for the reader unfamiliar with the details of the French household.

 Chapter VI


THE INFLUENCE of machinisme and of technical progress on individual and family life is obviously considerable. This problem, which forms the very center of the study of style of life, is still practically untouched. It is curious to note that the subject was first approached through the study of prehistoric man. As in the previous chapters, we cannot hope to treat so large a subject profoundly.


Our sole object is to call attention to the problem and to give a few suggestions for a simple study that the reader himself may undertake by observing the life around him.


The technical factors of individual life are all more or less connected with housing: first, housing per se, the general features of the house and its geographic location; then the household equipment-furniture, appliances, utilities; finally the household arts, the questions of household work, of rest, of leisure time activities, and of what may be generally described as comfort.


It is the evolution of these diverse elements of the style of life during the past 150 years in the technically advanced countries that we must try to trace in broad outline.





From earliest times until the last century the home was essentially a shelter - against the rain, against the cold, and against wild beasts and human marauders. The traditional house is fundamentally a fort. It is not active but passive. It protects, it does not serve.


The notion of the defensive habitation that comes to us out of the distant ages of the past is still very much alive in France, in a fashion that hardly strikes the French themselves unless they have traveled abroad. The protective character which the house in countries of old civilization has for its inhabitants, and the hostile aspect which it presents to the passerby, make a lively impression on anyone who knows the newer countries. Nothing appears more natural to a Frenchman than an enclosing wall. The wall of the court and the garden is part of the house. It seems quite natural that people should shut themselves in to escape unwelcome observation, and at 8:00 in the evening in October, one may walk down the main street of a city like Étampes without seeing more light in the windows than if the houses were uninhabited.


By contrast, one of the things that most surprises the French when they travel in highly industrialized countries, like the United States or Canada or Sweden or Norway, is that the houses in those countries have practically no provision for protection against outsiders.


The home in the new countries has no enclosure. Certainly it has walls and a roof for protection against cold and rain, but it has no exterior barriers. When there is a garden, the garden is not enclosed. The very windows generally lack exterior shutters. The defensive equipment of the doorway is rudimentary. Most of the time it is not used.


This shows that in the new countries, almost as soon as they were populated, such general conditions of security prevailed (whether because of policing or because morality followed the upward trend of the level of living) that man did not need to fear the assault of other men.


The house in the tertiary civilization is a machine. In France, tradition has conserved a certain air of "my home is my castle" - attitudes of distrust and even of hostility towards the trespasser, the passerby, and often the neighbor. This is the tradition of the domestic stronghold which furnishes protection against nature and against men.


On the contrary, in the modern house (or, as far as France is concerned, the future house), this role of shelter is only secondary to the active and dynamic role of rendering services to the inhabitant. This would have been inconceivable before 1820 or 1830. But little by little, mechanical energy, water under pressure, then gas, and finally electricity have permitted the incorporation into the home of machines, motors, and tools that render services to the occupants.


Little by little a whole series of instruments and devices that were formerly portable have been incorporated into the dwelling. Heating provides the perfect example. Originally there was no stove. At first the firewood was placed on the ground anywhere, later in a given spot with a chimney above. There were no material instruments except a few flat stones and later some andirons. With more advanced techniques, which hardly appeared in France until 1750, came the stoves, items of furniture. Then, with the industrial era, the central heating equipment was finally incorporated into construction of the building.


This is the case not only for central heating but also for the plumbing complex-sinks, washbasins, toilets, bathtubs, and showers. Similarly, lighting, which had formerly been accomplished with oil or kerosene lamps, became incorporated into the house because well-designed conduits and electric circuits must be installed at the time the house is built. It is possible, of course, to add them to an old house in the same way that a bathroom may be added to an ancient building, but this is only a temporary and makeshift solution, justified by the need of using the leftovers of the past.


The modern house becomes truly a machine. It was once passive, it becomes active.


It is necessary to study the fundamental features of this radical development by dividing them into two parts: the building itself, and the furniture and appliances.




The geography of habitation


It is easy to visualize the general problem of habitation in contemporary civilization. Economic development has permitted and has required considerable migrations of population. Until about 1830, most men were bound to the soil by agriculture and could not find a livelihood except by dispersing themselves over the territory in relation to the supply of arable land.


The increase in agricultural productivity, by reducing the number of workers necessary to produce food and raw materials, has broken the age-old ties of man and the soil. Primary labor is bound to the land. Secondary labor is much less fixed. It depends more upon means of communication and upon the concentration of goods and materials than upon the surface features of the earth. Finally, tertiary labor is essentially dependent upon the distribution of the population for whom the tertiary services are to be performed. Thus the diminution of the primary sphere and the expansion of the secondary and the tertiary spheres have created urban concentration.


This transfer of man from the rustic setting of Virgil to the urban setting of New York is the most conspicuous and most serious phenomenon of the transitory period.


As a matter of fact, it has been a grave problem for the Occidental countries to find lodging for all of their people who migrated from the countryside and it is still a problem for those nations in the course of rapid industrialization, like the Soviet Union and Japan. In the abandoned villages of Quercy or the Aveyron, the ancestral houses fall into ruins, while in the cities, the population crowds into tenements.




From the primary habitation to the secondary city


The traditional dwelling was the result of a very slow development. The richest land had been occupied first, and little by little the forest had been cleared, always by a choice of the best lands. Thus, the dwelling site was determined by natural factors the best exposure to the sun, protection from floods, and so forth.


By contrast, in the chaos of the transition period, for no other reason than the construction of a factory at a certain place and of a freight yard at another, tens of thousands of men and women poured in within a few years. Houses were built hastily to satisfy the immediate demand for a rental profit.


In this way urban centers were created and multiplied during the past century in almost all of the countries of the world. The movement was produced under the pressure of economic determinism in the period of transition; the men affected by it were unable to see its direction or to control its effects. The contemporary city was constructed to absorb a demographic inundation, without thought of the future or of the whole pattern. This was one of the typical symptoms of spiritual disorder during the period of industrialization. A continuous stream of people came to seek lodging in the cities. Large profits were offered to the builders and proprietors of houses. The long term social problem was resolved any which way, from day to day, under the impulses of profiteering and speculation.


For example, in the ·suburbs of Paris, construction was undertaken on land that had been agricultural until about 1830 or 1870 or 1900. The tracts were bought up by promoters or speculators, then they were subdivided and sold off bit by bit so as to obtain the maximum monetary return. The idea of private property was victorious over any concept of the public interest. The plan of great cities was designed by the desire to make money out of real estate. City planning was sacrificed to the anarchy of individual interests.


So grew those cities that have no general pattern, no traffic plan, no center, no organic unity. Rows of apartment houses are ranged along unending corridor streets. Traffic, work, commerce, housing are inextricably mixed and mutually interfering. These secondary cities (born in the secondary phase of the period of transition) are the least human which humanity has built, with the exception of Rome under the Caesars.


Since Haussmann who, by the way, was inspired by typical principles of his era, Paris has not had any general plan of improvement and extension. The royal tradition of Paris has been lost without the substitution of any .democratic or social tradition. From the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries, the Place des Vosges, the Avenue de Breteuil, the Invalides, the Étoile were designed. By contrast, with no plan at all, with no intervention of governmental authority, the bourgeois governments have left the field to individuals. At most, they take the precaution, in America, to require the laying out of a gridiron of streets in a new subdivision of vacant land. But the fundamental fact is that individuals build according to their holdings. The typical pattern is a restricted facade fronting on a narrow and noisy street, with a rear exposure on a dark court giving practically no air or sun because it is too small and too narrow. The typical modern city presents itself as an interminable collection of ugly little cubes, jammed against each other the whole length of narrow, noisy, and dusty trenches.


The secondary city in which most of us are condemned to live is at once irrational, uneconomic, unwholesome, and ugly; in a word, anti-human, because problems which required planning and foresight have been settled piecemeal. The men of the nineteenth century who built these great cities were not aware of the phenomenon and had no clear idea of its scope. They built badly, they built cheaply, they built quickly to satisfy an immediate need. No one thought of the future. Today the serious consequences of this kind of housing are all too evident. The nineteenth-century tenement houses fewer members of the population on a given amount of land than modern housing; above all, it houses them much worse. Restlessness, anxiety, the moral disequilibrium of the current generation is largely attributable to the defects of their dwellings. If Hitler and the workers of Munich, if Mussolini and the workers of Turin, had lived in a more human environment, would the fascist movements have arisen and led to the war of 1939? It is essential to see that this question has its scientific side.


The problems of city planning are only beginning to be understood. We are just beginning to suspect the influence of daily conditions and surroundings on the character and mentality of the people. Until about 1920 no one had realized that the problem of city building was a national problem. More exactly, it had been forgotten in the confusion that attended the beginning of the industrial revolution. The men of an earlier civilization knew that city building is public policy. Under the ancien regime in France, the construction of a city was always regarded as a matter for the royal administration.


Happily, contemporary city planners are slowly rediscovering this conception. They now know that all new building of any scale presents problems that involve the public interest and that must be treated not only in terms of immediate needs, but also in terms of the future and the probabilities of development that exist for the region, the city, and the neighborhood.


One gets a fairly clear idea of the tertiary city by visiting certain foreign countries such as Sweden. But it is in the United States that the transition from the secondary to the tertiary city can best be observed.


The city of New York is typically secondary. Impressive in its size, inspiring in the human achievement that it evokes, it is really uninhabitable. All of the defects of the interminable secondary city are concentrated there at a maximum intensity. It is crowded, confused, dirty, without green spaces. For the adult, it is a painful environment. For the old and the very young it is completely "unlivable." But this city, the perfect image of the flooding of population into a limited space, is increasingly abandoned to the functions of production while twenty or thirty kilometers from New York, the tertiary habitat develops.


What are the fundamental features of what I call the tertiary city, or rather the tertiary suburb and even countryside?


First of all, dwellings are dispersed. The cities which are built today no longer give that impression of density and complexity, characteristic of secondary cities and suburbs. In fact, the first impression is of very few buildings. This is sometimes an erroneous impression, for it may be that the population per unit of area is actually greater than in the older cities. This is because the houses are higher, the innumerable little courts are lacking and the open spaces are rationally combined, but most of all because factories, industrial buildings, warehouses, stores, and so forth have been rigorously segregated.


The tertiary city is thus dispersed. Moreover, it allows nature to flourish around it, and this is extremely important. There are trees, plants, flowers, grass. The water remains, the birds and squirrels are welcome. There has been a kind of adjustment by which nature becomes an organic element of the home.


Further out still, beyond these new cities which are still urban by the criteria of density, we find little strings of houses, really individual this time, which extend over hundreds of kilometers. The observer who leaves New York is struck by the fact that over the whole extent of the surrounding area one finds independent houses every fifty, one hundred, two hundred, five hundred, or eight hundred meters. The group village of the Ile-de-France or Beauce type, is rare. There are practically no villages or spaces between villages. The houses are found anywhere where someone has thought that he might find pleasure and live in tranquility. Here and there certain clusters, hardly more dense, grow up around a railroad station, a church or a school.


It is not difficult to find the major causes that lead to the transformation of the secondary habitat into the tertiary habitat. The first is the better utilization of local means of production, leading to the decentralization of industry. The second is the preference of evolved and civilized man for a calm and natural setting. Finally, it is easy to see how this new dispersion of the tertiary habitat, which reproduces paradoxically, but quite exactly, the primary dispersion of population in well-watered countries, is dependent on ease of transportation (transportation of persons, transportation of goods, transportation of mechanical and heat energy).


The inhabitants of these new country houses have automobiles, often one which the father takes to work and another for the use of his wife and children. These suburbanites are no longer bound to a railroad or bus station, as we are still in France. They depend only on themselves, On second thought, however, it is obvious that this new type of dwelling requires not only individualized means of transportation, but also all of the other elements of tertiary civilization. There is a whole organization of economic and social life, which includes the telephone and the television set, the forty-hour week and the country club, automatic heating and the refrigerator. Without stressing too much all of the elements that are bound together by the determinisms of productivity and that constitute the civilization of 1975, it is important to show that two conditions are essential for the development of the tertiary habitat. These are home deliveries, and certain school and social services.


The tradesmen pass daily with their delivery trucks. They sell not only salad, milk, and beefsteak, they also deliver the essential element of the modern home, mechanical energy. In many of these little houses there is a tank for butane gas, filled every three or four months, which supplies the furnace, the kitchen stove, and many household machines.


There are other special systems for education, sanitation, medical services, and religious observance.


The school problem is solved by the school bus. A motorbus comes on schedule every morning, serving all of the houses where there are children, or at least coming to the foot of a private road. The child is taken to school by the bus, he eats there at noon, and is taken home in the evening. Sunday, the same vehicle serves the churches. In many localities it also provides a postal service.


This solution of educational problems obviously has significant effects on the basic organization of the school. In France a solution has been sought by the creation of schools in the smallest villages. In certain places, the results are truly astonishing, for example, where the school has been built halfway between two hamlets which are four or five kilometers apart. The school is thus located two kilometers from any inhabited house, and the unfortunate teacher sees no one all week but the few children between 7 and 13 who are confided to his charge. It is hardly necessary to add that in winter half of his pupils, on the average, do not answer the school bell.


The French solution is disastrous compared to the American solution, as far as the cost of instruction, the education of the pupils, or the situation of the teacher is concerned. From the budgetary point of view, it is necessary to construct and maintain miserable buildings for a teacher who often has less than ten pupils. From the point of view of the children, these schools are far away and hard to reach on small legs. The pupil is often the only one of his age. He finds no beneficial, or even attractive, social climate. The teacher, embittered by his isolation, often loses interest in his small heterogeneous troupe. The dispersion and isolation of our country schools is one of the reasons for the present crisis in the recruitment of teachers.


In the United States there are hardly any one-class schools, or any with less than four or five teachers. There will be 20 children in a class, and at least 80 to 100 in all. The sons of farmers mingle with the sons of factory and office workers. Friendships are formed, ideas are exchanged. The school has its own life. I confess not being able to understand the reasons why so attractive a solution, so well tested by the experience of other modern countries, has not yet been tried in the French countryside. It is sometimes explained by the fear that the departure of the schoolmaster would mean the administrative collapse of many rural communes.


It follows from this brief analysis of the facts that the new pattern of tertiary countryside is based upon a high level of living and cannot be abruptly introduced into a country like France with a middle level of living. This explains the total failure of the subdivisions of the 1920-30 type. A great mistake of these French subdivisions was that they required a dispersion, less great perhaps than that of the American suburb, but distinctly excessive considering the means of transportation, the public services, and the income of the population housed. The "villas" stretch out in Indian file at great length. The proper organization of shops, schools, churches, bus stations, athletic fields, and even the open country is made impossible by these distances. The housewife every morning must travel miles to find a marginal grocer or butcher who cheerfully exploits her.


The solution that would correspond to the contemporary economic situation of France must resemble the Swedish type of urban housing projects, planned in such a way that in less than five minutes, protected from traffic, the children may walk to school, the housewife to market, and the commuter to the station.


In this matter of housing, the industrial revolution began its course in a direction which, as we now see, was essentially anti-human and quite temporary. Perhaps the solution to the housing problem that has begun to emerge today will be no more permanent than the previous one, although it is certainly better adapted to the essential needs of the human body and mind. At any rate, it is certain that the 1900 type of dwelling is completely obsolete. In this respect, as in many others, the period of transition was characterized by instability, by a break in homogeneity between the short-term measures that were taken and the long-term realities that eventually made themselves felt.


Having shown the general tendency of contemporary civilization with respect to housing, we must describe the French situation more exactly. The proportion of Frenchmen occupying modern homes, in the sense just described, is hardly one out of ten thousand. It is a smaller proportion than in any other major country. A comparison of the present situation of France with that of the United States shows clearly that the reason for the poor condition of French housing is the lack of new construction from 1935  to 1939, and again from 1946 to 1949, plus the destruction of the war.


The rate of three new dwellings per one thousand of the population annually, which prevailed at the beginning of this period, was adequate, but after 1935 there was hardly any construction and immediately after the war there was no construction at all. Throughout the entire year of 1948, France produced 20,000 dwelling units. In the single month of March, 1949, England produced the same number.


If we compare the small volume of housing constructed annually with the one million units destroyed during the war, we see it will require many years more merely to replace the losses of the last war. The total for the period 1935  to 1952 is minus 320,000 dwelling units, or seven units less per 1,000 inhabitants in 1952 than in 1935, while the calculation for the United States shows about 80 units added per 1,000 inhabitants. The effect of the war is evident, but the real problem that must be resolved in France is not so much to reconstruct what was destroyed during the war, but to develop housing worthy of the modern age. The task is incomparably greater than that of reconstruction alone.


How can we explain the inadequacy of construction in France? It is impossible to answer this question here in any thorough way. Obviously, the freezing of rent is one of the major factors. The result of this freeze has been that from 1944 to 1950, many Frenchmen spent less on rent than on tobacco. This deprived new construction of all profitability. Here again, we find an opposition between long-term and short-term mechanisms. We see the grave disadvantages for the people of measures which, at the time they are voted, appear to promote the general welfare. New construction cannot now become profitable except through a long and difficult process of rent revaluation.


At the present time, serious efforts have begun to produce results in this area. The housing "reconstruction" of France got under way in 1949 and the situation has been much improved since that time. The situation for the future looks moderately hopeful.


There is still another aspect of the problem that is less familiar and that nevertheless is more important than what has been mentioned; in the long run it must necessarily determine the level of housing of a population.




The productivity of labor in construction.


When we see that France builds 20,000 units of housing in a year when England builds 240,000, we are led to suppose that the number of our construction workers is 10 to 12  times less than that of the English. This is not so at all. There are 700,000 French construction workers. The English number is 1,500,000, or a little over twice as many. The United States has 4,000,000 construction workers.


In1948, with these labor forces, 20,000 units were constructed in France, 220,000 in England, 800,000 in the United States.


By dividing the number of units constructed by the number of workmen, we obtain the following crude productivities: 3 units per 100 workers in France, 13 units per 100 workers in England, 20 per 100 workers in the United States. Thus, our construction workers build only three new homes while the same number of American workers are building twenty and the English workers are building thirteen.


How can we interpret these very different figures? Of course, no one will suppose that the variation is a result of the worker's personal effort. On the contrary, we know that in general the higher the productivity, the less physical labor is demanded. The enormous difference between 3 and 13 or 20 is obviously due to the level of technique and the general organization of the economy.


The problem of the general organization of the economy is the principal one here. It may be summarized in a very simple phrase : France repairs instead of building. Our construction labor force is engaged in making repairs. They patch up old houses. They remodel the interior of bars and cafes in Paris and the provincial cities. They dig and fill in, pave and tear up. They install bathrooms in old houses as best they can. They prop up crumbling walls and replace the roof over rotted rafters. This is what two-thirds or three-quarters of our 700,000 building workers do. Only a small number of them actually build houses. Thus it is not surprising that the total number of new houses is laughably small.


Nevertheless, it must be understood that we pay much more money for housing than we suppose. When the workman is paid to repair, he repairs. When he is paid to construct, he constructs. In any event he is paid. To estimate the level of expenditure for housing in France, it is legitimate to use the number of workers employed in construction.


This poses squarely the problem of productivity for the nation as a whole. Individually, we may each find it to our private interest to have a country house repaired or to remodel a room in our Paris apartment. Collectively, the outcome of these operations is deplorable, because when old buildings are "improved," we conserve obsolete structures a little longer. The operation is comparable to that of prolonging the life of a twenty year old automobile by care and repair. Each year, it costs a third the price of a new car, and it will never render the same service. We save the wages of a metallurgist and pay a garage mechanic instead. It is not by adding ten years to the life of a collapsing building or by installing a toilet in an old apartment that we get air, light, calm, and a beautiful view. All that is done is to prolong the existence of the secondary city, a little more dilapidated, a little shabbier, increasing troublesome to maintain. We do not thus prepare the tertiary city.


Beyond a certain point, the expense of maintaining the old car or the old city becomes so high that the desirability of having replaced them at an earlier time becomes quite obvious. By that time, however, finding the resources necessary for replacement may have become impossible because of the very scale of current expenses. This is the classic situation of the poor country, poor because it has no industrial equipment and too poor to equip itself. It is the typical problem of the first phase of industrialization which can appear anew in a developed country as a result of an interruption in its development. To repeat, the same men can be employed either at repairing the old or at building the new, but the costs of repair must be perpetually continued and increased. Only expenditures for new products lead to real improvement in the style of life.


These examples show that the problems of productivity are not only problems of the technique of labor at the work place, but are also problems of general organization. To obtain high productivity, it is not sufficient to study the methods of production, but also what is produced. The labor of repair is always tertiary in relation to the labor of production.


At the same time, there is a technical problem of productivity in the French construction industry. In this sense also, productivity is lower in France than in the United States and in England. The studies which have been made permit us to estimate that this technical productivity is 20 to 30 per cent less in France than in England, whose productivity in turn is less than the American standard. These discrepancies arise specifically from the lack of collaboration between the architect and contractor, the rarity of long-range planning, and the weakness of production scheduling on the work site. The improvement of productivity, relatively easy to arrange in this sector, should in the normal course of events permit a reduction of about 25 per cent in the selling price of new houses, which at the present time in France is equivalent to about 20,000 hours of unskilled labor, for a single four room bungalow of simple modern type.


The first result of the deficit of new construction in France is the housing shortage. A similar shortage has been felt recently in almost all the countries of the world, and even in those countries where there is considerable construction, like the United States and Sweden. It is particularly serious in France.






The problems of domestic life are slowly entering the perspective of scientific analysis and observation. The vulgar patterns of housekeeping and dishwashing are coming, little by little, to seem worthy of rational consideration. The demanding labor of keeping house is being lightened by investigations that are described at first as ingenious (with a kind of sneer), but which really belong to the great domain of experimental science.


The scientific spirit thus invades the kitchen and the household, and it transforms the domestic scene as much as the occupational scene. There is as much difference between the kitchen of former times in the country, where the housewife crouched on the hearth to prepare a meal, and the modern kitchen, rationally designed and equipped with a variety of labor saving devices, as there is between an ox cart and a late model car. However, the average housekeeping equipment in France today lags conspicuously behind industrial and agricultural equipment. In the country, the average farmer uses machines and tractors while his wife must usually struggle with her firewood and her open well.


Public opinion inquiries in France and in the United States have recorded considerable differences in the time required for the execution of certain household tasks. While a French housewife needs five hours for her daily chores, some American housewives can manage them in an hour and a half. As a matter of fact, from the point of view of comfort, we live in France, especially in rural areas, very much as our grandparents lived. The period of transition has hardly begun in matters of housing and household equipment. Nevertheless, the possibilities of improvement are impressive, and there is an increasingly conspicuous gap between what exists and what might exist.




The Plan and Shape of the House


In ninety per cent of traditional French apartments, the housewife is the victim of poor construction design. Her daily work is annoyingly and fruitlessly prolonged by two or three hours by the faults of the construction plan, the poor arrangement and dimensions of rooms, the length of corridors, the staircases, the waste spaces, the absence of closets, and so forth. There are plans whose sole purpose was to use up a given piece of land or to satisfy an unrealistic building code. Unheated rooms, haphazardly lighted, walls covered with inconvenient and uncleanable ornamentation, waxed floors, loose joints, badly fitting doors ‑ this is the general character of traditional houses, including the castles and the palaces. The apartments of traditional palaces were a succession of rooms without logical order, distinguished only by their interior decoration and furniture. When the mason finished his work and left the house, there would be no visible difference between the future bedroom and the future dining room. Only the chimney and the drain might identify the kitchen. Even in luxurious houses, the rooms were in line; each one was entered through another. Luxury consisted only in the size of the rooms and their decoration. The Chateau of Blois gives the modern visitor a good idea of what traditional housing was like in France. The drawing rooms and dining rooms are immense dark halls ‑ because the cost of glass was so high ‑ and, of course, they are unheatable. No partitions, no intimate corners, except perhaps for the secret stairway which suggests assignation and intrigue rather than freedom of movement for the residents. Even Kings and Queens could hardly claim a room of their own. The crowding of the Court was determined by the hazards of arrival and departure. At best, there were three or four persons per bed. When more visitors arrived, as Brantôme tells us, they slept on straw in the great halls.


Versailles marks a considerable progress over Blois. Not only was a civilized life possible there, but the general character of the place stimulated intellectual activity in an extraordinary way and encouraged a sense of political responsibility. Versailles was a model community that ennobled its inhabitants, but everything there was for the King, nothing for the man. The plan is as crude as at Blois. The rooms lead into each other interminably. In the seventeenth century plan there were no toilets, no access corridors, no centers for family life. In fact, the very idea of private life had not yet developed.


The earliest chateau, to our best knowledge, where the architect thought to reserve facilities for private family life, was the admirable Château of Champs, on the Marne, very close to Paris. Built toward the end of the reign of Louis XIV, this château shows by its bathrooms, its small studios and workrooms, its flexibility, a new development of civilization – individualism with its correlary needs for solitude, relaxation, and intimacy. It is too often said that machinisme kills individuality. On the contrary, it might be better said that man cannot achieve intellectual and moral individuality except after a long initiation to an advanced style of life that gives him enough leisure and an adequate level of living.


The early stages of the industrial revolution were marked by ugly adaptation of the classic architectural norms to the cramped and irregular building lots which capitalism offered in the great cities. There was already a certain sense of independence, but ideas of respectability and ostentation remained uppermost. With gradual adaptations, this gave cities like Paris and London the lugubrious structures in which practically all of us live - interminable corridors, dark corners, uninhabitable living rooms, obsolete kitchens, sonorous walls and ceilings. These are the unfortunate vestiges of obsolete situations. What was an intelligent design in a former era has become completely absurd in our time.


The optimum design changes from one period to the next, with the increasing adaptation of man to the realities of the tangible world. At the present stage of development, a rational plan must include a central plumbing stack which serves the kitchen, the bathroom, and the toilets at the same time. The architect treats this stack like a closet whose place in the plan is easily changed. He does not encumber the apartment with ugly and useless mazes of pipe.


The rooms are of modest size, designed with the intention of limiting the floor area to be maintained and heated. Keeping the unit on a single level also simplifies the housewife's work.


The bedrooms have an area of at least 12 square meters - the kitchen, for a family of five persons, should have an area of 6 to 8 meters. There is a bedroom for the parents, for the girls, one for the boys, and, if the level of living is sufficiently high, rooms of their own for the children who have passed the age of eight or ten. Each bedroom has toilet facilities, a dressing room, and a closet. The family also has a bathroom or shower. The unit includes storage space, the dimensions depending upon family type and size.


The room in common use, often called the living room, includes facilities for meals, for work, and for leisure. Due to lack of space, the duality of salon and dining room tends to disappear. Instead, activity centers are organized in the general-purpose room. Movable partitions are sometimes used. Either rolling or folding partitions permit the isolation of part of a room or make it possible to join several rooms together.


The bad plan, bearing the lasting imprint of the bad architect, is a lifelong burden to the housewife who exhausts herself in innumerable domestic journeys. There is also another source of sterile servitude - the wrong materials. Most of the traditional materials and most of the current forms are checks on the productivity of the mistress of the house. The problem was totally ignored until recent years and no one noticed its familiar harmfulness.


The hereditary enemies are the oxidizable materials, particularly copper. Copper doorknobs, faucets, electric switches, require around 50 hours of polishing per year in a four room apartment, without providing either comfort or, for most people, the least pleasure. Similarly, wood surfaces which require waxing and polishing are undesirable in a modern home. They require a large fraction of the time and energy of anyone who must take care of them. There is an evident conflict between outworn aesthetic preferences and modern practices. The prestige of sparkling copper and waxed parquet floors dates from the time when palaces had such floors and copper was the symbol of luxury. There was then no other choice but planking, stone, or beaten earth.


We need to do away with the multiplicity of angles, of moldings, of plinths in relief, of cornices, milled edges, sculptured detail, exposed piping, and in general, all of the projecting surfaces which retain and accumulate dust. There are materials, in rounded and graceful forms, that facilitate woman's work, like stainless steel, glass, ceramic, enameled surfaces.


The role of science in the arts of the decorator and the architect will become increasingly important. It will enable them to avoid the serious errors which now burden our physical and mental life without our being aware of the precise source of the burden. The new methods, far from imposing uniform regulations, will give a surer base for the extension of individual tastes and preferences. Far from imposing the same rules on all human beings, science has begun to give the means of more complete satisfaction to various human desires. It has begun to give to the urbanite, brusquely deprived of the great spectacle of nature, some element of the conditions necessary for equilibrium.


Thus the house of the future will be able to give its inhabitants some approximation of the harmony which the most fortunate men were formerly able to enjoy in the infinitely varied spectacle of the countryside. The house will stimulate or calm, according to need, at the same time that it protects one from noise, from heat, and from cold.




Isolation and Protection against the External Environment


Throughout history, man has required of his house that it protect him against the rain, against the excessive heat of the summer, against the cold of the winter. The house must create an interior environment favorable to human life, and thus isolate itself from the exterior environment that is often hostile or unfavorable.


But man, as the machine permitted him to enlarge his requirements, has become more and more demanding with respect to the interior environment. Until about 1800, he was usually satisfied with a climate which permitted the minimum essentials of physical life - eating, drinking, and sleeping, and in the winter, some hours of heat in front of a wood fire. The high cost of light and heat meant that 99 per cent of the population dined in winter at 5.00 in the evening and went to bed at 6.00. The rhythm of life was implacably controlled by the rhythm of the seasons. There are abundant proofs of the lethargy that seized hold of the most civilized society after the middle of autumn, as still happens today in a significant but decreasing proportion of peasant communities in Europe.


In our time, however, man seeks in his home an interior environment that not only permits him to indulge a similar rhythm of physical life in winter and in summer, but also allows a constant level of intellectual activity. Glass windows, artificial lighting, heating and air conditioning, and soundproofing give or promise such facilities to the average city and village dweller as Descartes would have envied. This obviously does not create a swarm of Descartes, but the possibilities of intellectual life open more widely for the mass of people today than they did for the elite of past centuries.




Windows and window glass


The first great achievement of machinisme, practically indispensable to the development of intellectual life in our climate, was that of window glass. Without artificial light it is impossible north of the river Loire, in an average year, to read or to write steadily between November and April. This is why the intellectual civilization of traditional times was so invariably associated with Mediterranean and tropical climates. For a history of civilization in the countries situated to the north of the forty-fifth parallel of latitude, the technique of window glass is as important as the technique of the revolving belt in the history of work.


A brief review of the history of glass was given in a previous chapter. As far as the closure of the house is concerned, the essential stages were the following:


From the 1000 to about 1500, flat colored panes of glass, no bigger than two inches square, were manufactured at great cost. The high price is shown by an occasional view of a window in paintings. Glass was so costly that even in the richest mansions only the upper part of the windows were ordinarily glazed. The lower part remained, as formerly, covered by a shutter of plain wood, or in summer, by a wooden lattice. The window openings were small and few.


After the Renaissance, the dimensions of glass panes increased. The windows of wealthy houses were completely furnished with glass. The size of the window openings increased considerably.


In 1800, as we have noted above, peasant houses often still lacked glass, but by 1900, the poorest French houses had their glass windows.


At the present time we have arrived at a new phase in the closure of the house. The windows may now, because of the low price of glass resulting from modern manufacturing procedures, be of large size with panes up to 10 square meters and more, in place of the small glass squares of former times which were so difficult to clean. Balconies and terraces permit the city dweller to live in the open air when the weather permits.


One may summarize in this way the history of lighting in the home. The man of our climate - traditionally obliged to choose between light and insulation - could only sacrifice the light. Hence, the fortress and Romanesque effects, with narrow casement openings. Only the technique of window glass has been able to resolve this dilemma and to open ordinary homes to the light, as a literate civilization requires.


With respect to noise, the effect of machinisme has not been as clearly beneficial as with light. On the contrary, one might say that real noise first appeared with the industrial revolution. Before that, there were only sounds. Today, factories, trains and trams, motors, the radios of neighbors, are among the horrors of the transitional period.


As far as permeability to sound is concerned, the house of today is really inferior to that of former times, because of thinner walls and the use of sonorous materials. It should be much better, because the noises have been multiplied. Given the density of population of the great cities, the number of neighbors disturbed in their sleep or at their work by a single inconsiderate radio listener may be as high as 300. The locomotives and the trains, mechanical music, and street sounds do away with peace and quiet. An automatic bus ticket distributor placed next to an apartment house can disturb the lives of many people to an appreciable extent.


Some buildings are so permeable to noise that one can hear through the walls and the floors the sounds of footsteps, of dishwashing, and even the voices of neighbors.


Meanwhile, sound insulation has become a science, at once a branch of physics and one of the human sciences.


A phone is the variation of sound intensity necessary for the human ear to note a change. One phone is about equal to one decibel for a sound of frequency 1,000. Above 120 phones, noise is painful for the normal man (motors on the testing bench, steam hammers). Noisy radios emit as much as 80 phones, auto horns 60, normal radio volume 40, a conversation 30 . Below 20, we have tranquility. The "silence of the countryside" gives about 2 to 5. Below one, the average ear perceives nothing.


The art of sound insulation is already well developed. The usual soundproofing materials can be ranked this way, in ascending order of efficiency: concrete, brick wall, stone, wood paneling, and cork. Concrete is a very poor insulator in houses of modern construction; sound is suppressed by layers of material whose nature varies with the length of the sound wave to be absorbed - factory noises, the sounds of speech or street noise, for example. Glass wool is usually very satisfactory. Sound insulation is accomplished at the same time as thermal insulation. The most effective measures can only be taken at the time of original construction. A number of materials which are excellent thermal and phonic insulators are currently available. These materials sometimes permit a reduction of half or more in the heating expense of a winter season. They favor the well - being of the occupant to an unimaginable degree by the quiet of the evening and the coolness of the summers.






Heating permits us to obtain more easily than by means of food a physiological equilibrium between the heat lost and that retained. Taking variations in climate into account, artificial heat is a necessity, even for a strictly vegetative life, as soon as the daily average temperature falls below about 50 degrees.


This is why, since the most distant times, heating and housing have been closely associated. In the most primitive houses we find a room where a fire may be laid. This fire is usually used at the same time for cooking, so that the room with the fire, if it is the only one, is always a kitchen. This does not prevent it from serving as a common living room, and often as a bedroom, too.


As the level of living rises, there is a demand for more continuous heating which gives a temperature somewhat adapted to individual preference, to the activity which takes place in the room, and to the humidity of the air.


For any activity, there is an optimum temperature which permits maximum efficiency and well-being. This temperature varies among individuals and according to the activity. It averages about 50 degrees for heavy outdoor work, about 72 degrees for office work, and about 60 degrees for sleep. Theaters should be kept above 70 degrees, operating rooms above 80. Americans generally expect 5 to 10 degrees more heat than the French.


In the same way that poor light fatigues the eyes, some types of heating are physiologically disturbing. The most healthful method of heating is by radiation. The Romans had already developed an altogether remarkable system of radiant wall and floor heating.


There are, of course, a great variety of heating systems, ranging from the primitive wood fire which was still the sole means of heating known to my grandparents in their peasant house at Quercy, to central heating. There are chimneys with controlled drafts and stoves of all sorts and forms (the most curious are probably the gigantic ceramic stoves in Poland and Russia which decorate an entire wall.) It is interesting that the stove, the traditional heating device, invented about 3,000 years ago, has been notably improved only in the last few years. Present day stoves use less coal for an equal amount of heat than those of ten years ago. This progress has been made possible in France by a large-scale research effort inspired by the Foundry Technical Center. Modern machinisme has also developed gas and electric radiators and of course central heating.


With large-scale (city central) heating, the economy in labor and fuel is even greater. While the average thermal efficiency of most central heating furnaces is less than 50 per cent because of defects of installation and the limited competence of the operator, the efficiency of a high-powered modern installation can go as high as 85 per cent.


So-called individual central heating is used in isolated houses. It has the important advantage of being entirely controlled by the consumer, who can regulate and adjust it at his pleasure. A central stove, placed between the living room and the kitchen, will heat the house in a convenient fashion. A thermostat regulates the volume of heat without human intervention. Gas or oil stoves can even be started and stopped by the thermostat. Rural American houses often have such systems. Early on a cold September dawn, the surprised French guest feels the heat rise suddenly in the radiator while the whole household is asleep. Two hours later, when the sun comes above the horizon, the furnace turns itself off.




Air conditioning


Every year technical progress makes new regions of the globe habitable for the white race. Before the scientific revolution, an average man of European origin could not live permanently below the thirty-fifth parallel of latitude, or north of the seventieth. Even within this zone there were immense regions of hardship caused by the seasonal variations of the continental climate in Russia, the United States, and to an even greater degree, in Canada and Siberia. Intellectual life was even more limited. Can we imagine the force of character necessary to maintain any civilization at all at Stockholm or at St. Petersburg before the industrial era? It would be interesting to see what would become of our French intellectuals of today who, in unison, express their resentment against machinisme and expose the profound decadence of our civilization, who prophesy the end of Christianity and the end of the world, if they were placed for a single year under the conditions in which Peter the Great or Queen Christina lived - six months of ice, four months of darkness. Our Descartes himself could not have stood it.


In fact, in these latitudes, intellectual life was necessarily limited to a tiny minority, privileged in fortune, physique, and character. It has not been sufficiently understood that even the United States needed all of the resources of modern machinisme to launch its intellectual life. It is sufficient to study the average January and July temperatures of the principal American cities to become aware of this fact.


Human limitations, already so great with respect to physical life, are so much more stringent with respect to intellectual life that before the coming of the machine, European civilization was tied to the Mediterranean climate. It is reasonable to think that neither Descartes nor Pascal nor Newton have equaled Galileo if they had not had window glass hi their houses. Before the glass window, it was difficult for anyone to be a genius outside of the regions where the olive trees grows. Although window glass was sufficient to open France and England to intellectual life, much more was needed in many cases and in many regions. To adjust the temperature so that it would fall between 55 and 75 degrees, which is most favorable to the intellectual life of the white man, a new effort of machinisme was required — weather conditioning. The first effort in this direction does not date from yesterday. It mil the ancestral cave. With the conquest of fire, the conditions of life became artificial for the first time. Today, air conditioning creates artificial climates by fixing the temperature and the composition of the air. One of the rules of air conditioning in summer is to limit the gap between the cool interior temperature and the temperature of the outside air to about 15 degrees. If a greater difference is wanted, then an intermediary zone is necessary.


Air conditioning installations purify the air as much as possible by removing dust. They also control the water content and even the chemical composition to resemble the air of countryside or mountain. The distribution takes place at a determined temperature and with the appropriate humidity for that temperature.


In our climate in the winter, the air may be circulated at an average temperature of 110 degrees, at 20 per cent humidity, so that after compensating for the heat losses of the unit, the temperature is maintained at 70 degrees and the humidity at 50 per cent. In summer, the air circulates at 70 degrees with 70 per cent humidity.


Air conditioning apparatuses are easier to install in a building at the time of construction than later on. However, small units are manufactured in the United States which contain all the necessary elements for the treatment and circulation of air in a single room.


In general, air conditioning is expensive to install and to maintain. This expense is not essential in our climate, but it is useful in many nations, like the United States, for example, and indispensable for the white man in the tropics. Air conditioning also can provide protection for the fragile moments existence — certain illnesses, old age, early infancy. Thanks this, premature infants may now be kept alive after the sixth month. The air conditioning of nurseries in North Africa has saved the lives of many children.


However, air conditioning will never be needed by everyone. On the contrary, too much of it can be harmful to the healthy organism. The human machine needs climatic variations, and the organism should not be deprived of the small struggles and adaptive efforts which are necessary to its normal development and functions.


The purpose of air conditioning — and comfort in general — is not to suppress all variation of environmental conditions, but to assure those variations and contrasts necessary for the normal rhythm of life. The following norm of comfort seems essential to us: the conditions surrounding men should be as close as possible to those prevailing in a healthy, tranquil, and fertile countryside on a beautiful spring day.


In his remarkable work, Mechanization Takes Command, Giedion studies the role of the bath in successive civilizations. He shows that traveling bathtubs preceded fixed bathtubs in western Europe. The water carriers peddled baths through the streets of Paris, delivering both tub and hot water to the customer's home. In 1838, according to Giedion, Paris had 1,015 of these bathtubs for rent, and 2,224 fixed tubs in the public bath-houses. Many of our contemporaries can still remember the water carriers going up the stairs of apartment houses with their copper tubs and their buckets. Many still have in their attics the bathing shirts worn by their great-grandfathers.


A full history of urban water supply would be fascinating. Before 1810, no city in the world had running water fully available for domestic use. Napoleon was responsible for the Parisian system of water mains; the plan was established in 1812. However, it was only after 1850 that the majority of Parisian apartments had a faucet.


In 1869, in a book called The American Woman's Home, Catherine Beecher predicted the modern bathroom and published the floor plan of an apartment with bathroom. It was not until 1908 that the first commercial hotel with a bath for each room was built — the Buffalo Statler. It may be remarked in passing that hotels have played, and still play, an important part in educating the masses in matters of hygiene and comfort.


These humble realities of the kitchen, the bath, and the toilet are curiously fascinating when they are studied scientifically. They are an essential element of the social problem. They take up a third of the time of our wives and mothers. They are the necessary foundation of hygiene, and consequently of the reduction of infant mortality and epidemics. Finally, in the great urban centers, there cannot be attractive homes if these essential services are not satisfactorily provided. The fundamental plague of our time and the principal cause of proletarian demoralization in France is the shocking inadequacy of essential services in the working class suburbs, characteristic of the period of transition.






The availability of power in the home permits the use of domestic machines. The possibility of using such machines would remain purely theoretical if it were not for the trend toward the reduction of their cost when measured in terms of hourly average wages. We have already explained how the increase in the supply of mechanical energy and the increase of the ratio:


wages / cost of machine operation


are inextricably related. Both phenomena express the fundamental tendency for secondary prices to decline in relation to tertiary prices in a period of technical progress. This explains why, in a country like the United States, even poor households can buy, and are motivated to buy, domestic machines, while in countries with little technical progress, like Egypt or India, even high income families who could afford to buy these machines do not have any interest in doing so. We shall return later to this economic law. It helps to explain the present picture of mechanization in the world.


In spite of contrary opinion still prevalent among some authorities, in cooking as in any other kind of work, the problem of equipment is secondary to organization. The machine does not determine organization but organization does produce the machine. Even in previous centuries, it would have been possible and fairly easy to arrange for certain rational improvements in the kitchen, such as better distribution of water, accessible and logically designed furniture, space utilized in relation to a working plan. No one thought of these things any more than they thought of the garbage chute. Even today, many a modern kitchen furnished with an impressive battery of appliances is organized in an absurd fashion and loses most of its efficiency.


In the kitchen of former times, the arrangement of objects was made without any idea of work simplification. The housewife had to draw her water in a well which was far from the kitchen. Many times a day she had to descend into the cellar to put something to cool. She had to go to the woodpile to get wood, and so on. In the kitchens, which were usually very large, objects were arranged either at random or according to family habit. It often happened that necessary objects were kept in the farthest possible place from where they were used or in low cupboards which could not be reached without bending, while ladders were needed to reach other shelves. Furthermore, the actual cooking was done on the hearth in Ow most inconvenient manner imaginable.




The first principles of household skill are now coming to be known. Courses of technical instruction, varied publications and such magazines as La Maison Française and Good Housekeeping have had a major influence. Attitudes, the basic essentials of social transformation, are slowly changing. It is especially interesting to observe from this standpoint the developments in a country village where a water system has just been installed by the municipality. During the first year, some of the inhabitants refuse to spend the money, insisting that, the well is still sufficient for their needs. Others "take the water" but have only a single faucet installed. This faucet is placed in the barn, above the drinking trough, or even worse, near the cistern or well. The peasants still think it simple enough to carry the water for household needs in pails. We have seen people in a village where the water system was two years old installing a new kitchen sink without any thought of adding a second faucet to the first faucet in the barn. It will take several years before these new consumers understand the usefulness of a faucet in the kitchen sink and, in general, it will take a new generation to lead the running water as far as the wash basins and the outhouses.


It is impossible in a book like this to examine in detail the part played by machinery in the home.


However, there are two essential devices that have become so much a part of our habits that we forget to consider them as scientific achievements. These may be taken as typical of the mechanization of the home. They are the radio and the telephone.


The residential telephone provides inestimable services and a saving of locomotion. It simplifies or does away with all kinds of errands. Its function with respect to medical care is fundamental. Its commercial and political importance is considerable.


The radio introduces intellectual and cultural elements into every home. It is the fashion to complain of the mediocrity of the programs. Nevertheless, the musical education of the masses was begun by the radio, and there is no young European who has not heard some fragments of Bach or Mozart. The spoken newscast is of distinctly better quality than the written press. The better programs are such that any man of taste can follow them with profit.


The possibilities of television are currently wasted in sports programs of mediocre interest and tenth-rate vaudeville. It is potentially a marvelous resource for teaching and communication. The material of this book adapted for television, for example, would be both useful and pleasing.


Radio, television, and the telephone play a particularly important part in rural districts. They are, together with automobiles, the necessary conditions for the return to the dispersed habitat whose importance for the future we have previously discussed. They also provide the necessary conditions of safety in travel and transportation.


The increasingly numerous machines, ‑ washing machines, waxers, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators - that surround the mistress of the modern house will slowly develop a scientific mentality in the coming generations. Intuition, flair, chance, and fantasy will be displaced by method, quantitative measurements, concentration and precision. The watch, the scales, the thermometer, become the indispensable instruments. The cartoonists show the cook dressed like a factory foreman and placed in front of as many dials and levers as the pilot of a Flying Fortress. It is not the fault of science if efficiency only be acquired through exactness, and if awareness is generally unfavorable to romantic myths. On the other hand, humanity must guard its reserves of poetry and its dreams; clearly these are the essential elements of the vital urge. The exaggeratedly mechanical trends introduced in the scientific organization of the home should be balanced by a solid literary and artistic initiation during adolescence, by the use of leisure, and within the home itself, by atmosphere and decoration. I must add that in a country like France, the dangers to be feared from an excess of the scientific spirit among our wives are still extremely remote. This is by no means the case in the United States.


The preceding discussion shows what we are already capable of realizing by way of individual welfare. It does not imply that this development of the household arts is already within reach everywhere in the world.


Household appliances consume an enormous quantity of mechanical energy. To guarantee central heating to every Frenchman, two tons of coal per head and per year would be necessary for residential heating alone, or about as much coal as France consumed for all purposes in 1950. To give each French household the average equipment of an American household, it would be necessary to increase three-fold our consumption, and therefore our production of electricity.


The two following tables give some idea of the consumption of electrical energy in the world today. We shall find in the first table the disparity with which the study of the level of living has already familiarized us. The difference between per capita consumption in Turkey and Norway is of the order of 1 to 130. France uses only a third as much electricity per person as Sweden or Switzerland.



 The second table shows with what rapidity American consumption of energy has grown. It practically doubled from 1939 to 1949. The development of the household arts is closely linked to general economic progress.



More exactly, household equipment is subject to the same eonomic laws as industrial equipment. Its use depends upon the ratio of secondary to tertiary prices. In the poor countries, the prices of machines and of energy, which are secondary prices, are very high in relation to the price of labor, which is a tertiary price. It is therefore neither feasible for the individual, nor advantageous for the economy, to substitute machines for men. By contrast, in the rich countries, the secondary prices are low in relation to the cost of labor, and mechanization leads to further mechanization.