The Welfare Culture. Poetics of Comfort in Architecture of the 19th and 20th-centuries

Eduardo Prieto González

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Architectural history of the last two centuries shows that welfare, far from being a purely technical issue – a balance between weather and the physiological human constants – is a culturally constructed idea concerning diverse factors, such as the relationship between space and human body or the ways of conceiving nature in architecture. However, the notion of comfort has not received the historiographical attention it deserves, hence the need for a new perspective, aesthetic and multidisciplinary in nature. Such a view is discussed in this article through a brief and partial history of comfort that addresses the different meanings assigned to the concept over the past two centuries, in accordance with a kind of 'poetics': the longstanding poetics of fire, linked the regenerative comfort; the poetics of hygiene and habitat, developed during modernity as a scientifistic dogma and as an aesthetic alibi, and, finally, the poetics of atmospheres, which accounts for contemporary concerns about perception, memory and sociability. From this historical review we can conclude that welfare is not an objectifiable concept, nor an idea synthesized in the technician or scientist test tubes, but a complex notion consisting of several intertwined layers: physiological, constructive, aesthetic, existential, social. The history of comfort is, thus, a sort of small version of the history of culture.

Palabras clave

comfort; architecture; hygiene; habitat; atmosphere

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