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Mary Pepchinski on The Time of Life
22 January, 2021
Women writing about women writing about architecture.
At the 2008 conference held at the FU Berlin to commemorate the 100th birthday of Simone de Beauvoir, many speakers called for new frameworks to understand her prodigious and diverse oeuvre, which included philosophy, literature, biography, letters, and gender studies. Intrigued by this suggestion, over the years I have been reading de Beauvoir, and discovering her to be an astute observer of how she – a gendered being – experienced architecture and urbanism in the twentieth century. She was extremely well read in contemporary French and English urban sociology, edited texts about everyday life by Henri Lefebvre for Les Temps Modernes, and made a point to visit new architecture from the Berlin housing estates of the 1920s to Brasilia in the 1960s when traveling around the world. Although she never proclaimed architecture and urbanism to be a central interest, her engagement with this subject is clear throughout her writings.
La Force de l’âge (The Time of Life), (1960), recounts her early, vagabond years as a teacher in provincial French schools, as she experimented with emotional relationships and strove to be a writer. During this time, she lived a transient life, occupying hotel rooms or the spaces lent to her by relatives or friends. ‘Home life’ was non-existent; a rented room was a space to be endured, at best. Her account gives contours to the notion of ‘unbehaust Wohnen’ or ‘living unhoused’, and how much living takes place without the permanence and pleasure of a fixed and amenable domicile.