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Rituality in the process of building
part of the Rituals for Real Estate project

Performed by a community, a ritual is the repetition of a complex sequence of actions involving gestures, words and objects, which express and reinforce a set of customary traditions and values of that community. Through reenactment, rituals not only transmit forms of knowledge but also “generate a collective consciousness and memory that is immediately spatial.”

This term is usually associated with religious connotations or is used for special occasions or celebratory festivities. However, in an expanded and more fundamental sense, the ritual is characterised by the intertwining of the ethical, spatial and temporal: it is a political act and a tool used for and by a group of individuals, which gives form to a shared space and a shared time. Ritualistic practices are therefore inescapably and implicitly found in the everyday.

Political rites
As an act of protest and a claim for agency, the ephemeral nature of the political rites mark the culmination of discontent and desire for change. Through the rhetorics of ritual, the effects of a given status quo situation are brought to a higher consciousness and gives a voice to a disempowered group of people. Politically-charged, the deliberated act of destruction not only mimics but further amplifies the prevailing, undesired yet disregarded situation caused by external forces well beyond the control of the individual or the collective.

Although they occur on a significantly different timescale to a building project, they clearly demonstrate the correlation between ritualised action and political statement, something which becomes harder to identify when a process involves a more complex sequence of practices taking place over an extend period of time.

Gestures in rituals
A ritual is a choreography performed by a group of individuals; the repetition of particular series of actions within and around a building expresses a set of collective habits, beliefs and expectations and become the foundations for a shared reality. This process necessarily takes place over an extended period of time so as to gradually build up a body of collective knowledge, about both the habitat and its inhabitants. Imbued in the place are social traces that are read and understood, and gives further physical reassurance of such practices and substantiates the set of beliefs.

Forgotten rituals
Many vernacular architectures from various corners of the globe incorporated were conceived through traditional building practices where community labour was both necessary and socially significant. With access only to basic tools and materials, labour was the most crucial ingredient for construction, and to create a culture for sharing labour, working rituals were often established: “work rituals glue people together. A master craftsman is perforce a sociable expert, and the rituals among the craftsmen build a social bond within a small community.”

Architecture in Rituals
The spatial nature of the ritual is reified in its thick entanglement with architecture. The shared physical environment in which we live, and all its objects of which it comprises, acts as a backdrop that allows for the choreography of life to take place. The purpose of architecture extends beyond the pragmatic functional object to one which embodies meaning at a symbolic level; a building “must signal and the activity, and afterwards they tend to become mnemonics of it, at least for those who were involved.”

This relationship between the habitat and the inhabitants is complex and variable since “buildings are not physically coercive, nor do they force people to behave in certain ways. Yet all buildings limit the available possibilities and can by their organisation suggest or persuade towards a particular course of action.” Therefore a profound understanding of an environment can lead to the design of a desired social choreography for the place.

Time and effort...and money
The physical engagement in the making of a space is the most direct and impactful way to learn how to shape and reshape an environment throughout the duration of its use, so the alluring notion that anyone can have the ability to build their own house becomes one of democratic empowerment. But the prerequisites for attaining this is an abundance of time and labour, which may often be at odds in a society with a clear separation between work and leisure.

It is easily understood that the social entailments in a communal act of building leads to the formation of convivial and supportive communities, but at the end of the day, the biggest hurdle is usually a project’s financial feasibility. Learning from these case studies, the Rituals for Real Estate project explores ways where labour and effort, when hand in hand with good design, can create strategies for making housing a more affordable endeavour.