The Three Little Pigs is a Fairy Tale
«Once upon a time there were three little pigs who lived in a wood. The big bad wolf was always chasing them and trying to eat them, so one day the eldest said, “We have to build a house to protect ourselves from the wolf. Then we could hide inside it every time he comes round.”»
We all know how the story of those three little builder pigs continues. I’d even go so far as to say that many of us, as good architects proud of our profession, will even have told the story to our sons, daughters, nephews, nieces, friends’ kids or neighbours’ kids … in a kind of exercise in infantile pseudo-proselytism. After all, we well know that the real protagonists in the tale aren’t the wolf or even the little pigs themselves, but the houses they built: houses designed to be a place of refuge and protection from danger (the wolf) and from inclement weather (one of them even had a chimney for use in winter).
So far, so good. Reducing a house’s function to that of a mere place of shelter could even be interpreted as the essence of having one’s own dwelling. But thanks to the fact that the tale was written from such a biased perspective that it could well have been written by some marketing copywriter at the Hispalyt brick company, the moral of the story couldn’t be worse.
The story would have us believe that the only correct option is a house made of bricks, and that choosing other alternatives obviously implies either laziness (wood) or chronic laziness (straw). The problem is that the little pigs’ solution is based, rather contentiously, on only one criterium (harsh weather conditions). Other factors, including construction time and such an important contemporary consideration as ecological footprint (where the pros and cons are clearly reversed), are ignored. As a result, the conclusion is questionable in the extreme.
I know we’re talking about a kid’s fairy tale and not a treatise on architecture or a comparison of housing types. I know full well that, on the one hand, all this would be boring for a child and, on the other, it’s not the aim of the story and so it would be totally out of place. But I choose to do the same with this story as I always do with kid’s stories with simplistic or sexist messages, or with values I don’t’ agree with: not tell them. That way I don’t help reinforce absolute truths which are not really absolute truths and yet which become embedded in many adults’ minds as prejudices.
So, children, the next time you hear that adobe or wood houses are a bad idea, or are only suitable for cabins in the Alps or in vernacular architecture, don’t believe the fairy tale. Fortunately, we’re at last beginning to see some good examples of architecture that proves just the opposite. Initiatives like the wooden buildings of the La Borda cooperative (LaCol), the Entrepatios Las Carolinas cohousing project (sAtt), the rehabilitation of the Can Portabella quarter (Josep Bunyesc) and many others show that creating contemporary architecture, even in the fields of collective housing or the rehabilitation of urban environments, is not only compatible with the use of traditional building systems and much more environment-friendly, but also perfectly feasible.