[N.T.] The Dinosaur, a piece of flash fiction by Augusto Monterroso, is considered the shortest narrative text in the Spanish language. It reads: “When the dinosaur awoke, it was still there”.

New Standards, Old Ignorance

A few days ago, the Basque Government announced the presentation of a decree reviewing housing habitability standards and design conditions. The draft document included a proposal to increase the size of small bedrooms to 10m2 (practically making them the same size as master bedrooms) and, more innovatively, a gender-perspective analysis which proposed altering the size and layout of kitchens to help make reproductive tasks more visible and shared.

The reaction in some media was as exaggerated as it was bewildering. In the name of a strange concept of “freedom”, the state was harshly criticised for “sticking its nose into people’s homes”. Perhaps the enraged commentators were unaware that the state didn’t need to “stick its nose into people’s homes” because, like Monterroso’s dinosaur1, it was already there.

Habitability regulations have existed since the 1930s and 1940s. They are an achievement that has allowed Spain’s housing stock to endure for a surprisingly long time in very acceptable conditions.

The thing is, we don’t live now like we did 70 years ago. Standards urgently need to be updated and, as David García Asenjo so rightly points out, any programme for doing that will very logically include a gender-perspective analysis.

The media’s apparent indignation at the use of the term “gender” is therefore worrying.

It falsely defines as an ideological imposition what is in actual fact a piece of sound analytical methodology: ceasing to use the healthy heterosexual male as the benchmark in order to broaden the scope of the analysis and discover areas in which we can all improve. Thanks to this inclusive process we know that long, narrow, separated “laboratory” kitchens render reproductive tasks invisible, isolate the people who perform them and are dangerous in cases of gender violence because they make it easy for victims to be cornered.

The standards included in the draft decree propose spaces which facilitate the transverseness and integration of reproductive tasks so that they will not appear to simply materialise out of thin air. Of course, there is nothing to prevent people from using their home as each inhabitant sees fit, but architecture can help make homes inclusive and offer users the best, most flexible space possible.

A few years ago, the Royal Automobile Club of Spain (RACE) requested that the minimum width of parking lots be increased from 2.2 to 2.5 metres. The reason? Vehicles have grown in size over the years.

The request aroused no controversy. Nobody thought it an ideological imposition that the standard should be changed to reflect reality. Nobody saw any threat to their hypothetical freedom to park sideways in a space 1.5 metres wide.

Surprisingly enough, parking lot standards date from the same time as habitability standards, and if the RACE is an expert on cars, people like Inés Sánchez de Madariaga, one of the professionals consulted by the Basque Government, are experts on housing and habitability.

Regulations exist for a good reason: to protect those who, if regulations did not exist, would be vulnerable to the most voracious speculation.

So there stands the strange concept of freedom frantically being invoked by participants in TV debates: freedom to choose the unhealthiest, most inefficient alternative. That is not real freedom, but disguised selfishness. It is the freedom of those who do not understand that the only freedom that would be taken away from the least privileged would be that of choosing the colour of their hovel (or, as Krahe much more clearly puts it, of the rope around their neck).

It would be very sad to think that we are more concerned about our cars than about ourselves; that we think regulations are fine when they protect a car door, but not when they improve people’s lives.

Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página

[N.T.] The Dinosaur, a piece of flash fiction by Augusto Monterroso, is considered the shortest narrative text in the Spanish language. It reads: “When the dinosaur awoke, it was still there”.

(Almería, 1973) Arquitecto por la ETSAM (2000) y como tal ha trabajado en su propio estudio en concursos nacionales e internacionales, en obras publicas y en la administración. Desde 2008 es coeditor junto a María Granados y Juan Pablo Yakubiuk del blog n+1.

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