The idea of habitus in general can be described (as Wikipedia vaguely puts it), “a behavioral manifestation of the essential nature of a thing or a person.” More closely related to architecture is the definition put forth by Guiles Deleuze, relating to his idea of the plane of immanence, or the way a being inhabits itself and its space, as a network of experience differing person to person. Habitus, in the practice of everyday life, has many interesting facets. Read below for a muse on the subject.
The idea of habitus first surfaced after I saw a trailer for a new documentary being released. Titled “My Playground,” the film covers a the current status of parkour, or free running. Gaining members and talent, parkour has spread to many major cities around the world. Small gatherings of free runners, as evidenced in the movie, are springing up as organized groups in Denmark, the US, UK, Japan, and elsewhere. Some dismiss the practice as strange or obtuse, but a closer look shows that freerunners inhabit their world more fluidly and with less bounds than the average human. They take habitus and the environment very seriously. In the video, freerunners discuss with preeminent architects about how to design buildings to allow for a more free form inhabitation of the built environment. Buildings become landscape. Floors become walls become ceilings, and so on. For a freerunner, no area is off limits. Habitus, therefore, in parkour is advanced to a level beyond a normal understanding of what the human body can, and maybe should, do.
Thus it begs the question: how does one learn about habitus, or better, how does one learn about its potential? As noted educational and theatrical scholar Sir Ken Robertson explains, the educational structure in America, as it always has been Math, Science, and Language at the top, with the Arts at the bottom, within it Dance the lowest. As Robertson argues, though, creativity will be paramount over scientific knowledge in the coming years; ones access to information will allow them an endless supply of technical knowledge. Since we will be educating the same amount of people in the next thirty years as we have in the total history of educated man, the ability to think creatively and originally is of absolute importance. Teaching students earlier to dance, write, and paint will keep imaginations alive and a relatively stronger sense of habitus and imaginative wealth throughout their lives. “We all have bodies,” Roberston jokes, “don’t we?”
Activities like freerunning, skateboarding, and the like create a stronger sense of habitus, but one does not have to perform extreme sports to extend their physical experience. Go barefoot more often; feel your connection to the ground with your toes. Pick up that dance class you have always thought about doing. Small incentives can give one a sense of their habitus and an awareness that many regretfully forget in their adult years.
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