Identity, Architecture and Semiotics.
Re-visiting an essay I wrote in 2015 and analysing what it means to be at home in a pandemic.
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If you’re quite familiar with my articles it may be apparent that my inspiration to write often comes from being outdoors. My articles have often analysed retail and hospitality settings aiming to reveal the behavioural insights driving change and innovation. Social distancing measures have currently prevented us all from going outside, so this article visits an essay written in 2015 by a young, curious, 18 year old me and focuses on what it means to be at home.
In college I studied social sciences and always found that my favourite way of learning was observing whats in front of me and applying theories and concepts to what I can see. In the essay below that I titled ‘On The Streets’ I conducted a semiotic analysis of architectural structures in relation to cultural identity…
The essay goes on to illustrate how architectural forms convey socio-cultural meanings, a topic that I feel should be revisited during these times of social distancing. Today in a world where everyone is confined to their homes, the semiotic analysis of architecture and identity becomes increasingly relevant as the wealth divide highlights disparities in our experiences at home.
What does privilege look like? Privilege is space.
Architectural structures are signs that convey meanings and communicate aspects of our identity, providing indications of economic and social status.
A house is a sign and an abundance of space can signify wealth, thus space is an important code in the semiotic analysis of the home and identity. The more money you have, the bigger house you can buy and in a time where people are instructed to stay at home indefinitely, having space is a privilege. The pandemic has placed an emphasis on social inequalities as not only is staying at home a luxury that many people cannot afford, it is impractical for those who live in incommodious conditions.
Being able to exercise outside is crucial for mental and physical wellbeing, those who have enough space to exercise at home are less likely to leave the house and therefore less likely to be exposed to the virus. People who have gardens, indoor gyms and even swimming pools are usually high earners, they are not features of every home and are seen as luxuries. In contrast, high rise flats in densely populated areas often have less space and are limited to small balconies, if they have them at all. The people who inhabit these types of accommodation are more likely to need to leave their homes to exercise or even go to work, and thus have increased chances of being exposed to the virus.
What does a status symbol look like right now?
With the government having restricted access to non-essential goods, status symbols are changing. Luxury brands such as Gucci are pivoting their social media strategies to reflect that luxury fashion is currently not a priority, placing emphasis on status symbols in the home. Luxury in the times of social distancing is having an abundance of space in your home, enabling you to practice social distancing effectively and stay safer than most people can afford to.
A status symbol is currently the pool in the garden, the home gym, home cinema and private chef, recent times has proved that a status symbol could even be a laptop. The pandemic has made it apparent that there is a technological divide that parallels the wealth divide, when schools closed many students were left without access to wifi and laptops that would enable them to continue learning. Having access to technology now, more than ever, is a potential indication of ones privilege over another.
Status symbols are the protective masks that have become so coveted, yet only available to those who have the means to source the most effective ones and pay the price. Status symbols are coronavirus tests, that have been readily available for the wealthy and scarce to the general population.
How does this affect social currency?
For celebrities and lifestyle influencers social currency is reliant on conspicuous leisure, whereby they showcase their lifestyles via social media channels. Their followers are often fans and look to them as a source of inspiration whom they associate with their aspirational selves and thus, thrive on their content for motivation.
At this moment in time social currency is conflicted as conspicuous leisure which has proven to aid social currency, has had counterproductive effects in a time where staying at home has highlighted the wealth divide. While many celebrities have used their influence to urge people to stay at home their attempts to show solidarity have been said to fuel the anti-celebrity movement by coming across as tone-deaf.
The brands, celebrities and people who are gaining social currency at this time are those who are empathetic and seek to provide entertainment and information for people stuck at home. However, this area remains blurry as they cannot mask their privilege, Drake recorded the video for Tootsie slide in the comfort of his own home and featured on Architectural digest in the same week. He provided entertainment value but cannot possibly show solidarity with the masses from a 50,000 sq ft property.
Staying at home has drawn attention to inequalities that were overlooked prior to the pandemic, by analysing properties one can gain an insight of the cultural identity of those who inhabit them.
Status symbols, luxury and social currency are just a few concepts that have seen drastic change in this short period of time, and going forward we expect to see more shifts as we adjust to what will eventually be the new normal.