Home: A Short History of an Idea Critical Context - Essay

Witold Rybczynski

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Witold Rybczynski had two purposes in writing Home. First, he wanted to trace the history of the ideas of comfort and domesticity in the West since the Middle Ages. Second, he wanted to condemn modern architects for their unwillingness to incorporate those ideas into their designs. While tracing the history of the concept of home, he uncovers and presents many absorbing facts about the evolution of the bourgeois style. He shows how the discoveries of the scientific revolution enhanced the comfort of those who could afford it. While glib at times, and overly simplistic at others, Rybczynski has certainly presented an excellent introduction to a little studied aspect of Western civilization.

Rybczynski may be unfair in blaming the modernists for all the problems of modern home architecture. The polemical nature of the introduction and the concluding chapter do weaken the significance of the work. Yet his efforts are important in that they call attention to some of the problems of home design. Most important, where he asks for a reevaluation and reexamination of bourgeois life-styles in order to understand comfort, he points other researchers in an important direction. Moreover, the values the book defends are certainly worthy: privacy, comfort, efficiency, and individuality. Despite its flaws, Rybczynski’s work is an entertaining, interdisciplinary study of the historical forces which helped create an important concept.