Six years ago I spent a few days with my family in Corralejo, a town located on the northern tip of Fuerteventura, one of the seven islands of the Canary Islands. Winters run “a little long” in Chicago, so spring seemed the perfect time to take a break from the cold. One day we decided to visit a new resort development that had just been built outside the town. Upon arriving we found a new residential area of about a hundred and fifty villas. All identical. Same colors, same architectural features, same layouts. Their white façades and blue cupolas seem to fit better in Greece than in Corralejo. Without any inhabitants or signs of daily use (construction had just finished), there was nothing that differentiated them. Only the surrounding landscape interfered with the otherwise monotonous repetition of the development. Located near one of the edges of the development there was a small mountain that provided a significant visual cue of orientation and context.
This is just one of the infinite examples of repetitive housing developments existing around the world. They have been discussed in uncountable essays and perfectly documented in photo essays like “Dwellings” from Alex Maclean, “Suburbia Gone Wild” by Martin Adolfsson (featured in our Ownership issue), or the “Two Million Homes for Mexico” by Livia Corona Benjamin included in this issue. Like the identical restaurants of a fast food chain, these developments multiply and colonize the territory, spreading like a disease.
But if we look past the first impression and the repeated architectural features, we see that in reality each one of the houses and each one of the developments is somehow unique. It is our presence that makes them unique. We bring our lifestyle, experiences, upbringing, values, and understanding of life. We all come from different backgrounds, have had different experiences growing up, have most likely lived in different places, and have related to different people. Each one of those aspects shapes who we are and makes us distinct. And therefore we create one-of-a-kind environments, impossible to repeat.
To take this a step further, our relationship with that environment is also unique depending on different factors. Having visited the same place multiple times, different weather conditions, acoustics, light levels, number of people, or personal circumstances make each visit a different experience. Like a band that you have seen several times live, you will experience and remember each concert differently, even if they are all from the same tour and they are playing the same set. Yep, I have been in that situation on more than one occasion. In the end, there is no true repetition.
I haven’t had the chance to go back to the housing development in Fuerteventura but I am sure that, if I ever go back, my second experience would be different: the houses have been occupied now for a few years, which in reality translate to a few weeks or seasons of use by the occasional visitor; the limited amount of plants that existed have grown; and I am sure other signs of life, use, and wear are present. I am not sure if this second experience would be better or worse than my first, but it would definitely be unique. What I am sure though is that it won’t make me like that development in the least bit.
Repetition has had invaluable help from Nick Adam, Lauren Ayers, Ethel Baraona Pohl, Michelle Benoit, Bianca Bosker, Edward Burtynsky, Víctor Manuel Campo, Jeremiah Chiu, Andrew Clark, Stephanie Coleman, Livia Corona Benjamin, André Corrêa, Benjamin Dillenburger, Panos Dragonas, Fundación Alejandro de la Sota, Fundación Perez Piñero, José García Soriano, Cristina Goberna, James Goggin, Geoff Goldberg, Urtzi Grau, Renata Graw, Michael Hansmeyer, Sarah Hirschman, Jinhwan Kim, Carmen López, Sergio López-Piñeiro, Jennifer Mahanay, Dan Marsden, Julie Michiels, Ana Miljacki, Lee Moreau, Paul Mougey, Claude Nicollier, Marina Nicollier, Clara Olóriz, Nathaniel Parks, Jason Pickleman, Kyle Poff, Scott Reinhard, Michael Renaud, Bud Rodecker, Jesús Rodríguez, Marcus Schubert, Roberto Soundy, Patrick Sykes, Isaac Tobin, Neyran Turan, Lyndon Valicenti, Rick Valicenti, Camilo José Vergara, Katherine Walker, Beth Weaver, Magdalena Wistuba, Mary Woolever, and Mimi Zeiger.