The house that Jack built

"Post-occupancy" has become a trendy buzzword in architectural circles, but how many architects are really prepared to make a break in their busy schedules to go and see how their completed buildings are actually being used?

Leaving Venice earlier today, I was lucky enough to run into one of the few architects who takes post-occupancy seriously, Jack Miro of Miro Associates.

In the departures lounge at Marco Polo International Airport he told me about a recent post-occupancy study he’d made of Cherrington, a house he built for a private client in Shropshire. Unfortunately, having fallen out with the client during the building process over an expensive problem with the roof sealage system, Miro had to make the visit incognito. He arrived disguised as a priest.

Since the house was a flexi-scaling polyform non-urban environment — what used to be called “a farm” — Miro had been careful to leave key areas open-plan, ready for a multitude of uses. He was interested to discover — after de-activating the security systems he’d installed, and flipping open the computerised teak door with a copied key — that the first of these “ambivalent spaces” had been put to use as a malt store.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, Miro told me, he noticed with horror that an enormous rat was scavenging at sacks of malt stacked against the walls. “Giant rodents; this was taking flexi-scaling too far,” he laughed.

Just then a cat appeared and gave chase to the rat, eventually killing the fat beast in an orgy of blood. Miro followed the triumphant cat into the kitchen just in time to see it set upon and worried by a dog. “I was making notes on my iPad the whole time,” Miro told me. “I knew I was very, very lucky to be witnessing such rich and unique post-occupancy usage patterns.”

He fired up his iPad and read to me from the notes. They had a rhythmic immediacy that made Miro’s enthusiasm infectious: “This is the dog that worried the cat that killed the rat that ate the malt that lay in the house that Jack built.”

It was at this moment that the predator became the predated: a cow with a crumpled horn — still being millked by a maiden all forlorn — tossed the dog, narrowly missing the multi-scene lighting rig Miro had installed in the lounge.

Just then there were footsteps, and the client, dressed only in a shabby pair of boxer shorts, arrived.

“What’s all this commotion?” demanded the client. Miro, still fearful of lawsuits over the leaky roof, hid in one of the walk-in closets whose location he knew, even in the dark, from the plans. Inside, however, he tripped over a clutter of post-occupancy scuba gear. Luckily the client was in an amorous mood, and paid no attention to anything other than the milkmaid, whom he proceeded to kiss with seigneurial urgency.

The next thing Miro knew, it was morning, and a cock was crowing. The Chief Executive Officer of Organic Heuristics Sustainability Testing Operations (the CEO of OHSTOP, or “farmer”, as he might once have been known), his cock under his arm, had opened the closet door and was bending over the architect.

“What’s this, a priest?” exclaimed the CEO, gazing without recognition at the shorn-headed Miro. “Just the man!”

Miro was pulled out and asked to perform a shotgun wedding between the client and the milkmaid, who happened to be the CEO-farmer’s daughter. Miro faked the ritual as best he could, calling on hazy memories of marriage scenes in films he’d seen on TV. He kept his head lowered the whole time, terrified that the client would recognise him. Luckily the man was off his gourd.

The couple duly wed, the farmer ushered in two “non-human celebrants” in the form of a horse and hound and commanded them to dance by producing notes on a copper horn Miro swears was originally part of the underfloor gas heating infrastructure.

His iPad notes read:

This is the horse and the hound and the horn
That belonged to the farmer sowing his corn
That kept the cock that crowed in the morn
That woke the priest all shaven and shorn
That married the man all tattered and torn
That kissed the maiden all forlorn
That milked the cow with the crumpled horn
That tossed the dog that worried the cat
That killed the rat that ate the malt
That lay in the house that Jack built

It would have been a delight to chat with Miro about other post-occupancy studies he’d made, but by this point his stork was boarding.

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