The Last Horcrux

We may get the impression that the world around us is crumbling. There is an apocalyptic sense of shock and awe at the series of horrific events in the news. Organized religion likes this because in times of distress people turn to God. This is dangerous, however, as different groups turn to different Gods and find a kind of guidance that may lead to further war and xenophobia. The truth is the world has always been a brutal place: politicians have been corrupt, the economy has slumped, and even xenophobia, slavery, and genocide have occurred. If anything, things have been much worse in the past than they are now. We stand at the front-most brink of the entire history of everything that has ever existed: the present. As Gandalf would say, "all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

Watching the last Harry Potter movie reminded me of the striking parallels between our world and the magical world of Hogwarts. The hero of the movie was Snape. The books in general and this last part in particular are so powerful because, while narrating an epic battle between good and evil, they constantly undermine this black-and-white construct of good vs. evil. The most loathsome character rises at the end to a position even more noble than Dumbledore! Others like Luna, Neville, Mrs. Weasley, even Mrs. Malfoy, and, of course, Harry all rise to break free of their already pretty thorough characterization. Ah! Beautiful. And it was so well-done. The first scene with Snape observing from the castle and the Gringotts roller-coaster scene were (dare I use the word!) beautiful.

Then there is the treatment of death, which a friend at OMA found ambiguous or not fully resolved: "Harry should have died." But Dumbledore himself speaks of the nebulous quality of death: "It’s the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more." It was important for Harry to not die and fulfill the prophecy, because an important idea in the series is that we can change what is "written" in our fate by making different decisions when faced with choices in life. That is why Harry tells his son at the end that the Sorting Hat takes your preference into account. Harry, by using the strength of his will and integrity, resists the darkness that is in him and that makes him the last horcrux. And so he is able to defeat Voldemort, both the real Tom Riddle and the part of Voldemort that is within himself.

The last scenes were cheesy and I didn't like seeing older versions of the characters. Perhaps it should have ended at the bridge after Harry destroys the Elder Wand. The movie, however, had to follow the books closely, so I suppose they really needed all those scenes. If you think about the whole thing as a cultural/political project, the tying up of all the knots in the end is important. If Harry had died, the message would be that we can do nothing to alter our fate. Also, in refusing to "sacrifice" Harry for the cause, and in giving him a real, physical, and mortal "happily ever after", Rowling breaks precedent with other heroic figures (such as Jesus). Interestingly, all ideas of an eternal life, and of sacrifice, repentance, and expiation, are ascribed to Voldemort and his servants, the Death Eaters (for example, when Wormtail sacrifices his arm to resurrect Voldemort in Goblet of Fire).

I must confess that, as naturally distressed and horrified as I was with the recent deaths in Norway, there was a strange sense of relief when I found that the killer was not a terrorist trained in my country, Pakistan, as so often has been the case. I feel a strange anguish and pain every time there is a terrorist attack. It is partly because I have been conditioned to feel this way by the visual and information culture of the United States, where I attend school, even though I know I am not personally responsible for these attacks. It's like having the last horcrux within your very being. The reason that J.K.Rowling's story is so relevant, however, is that it correctly points out that in order to coexist and flourish, we have to value people for who they are and what they do instead of judging them for where they came from or what they look like. It is a hopeful story and it is a story about resilience.



Below is my entry for the "Home-for-all" project initiated by Toyo Ito and other Japanese architects. The prompt was to design a 30-sq.-meter "living room" for people who have been displaced by the earthquake and tsunami, and who find little privacy in the relief camps that have been set up. Although the setting is specific in this case, the problem of emergency shelter is almost universal.

It is surprising that I was able to put together something while interning at OMA. And I suppose the low-tech aesthetic is something that is unavoidable, both because this design needs to be affordable, and because it was created on my computer here in the Rotterdam office, where asking dumb questions is sometimes the key to good design, according to Rienier de Graaf, head of AMO, in a recent interview.



In the aftermath of disaster and loss, we experience immaterial and effervescent ideals such as beauty, truth, and love more profoundly than before. This house is a container for these things, and a preserver of the inhabitant’s dignity.

It is fortunate that, owing to the spectacular contributions of contemporary Japanese architects, empty space now represents luxury. And yet, to be truly dignified, space needs to be carefully detailed and meticulously calibrated. Clutter diminishes spirituality. This house is an apparently empty room, 6.9m long and 4.3m wide. The space of the room is carefully divided, however, not by walls, but by reveals in the floor. This method of distinction provides a subtle hint about the various activities that can take place within each island, without dictating a permanent program. This gives the inhabitant a sense of openness and luxury even in a limited space.

Simple furniture and storage units can be arranged within the space of the room without looking cluttered or messy. Each island can be cleaned and arranged independently. By providing a sense of order within the space of the room, the architecture provides the inhabitant with privacy, freedom, and dignity. This architecture strives for a balance between mathematical, proportional order and a sense of free serendipity.

It aspires to give its inhabitants something more than shelter from the rain: as Le Corbusier said, “Space and light and order… are the things that [people] need just as much as they need bread or a place to sleep.”