From President Carter requesting Americans to turn down their thermostats and put on their sweaters, to TV shows glamorizing post-industrial urban life, to bestsellers extolling locally-grown produce, the elusive question of lifestyle is central to worldwide energy strategy. Lifestyle expresses who we are: what groups we belong to and what our priorities are. It constructs individuals as unified, purpose-driven selves, embedded in communities and environments.
Today, we more or less choose our lifestyles, but it is mandatory that we do so. Lifestyle is simultaneously the modern self-determination of the individual, and the use of this self-determination by powerful interests. In the 60’s, corporations stopped selling products and started marketing lifestyles. Hippies, in turn, dropped out and tuned into alternative lifestyles. Today the conflicts persist in a new, lite version: In our search for well-being do we use less, or buy better?
Meanwhile, the state, through techniques like public relations and 'personalization' of risk, attempts to cultivate citizens who internalize the functions of governance. Policies written in bureaucratic language rely on classic images of the American dream, with its idealization of home-owning nuclear families. Which lifestyles are being recognized and promoted through governance today? In the wake of the economic crisis, especially, how have these ideals of the good life changed? Sumptuary regulations now speak less of policing class boundaries and more to shaping public health and resource management. And yet, amongst class divisions which are actually intensifying, sustainable consumption seems to have emerged as a marker of status. How can we decode the complex refractions of energy and class through the lens of lifestyle?
Lifestyle is a reminder that architecture participates in these shifting cultural dynamics, not just in its own interior monologue; that contemporary objects are reflexively caught up in complex networks of taste, aesthetics, and aspiration.