As a child growing up in Lebanon during the civil war, every time the fighting would start (or more accurately, resume), my family and I would run to the main corridor of the house to seek shelter. This was a typical response for many a Lebanese family during the war.
Well, they seemed to be the safest space in the house: they had no windows and were separated from the outside world by at least two concrete walls making them a mini-bomb-shelter. They were also closest to the main entrance of the house in case we needed to make a run for it.
We’d gather in the corridor and start conversations about everything and anything. We’d tell jokes, share stories, play games, and sometimes talk about things we'd routinely not talk about during more ‘normal’ times.
Perhaps those experiences had an intense impact on me because of the contrast I felt between the terror looming outside and the safety of all-too-familiar bodies and smells of family and friends huddled up in the corridor. In a way, the experience is not too different from the joy of watching scary movies and feeling at once terrified and safe; in a state of fight-or-flight and everything's-gonna-be-alright.
My other intimate relationship with corridors comes from teaching.
After class, a small group of students and I would walk out into the hallway and as we slowly paced down the corridor, we’d talk about a miscellany of things: myth, meaning, sci-fi movies, heroes, AI, dreams, psychoanalysis, martial arts, the economy, politics, revolutions ...
Perhaps these corridor conversations were so meaningful to us precisely because they were unpredictable and unscripted (by the way, I was so excited when I first learned that ‘corridor’ and ‘curriculum’ share the same root; currere. I wish curricula could be more like corridors and less like race tracks for exams).
Now, I realize I've learned so much in such tiny, transient spaces where raw and unbridled conversations are allowed to take place.
Well, to me, they’ve become a metaphor for vision and perspective on human interaction fit for a world where emergency, uncertainty, and unpredictability have become the norm.
Corridors remind me that in times of emergency, when anything other than survival is deemed insignificant, inappropriate and insensitive to talk about, it is still okay, in fact necessary, to have conversations about everything and anything and to realize our desire for speech.
I will end with one of the most beautiful and piercing pieces I have read about corridors. It is by Walid Sadek from ‘A Room with a Conversation in the Middle’:
“We each harbor a story about corridors. A story about those functional components of domestic architecture we customarily walk and casually forget. Corridors, which may in a child’s imagination expand into expansive ‘neverlandish’ fields unchecked within the father’s home. But such a moment is usually short lived, trampled by pressing demands of a life managed in the efficiency of kitchens, reproductivity of bedrooms, chatter of dining rooms and stupor of TV rooms. Such corridors, and the stories that lie in them like dusty moths dead on the reflective plate behind the glow of a halogen light, are usually of the past.
Unless a war happens to visit your city, encroach upon your front yard, intimidate your windows shut and send you scurrying into those corridors again on all fours like the child you once were. War can hurl us back unprepared into the spaces of childhood, into those secondary spaces, the in-between spaces of parental distraction and patience. There we may find ourselves again crouching close to details forgotten by architect and mother alike … It is there, crammed in corridors, that we gradually learn to recognize the architectural end point of war; a corridor packed shut into a room, wishfully a shelter, where the pretenses of architecture regress to join the fragility of human flesh.
War can hurl us back into the spaces of our childhood. It can pack a family into a box-like semblance of security with little else to do except listen for sounds and hear too much. The irony lies in the realization that to listen and hear is an indication that one is alive still. Survival, it seems, is nothing other than hearing much and knowing very little. And yet it is in such corridors, when surviving at the architectural end point of war, that we discover the desire for speech. First, it bursts sporadically, disjointed, words heavy with meaning even if without the couch of proper syntax … Then it picks up, longer sentences, words connecting into a speculation, a probable guess. The corridor grows slightly more spacious, almost a room with a conversation in the middle.”