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The architecture of Love Island

George Grylls

Did you pause to wonder why you need a fire pit in Majorca in midsummer? It’s a primal need, apparently

Role play around the heart: Alex and Alexandra.
Role play around the heart: Alex and Alexandra. Credit: Love Island ITV2

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, summer’s end is nigh. Roughly twice a week, people whose hues have ranged from gammon pink to waxy tangerine have been summoned by a band of meddlesome ITV2 producers: ‘Islanders, please gather around the fire pit immediately.’ This request spells the untimely end of one adolescent or another’s pursuit of celebrity: eviction from Love Island. But why, architecturally speaking, is a fire pit at the centre of it all?

Love Island, if somehow you don’t know, is the reality television show that distilled Big Brother into an altogether sweeter, stickier and far more addictive form of reality. Big Brother pretended it wasn’t all about sex; Love Island pretends it is. Incarcerated in a Majorcan villa, contestants couple up in an effort to convince the public, their peers and themselves that they are in a genuine relationship. Ostensibly the goal is £50,000 to be shared between the winning couple, but the riches lie beyond in household fame and at least 12 months of Saturday night humiliation.

Gottfried Semper, the 19th century philosopher and theorist, considered all architecture an extrapolation of four central elements: hearth, roof, enclosure and mound. As nomadic populations first paused in their wandering, they struck stone against stone, grasping for a spark, coaxing tinder into wisps of smoke. These hopeful wicks would crackle and flutter until the fire caught, giving the camp warmth, light, comfort and protection. Semper says it is the hearth in particular from which everything settled derives.

In Love Island the fire pit is the villa’s hearth. Not only does it host the ritualised exclusions but, invariably, it is the place where people are drawn aside for showdown chats and last-ditch make-ups. As photogenic flames lick the stones, the scene of eviction evokes the primal fear of the unlucky individual cast out into the night. Understanding the hearth goes a long way in helping to understand the show.

Why, though, is there a hearth in the villa? It’s Majorca, it’s the height of summer, it’s 35° C in the day. If Semper says we build out from the hearth, then the fire pit is the heart of the villa. Love Island relies on appearing internally driven, but the villa still needs space for deus ex machina interventions to keep the juggernaut rolling. The hearth therefore signifies cosy internality, while allowing external interventions via text or, in particularly grave circumstances, via presenter Caroline Flack.

The hearth is the place of belonging and rejection, here Alexandra cast out, along with Alex, into the long night of media ignomy in a formalised eviction.
The hearth is the place of belonging and rejection, here Alexandra cast out, along with Alex, into the long night of media ignomy in a formalised eviction. Credit: Love Island ITV2

The fraudulence of this hearth is obvious though; it is after all outside. We can argue that this makes sense because Mediterranean summers tend to be external affairs with pergolas and loungers, lilos and swimming pools. The natural centre of the villa is therefore outside. For the purposes of love-making, however, it is counter-intuitive. Babies are disproportionately conceived in winter, when couples canoodle inside, under the covers. Why not then make Love Island a winter affair in a Swiss chalet? Because Love Island is not actually about sex, it is about the image of sex, and so to frolic outdoors in the sun means the flaunting of hairless bodies that are so sexualised as to become anodyne. The Love Island hearth must be outside, because that is where our peacocks strut, and far from where they roost.

Most tellingly of all, the firepit is a stage. Benches curve around in a semi-circle to make it seem like the contestants are engrossed in one another. However, the primary gesture is outwards because the circle is only half-complete. The couples perform their relationship to an audience, as seen when Jack and Dani watched pink Alex role-play his way back into the buxom heart of Alexandra. That performance was particularly short-lived.

During the hot, hot summer we have huddled for feel-good warmth around the glow of the TV; our nation's hearth. After years of separation, scrolling away on our phones and our computers, we gathered again to watch Love Island and England’s World Cup run. But the fire pit is extinguished and there are no more people left to evict. Our heroes have returned from Russia and Majorca, and now they wander across the land, playing football and making guest appearances at second-tier student nightclubs.

For those left unsettled by the hole Love Island has left in our hearts, perhaps it is worth remembering Semper, and rebuilding out from the hearth.