1 - The Importance of Place

March 1999

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Place is an important concept in architecture. It is my contention that the grounding afforded by time and location profoundly affects the interpretation and meaning of architecture. This grounding in the world is a vital component for the resonance and importance of architecture for human beings. This is contrasted to those concepts that place the universal or absolute as a central element of their architectural philosophy.

Different cultures through time have shown different interpretations of place, and this is reflected in their built environment. Two aspects of this are of particular interest. First, man is constructing a physical environment in order to give himself a place in the world. This ranges from the archetypal primitive hut (fig 4) through to the pyramids (fig 1). Both examples show, in very different degrees, a spiritual foothold that man is making in an otherwise anonymous and rootless world.

The other interesting aspect reflected in the built environment is the concretisation of a way of looking at the world. The pyramids, the Acropolis, and the roman temples (figs 1-3) show a range of interpretations regarding man’s permanence on earth, the afterlife, social relationships to other men, and the relationship to the spiritual. Change these interpretations, and the resulting built environment will change. The concentration of power within a society will obviously affect what is built, but regardless of this, the messages and meanings contained within this built environment must be intelligible to the majority of that particular society.
Fig 1 - Saqqara pyramid Fig 2 - Temple of Vesta, Rome Fig 3 - Acropolis, plan Fig 4 - Architypal primitive hut from Laugier’s Essay on Architecture

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