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Archive for April, 2010

‘Space and Place’ 3

excerpts from ‘Space Place’: The Perspective of Experience’ by Yi-Fu Tuan, University of Minnesota Press, 2002 (1977)


Space is a common symbol of freedom in the Western world. Space lies open; it suggests the future and invites action. On the negative side, space and freedom are a threat. A root meaning of the word “bad” is “open.” To be open and free is to be exposed and vulnerable. Open space has no trodden paths and signposts. It has no fixed pattern of established human meaning; it is like a blank sheet on which meaning may be imposed. Enclosed and humanized space is place. Compared to space, place is a calm center of established values. Human beings require both space and place. Human lives are a dialectical movement between shelter and venture, attachment and freedom. In open space, one can become intensely aware of place; and in the solitude of a sheltered place the vastness of space beyond acquires a haunting presence. A healthy being welcomes constraint and freedom, the boundedness of place and the exposure of space. In contrast, the claustrophobe sees small tight places as oppressive containment, not as contained spaces where warm fellowship or meditation in solitude is possible. An agoraphobe dreads open spaces, which to him do not appeal as fields for potential action and for the enlargement of self; rather they threaten self’s fragile integrity.



Space is a resource that yields wealth and power when properly exploited. It is a worldwide symbol of prestige. The “big man” occupies and has access to more space than lesser beings. An aggressive ego endlessly demands more room in which to move. The thirst for power can be insatiable – especially power over money or territory, since financial and territorial growths are basically simple additive ideas that require little imaginative effort to conceive and extrapolate. The collective ego of a nation has made claims for more living space at the expense of its weaker neighbors; once a nation starts on the road of successful aggrandizement it could see no compelling limit to growth short of world dominion. For the aggressive nation as for the aggressive individual, the contentment that goes with the feeling of spaciousness is a mirage that recedes as one acquires more space.

Space, a biological necessity to all animals, is to human beings also a psychological need, a social prerequisite, and even a spiritual attribute. Space and spaciousness carry different sets of meaning in different cultures. Consider the Hebraic tradition, one that has had a strong influence on Western values. In the Old Testament, words for spaciousness mean in one context physical size and in others psychological and spiritual qualities. As a physical measure spaciousness is “a good and a broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus, 3, 8). Israelites were concerned with the size of the promised land. They could not themselves take up arms and enlarge it at their neighbors’ expense, but God could sanction their venture. “For I will cast out nations before you and enlarge your borders; neither shall any man desire your land” (Exodus, 34, 24). Psychologically, space in the Hebraic tradition means escape from danger and freedom from constraint. Victory is escape “into a broad place.” “He brought me forth into a broad place; he delivers me, because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18, 19). In Psalm 119 the language of spaciousness is applied to the intellectual enlargement and spiritual freedom of the man who knows the Torah. “I will run in the way of thy commandments when those enlargest my understanding” (verse 32). On the spiritual plane, space connotes deliverance and salvation.



‘Space and Place’ 2

excerpts from ‘Space Place’: The Perspective of Experience’ by Yi-Fu Tuan, University of Minnesota Press, 2002 (1977)


In addition to the vertical-horizontal and the high-low polarities, the shape and posture of the human body define its ambient space as front-back and right-left. Frontal space is primarily visual. It is vivid and much larger than the rear space that we can experience only through non-visual cues. Frontal space is “illuminated” because it can be seen; back space is “dark,” even when the sun shines, simply because it cannot be seen. The belief that eyes project light rays goes back at least to Plato (Timaeus) and persists to the Middle Ages and beyond. Another common feeling is that one’s shadow falls behind the body even though in actual fact it often stretches to the front. On a temporal plane, frontal space is perceived as future, rear space as past. The front signifies dignity. The human face commands respect, even awe. Lesser beings approach the great with their eyes lowered, avoiding the awesome visage. The rear is profane. Lesser being hover behind (and in the shadow of their superiors). In traditional China the ruler stands facing south and receives the full rays of the noon sun; he thus assimilates the male and luminous principle of yang. It follows from this that the front of the body is also yang. Inversely, the back of the ruler and the area behind him are yin, feminine, dark and profane.

Every person is at the center of his world, and circumambient space is differentiated in accordance with the schema of his body. As he moves and turns, so do the regions front-back and right-left around him. But objective space also takes on these somatic values. Rooms at one end of the scale and cities at the other often show front and back sides. In large and stratified societies spatial hierarchies can by vividly articulated by architectural means such as plan, design and type of decoration.


ZONING videos – 1st April 2010

BT tower

BT tower environs

‘Space and Place’ 1

excerpts from ‘Space Place’: The Perspective of Experience’ by Yi-Fu Tuan, University of Minnesota Press, 2002 (1977)


Place is a type of object. Places and objects define space, giving it geometric personality. Neither the newborn infant nor the man who gains sight after a lifetime of blindness can immediately recognize a geometric shape such as a triangle. The triangle is at first “space,” a blurred image. Rozognizing the triangle requires the prior identification of corners – that is, places. A neighbourhood is at first a confusion of images to the new resident; it is blurred space “out there.” Learning to know the neighbourhood requires the identification of significant localities, such as street corners and architectural landmarks within the neighbourhood space. Objects and places are centres of value. They attract or repel in finely shaded degrees. To attend to them even momentarily is to acknowledge their reality and value. The infant’s world lacks permanent objects, being dominated by fleeting impressions. How do impressions, given to us through the senses, acquire the stability of objects and places?

Intelligence is manifest in different types of achievement. One is the ability to recognize and feel deply about the paricular. In distinction to the schematic worlds in which animals live, the schematic worlds of humans are also richly populated with particular and enduring things. The particular things we value may be given names: a tea set is Wedgewood and a chair is Chippendale. People have proper names. They are particular things and they may well be the first permanent objects in the infant’s world of unstable impressions. An object such as a valued crystal glass is recognized by its unique shape, decorative design, and ring when lightly tapped. A city such as San Francisco is recognized by its unique setting, topography, skyline odors, and street noises. An object or place achieves concrete reality when our experience of it is total, that is, through all the senses as well as with the active and reflective mind. Long residence enables us to know a place intimately, yet its image may lack sharpness unless we can also see it from the outside and reflect upon our experience. Another place may lack the weight of reality because we know it only from the outside – through the eyes as tourists, and from reading about it in a guidebook. It is a characteristic of the symbol-making human species that its members can become passionately attached to places of enormous size, such as a nation-state, of which they can have only limited direct experience.

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