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‘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.



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