Sensations of Place

MICHELLE CHEN (MArch ’16)

When traveling to foreign places, we may have found ourselves enamored by architecture that is not our own. We find ourselves experiencing a sensation of ‘place,’ of belonging, and even of love for a space despite the fact that we may not be from that culture, speak that language, or have spent much time there. The sudden capacity to feel a sense of belonging in the foreign points to the fact that ‘home’ or ‘place’ can contradict the typical claim to ‘having roots.’ As someone who grew up in several different countries, my experience of home is not and cannot be shaped by a specific geography, a singular cultural inheritance, or an idea of nationality. In our increasingly globalizing world with a growing population that is on the move, it is worth thinking about architecture and its capacity to cross cultural lines of empathy. Place is not just the perpetuation of cultural heritage in systems of architecture, but more fundamentally, the ability for a space to draw empathy from its constituents—local and foreign. To believe in essentialist principles of space by way of objective rationality, by metaphorical connections between morality and form, is a gross misunderstanding of the very human natures we design for. In a world fraught with identity politics, perhaps creating ‘place’ demands an architecture that engages our senses and our inherent perceptual faculties, not our constructed identities. Only as we dare to think about affect and see value in the subjective, can we begin to create space that is universal and sensitive to all.