Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Space and Place

After reading Space and Place, I gained a new view on what is space and what is place. I now view space as that which is open, new, untouched by experience, and place as that which is known and touched by experience. Whenever I visit a new space, it seems large, vast and confusing to me, even if the actual size of the space is not that large. However, as I familiarize myself with it and begin to associate memories, experiences, and thoughts with the space, it becomes a place. Then, as I visit, it no longer seems so large, vast, and confusing. It has a purpose and a meaning. In this way, Berlin and the Baltic Sea can evoke a sense of openness and infinitude. Yes, they are two very different spaces; however, when one first visits them and they are new, they seem vast, exciting, and endless. They are large spaces to begin with as well, so there is much to explore. One may find a few places within the vast space, and not be able to make the whole space a place for a long time. Only parts of Berlin and the Baltic sea may be familiar and full of experience and memories. Other parts may remain undiscovered, new, and untouched for a long time. It takes time to recognize and decipher space to make it become place. As Tuan says a child will not know that a triangle is a triangle until he or she deciphers the corners and shape. They gain meaning and become place, and thus the triangle becomes identified as a shape and place, rather than a space.

Tuan also discusses much about how our feelings and sense effect our perception of place. A newborn child cannot perceive the world the way an adult does; thus, a newborn child’s perception of space and place is vastly different than our own. Much more seems to be space to the child, until associations are made and the senses decipher and associate meanings to the object, room, building, outdoor space, etc. For example, children are not bothered much by dead or decaying things even though they have a strong smell. They will play with trash and will be greatly curious about dead animals. However, as people grow older they begin to associate negative feelings and experiences with the smell. Trash is considered dirty and untouchable. Death is considered disgusting and scary. People who know or have faced death remember that when they smell or see the dead animal. These cultural and personal associations begin to shape those spaces and make them places full of strong emotional responses and meaning. Experiencing a space or place involves more than just one sense, it involves all five. Sights, smells, touches can all become associations with a space and make it a place. For example, every person has a smell. We often do not notice or associate people with these smells when we first meet them. When we meet them they are mostly space. We may see some familiarity in them; however, overall they are new, novel, and seemingly infinite in internal depth. However, as people get to know each other, especially couples, they will begin to associate that person with a smell. If a girlfriend sleep’s at her boyfriend’s house one night and leaves the next morning, the boyfriend can remember and associate her with that place by smelling her scent on the pillow, or sheets, or bed. She becomes part of the experience. Her smell leaves a lasting emotional and memorable impact.

Space and place is always in our lives and it defines and shapes how we view the world. Space becomes place through experience and senses; these factors shape our perceptions of the world.

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