Memory of Place

Big White Craftsman Home - Feeling Safe!

Have you ever walked into a person’s home and felt uncomfortable? Like there was something you couldn’t quite put your finger on or even acknowledge in a rational sense? On the other hand, have you ever walked into a place and felt totally at ease, as though almost every detail, down to the smell, made you feel welcome?

Close your eyes, think back to your childhood home, the first place you lived and were aware of your surroundings. Was it a “Miami Beach Modern” clean-lined concrete structure or a “Northwest Craftsman Bungalow” with clapboard siding? Was there a high flat ceiling or were there exposed beams and a pitched roof? How big were the windows? How bright and airy or cozy and enclosed was the living room? Did it have a fireplace?

Now, imagine the home of your dreams. How many features from your childhood home are mirrored in your home of the future? Or even in the home you currently inhabit? This will depend greatly on whether the childhood memories of your home are happy ones.

My big white childhood home in Portland, Oregon had a fireplace where we eagerly hung our stockings each year at Christmas. There was a special corner right next to the hearth for our gift laden Christmas tree. The house had large picture windows that allowed plenty of light and gave us a postcard view of each changing season. Its wide Craftsman-style front porch with stout brick columns welcomed us home from school each day. I can remember feeling safe and secure there.

As an adult, I’ve always been drawn back to neighborhoods like the one I grew up in with its mix of styles and sizes. One such place was Pasadena, California with its Craftsman jewels; the other is in College Park, Florida with its mélange of big and small bungalows, revival style cottages and tree-lined streets. For what seems to be an inexplicable reason, these places make me feel like I’m home, like I belong. The reality is we all respond to our memory of place. Those happy childhood thoughts and feelings are forever attached to the place where we first felt them, and our internal subconscious desire is to replicate them.

Now that you’ve been transported to your childhood memories of place, let’s visualize another scenario. Imagine yourself living in just one room, performing every daily task − sleeping, cooking, eating, reading, watching television, making love and raising children – inside only four walls. Just the thought of it makes you cringe. How much we have evolved since the days when homo-sapiens first became cave-dwellers and many of those activities were commonplace!

Just as we have an affective connection to our childhood home, so does our brain have an ancient memory of place embedded deep inside our human response system. The ancient Chinese, grounded in the knowledge that created the Feng Shui philosophy, understood our primal connection to place. How each activity performed within our “cave” was connected to a hierarchy of safety or honor. An example of this is the fight-or-flight response which makes us feel safer when we have a solid wall behind us or as the saying goes “when someone’s got our back”. As a result of this knowledge, they created a road map called the Bagua. This is the starting point from which we can experience our homes, just like taking a journey.


4 responses to this post.

  1. Reading this I really appreciated the opportunity to connect place and memory, for me it was a mix of Montreal and San Jose. Allowing inspiration and design sensitivity to flow from instinct is a strong impulse. Cheers to the #AIA2012 post.


  2. “Now, imagine the home of your dreams. How many features from your childhood home are mirrored in your home of the future?”

    In architecture school, the absolutely most challenging project for me was to design a home. It was impossible to escape and I found myself constantly representing my childhood home in every design decision. Each person has a long-founded, deep, complex idea of “home”, in one form or another. I still struggle to decide whether those ideas are garnered from the built environment as much as we architects like to think they are….


    • Hi Caitlin:
      It was a surprise to me as well that so much of my childhood home would be a part of my dream home. I’m an architect though, so I wasn’t surprised about being able to remember that far back. What was more of a surprise was to learn that my youngest sister (12 years my junior), who had a completely different childhood home (we moved to the Caribbean when she was born) had a totally different Dream Home idea than mine. Hers actually mirrored that Mediterranean style structure so prevalent in her childhood, while mine was very Oregon Craftsman. It is amazing how we connect our childhood memories to the place where we lived them.


  3. Windowseats….that’s the first thing I thought of when reading your post. An intimate detail often lost in modern construction. As a child and preteen, I spent so many hours sitting on the windowseat in my room pondering life in general and using the natural light to read (yes, REAL book, think Little Women). There is something so inviting and comforting about a little cushy nook. And I guarantee you, that thanks to positive memories associated with this architectural detail, my future home will carry on the windowseat tradition! Feng Shui all the way!


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