“I am as you see me and I belong here.”

I was thinking about architecture the other day. Architectural theory played a big part in my dissertation on the experience of being in a place, as how can one have an experience of being in a place without having places, whether natural or built, in which to have one’s experience?

I love modern architecture, especially of the mid-20th century variety with its flat roofs and blank street faces opening to walls of glass and and inside-outside views to the rear. I was re-reading some passages in the book Thinking Architecture by the Swiss architect and architectural theorist Peter Zumthor, in which he quotes and openly credits the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concepts of building, dwelling, gathering, place, and space. This was the “missing link” for me as I attempted to form connections between complex philosophical concepts, their realization in architecture, and the lived experience of those of us who dwell within built places.

In the brief quote referenced in the title of this post, Zumthor is speaking on behalf of a building, imagining how it sits and feels at home in its surroundings:

To me, the presence of certain buildings has something secret about it. They seem simply to be there.We do not pay any special attention to them. And yet it is virtually impossible to imagine the place where they stand without them…. They give the impression of being a self-evident part of their surroundings and they seem to be saying: “I am as you see me and I belong here.” (Zumthor, 2006, pp. 16-17)

I like this quiet statement of confidence and at-homeness. It is a seemingly simple yet consciously composed sense of presence, self-acceptance, complete and coherent in itself. “I am as you see me and I belong here.” To me this is the ideal, the essence, of being in a place. I strive to feel this way in my skin. To varying degrees, I feel it in my two homes, very different yet born from the same aesthetic sense. I can feel completely at home in either place while I am there. Sometimes I feel torn between the two places, which represent two quite different ways of being in the world. My heart belongs to the Pacific Northwest, but I have to say I appreciate having the option to go elsewhere when the winters get too dark, cold, and damp. It certainly is easier for me to go out the door at dawn to go running when the sun is shining and I have no worries about ice underfoot.

I belong here… but can a bi-platial person ever fully belong to either place? I wonder.

Posted on November 23, 2011, in Architecture, Philosophy and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. To answer that question, what do you gain by belonging to either place/ both places? It sounds like you know the answer to that: even if you belong in one place, you can have affinity for other places. Besides, going away gives you the opportunity to enjoy returning.

    I live in a place only partially of my own choosing, and not a place I’d choose at all if I really had my druthers. I’ve lived in this house more than 3 times as long as I’ve lived anywhere else in my life, but I doubt I’ll ever feel like I ‘belong’ here or anywhere.

  2. Interesting thoughts…I recently purchased Bill Bryson’s “Home,” somewhat on the strength of the author, but also because of the title. I’ve lived in one place for so long I almost cannot imagine living elsewhere, but i don’t like the fact that I feel that way! It’s kind of funny, but it makes me feel vulnerable. One cannot say they’ll always be able to stay in their home. I may identify with my sense of belonging and place right where I live, but I do think it’s a good thing to cultivate a flexible picture in my mind so that I can be resilient if change is ever necessary! I enjoyed your thoughts here, Lori. Debra

    • Debra,

      That book has been on my reading list for a while. Thanks for the reminder. I can imagine feeling vulnerable due to living in one place for so long. Moves, especially long-distance or life-changing moves, are always scary to me and would be even scarier if I hadn’t moved in a long time.

      I have moved more times than I would have preferred, but they have usually been the “go forever and don’t look back” sort of moves. This whole “migration” thing, which was Kurt’s idea, really doesn’t suit me all that well. It will be interesting to see what happens.


  3. Bruce Herrington

    can a bi-platial person ever fully belong to either place?

    Absolutely ! People are adaptable. Even non-schizophrenics play different roles in life at different times, as a function of physical/emotional environment.

  4. Bruce,

    Good point. I have learned that I am much more adaptable and resilient than I ever thought I could be, so I know that I CAN do it. But the question I am grappling with it is whether I will choose that sort of life for myself. We’ll see what happens.


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