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Giving Architecture a “Sense of Place”

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

Image Credit: © Steve Kingsman | Dreamstime

Greater than the Sum of its Parts

What should the term “sense of place” mean to you as an architect?

A “place” is a simple term at first glance; but when you delve deeper, various issues spring forward…

For starters, there are specific features that usually tend to come together to make up a “place”. One of these features might include a physical configuration like having a center with boundaries, neighboring sub-center clusters and a peripheral fringe. A “place” also usually has a type of circulation embedded within it, one that is accessible and efficient. Many things can come together to make a “place”, but when a design has a “sense of place” it often becomes greater that the sum of its parts.

When Architecture Communicates

There is probably a moment when a simple “place” exudes a “sense of place”; most evident when providing an “orientation” that contributes to the community or culture that is larger than it. Some have even said that architecture with a “sense of place” has “soul”.

As your architecture takes form, you should keep the idea of “orientation” in mind. This involves factors like time, identity, style, community and culture. When you design architecture you engage in the act of “placement”, and for your design to be successful, it must communicate.

Architectural “orientation” and “communication” are intrinsically linked.

Increasing Your Building’s Potential

By designing and building, you will experience how “places” grow and expand, get redeveloped, are preserved, demolished or get integrated with another place. Places morph — yet, does this mean that a “sense of place” can change? Sometimes the lifespan of a “place” is short and other times it is long-lived.

Whatever the case, the key is for you to be on the “pulse” of how to contribute to a given condition — by both finding “orientation” and designing for your “landscape”.

You should constantly question what a culture, community or individual needs. Design a vision — not a building that purely meets programmatic requirements, but architecture with a refined sensitivity to “orientation”.

By thinking about how your design is “oriented”, your building will relate to so much more — your “landscape” will become richer and your building’s potential will become greater, more timely and more meaningful.

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Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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