The Phenomenology of Space

While walking down the streets of Newtown I was asked to explain any senses I had about the space? I couldn’t say it then because I was worried I would seem too disconnected from my work, but honestly I felt nothing. No thoughts came to mind, no words came out of my mouth, not even a bullshit sentence. How do I articulate a scholarly response reflecting deep analysis when I barely have any opinion on the matter? I get the impression that I am supposed to know exactly what it is I am supposed to accomplish and have some answer to the prompt, but this is not the case. As I walked down, up and through the streets nothing about the use of space stuck out to me. What I did notice of course was the gradual move towards a more modern form of settlement. There were few houses with fretwork and even fewer made of wood. Beyond those two architectural characteristics, I am at a complete loss.

I am ashamed to admit that felt absolutely nothing as I walked past these houses and I can not begin to "read" now these spaces are inhabited. My mind rarely questions the lifestyle of the people in the space, yet oddly I do have an unexpected appreciation for the structure. Anytime I see a building I focus on the exterior, I look for unique features, contemplate the purpose/ function and continue about my way. However after reading The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard, I was able to somewhat formulate what it is that intrigues me. On a very subconscious level, I am responding to the physical manifestation of imagination.

The author relates the experience of reading poetry to the type of daydreams people have about their childhood homes. The emotional connections felt when one reads a piece of work is similar to the phenomenology of inhabiting intimate spaces. He suggests that the house is a physical manifestation of imagination; the space is first designed in the mind and eventually becomes a protective (thought up by architects) and comforting (created by the residences) shelter. People want to protect themselves from what they fear (the outside world) by building a shelter to enclose themselves in safety.

One example of this lies within an aspect of inhabiting space that I so easily overlooked. Although I’ve noticed and registered the fact that Trinidadian houses are very close, I turned a blind eye to it because I did not know what else to say about the proximity. I just thought that people were short on space here so it was necessary to built houses close to each other, but maybe it is more than that. According to Bachelard, the closeness is a way to make residences feel safer because they know they are near a helpful neighbor. And another trend he touched on that I hadn't pieced together on my own was the idea that houses have minimal interaction with the environment and becomes artificially/superficially constructed the closer it gets to a city surrounding. While it is happening at a slow rate, I agree that the houses built now, especially near major city-like areas, stand out visually, structurally and in terms of its functioning within the environment. No longer do they have pleasantly useful architecture that infers a certain amount of information about the creativity of the architect while still effectively utilizing the climate of the country.

At Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut, I had taken a “Science in Art” course where the art world had been revealed to me. I wonder if artists intentionally created artwork. While there are some situations where some pieces dubbed “art” was created intentionally, we had looked at a few where accidental masterpieces. As with the case of Van Gough, who painted over some of his own paintings proved that he was more interested in expressing his imaginative ideas rather than displaying art. What he created was not for art sake but he painted because he wanted to show what was in his mind. In a similar fashion, the architects have created houses and other buildings originating in their imagination. I realize that I am fascinated with the fact that people think these functional houses into existence.

Furthermore the book helped me to see that my phenomenological experience may just be very different from others. It’s expected that my personal history affects my initial interaction with each house, which would be different from someone who has lived here long enough to see the gradual changes. For instance, it’s incredible that Christopher Cozier can easily point out 1930’s glass or the approximate year a fence would have been built or surmise that a house was renovated more than once in two different eras. Either way, he seems very knowledgeable about the subject and it is evident that he experiences and interacts with the same space on a different level. I’ve been told that I am too oblivious to my surroundings, maybe that is why it's so hard for me to verbalize my phenomenological encounters with these spaces.


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