Topos for Place, Philia for Love

About the meaning that physical places have for our sense of identity, of belonging and of home. 
What is it that creates our feelings for a place? How does the connection form?


2018 Amager Børnekulturhus, Köpenhamn, Danmark 
2018 Días Nórdicos, Finlandsinstiutet, Madrid, Spanien 
2017 Ålands Kulturhistoriska Museum
2017 Arkitekturbiennalen I Venedig

Almost all people have a strong connection to one place or another. Places in our physical surroundings affect us, often without us knowing it. Throughout life we use different sorts of places to show who we are, or want to be. We create ties to places that we return to and willingly visit places that remind us of those we already like. We use places depending on what we need emotionally or socially at the time, and we use places to remind us of people that we like.We often connect the place of our home with our family and our origins, and carry it with us throughout our lives. It becomes part of our identity.
Today, there are many of us who have several homes, who willingly or unwillingly have left our old homes and created new ones. I am one of those who have changed country and when I look at the place I have left it is with the distance I have as an emigrant, but also with longing. Places change with time, places change within us. What does Åland look like today? What do I see now that I didn’t see before? Everything I miss, is it visible? Over 50 languages are spoken here, now. People move here from all over the world. People who leave their old homes in order to create new ones, and make the same journey that I made, only in the opposite direction. With all these questions, I’m in good company. 

My sense of home is awoken by simple sensations. Like how it feels on my skin to swim in brackish water, or the colour of a chalk-blue inlet of the sea. The pale light of an early spring sun over town and many other impressions; smells, sounds, tastes. Maybe it is only habit? Maybe it is sensations that I have begun to associate with security? 

The humanistic geographer Yi-Fu Tuan uses the word topophilia (from the Greek topos, meaning place, and philia, meaning love) as a concept that explains our emotional ties to a place. He means that the connection is created and strengthened by the sensory stimuli we experience at the place. The physical place itself need not be most important, but can rather represent the scene of the experiences and impressions that cause us to connect with the place. According to the social psychologists Irwin Altman and Setha M Low, connection to place develops through psychological, sociocultural and long-term biological processes. The emotional link we have to those thoughts, ideas, people and memories that we associate with a place are decisive with regard to our feelings for it. Geographer and place-theoretician Edward Relph talks about being on the inside of a place compared with being on the outside. The deepest study of being on the inside is the existential. It means to be home, to belong, that we have a lot of knowledge about a place and wish it well. A strong connection with a place can be created already in childhood and can affect us throughout our lives. 

©Photographer Maria Rosenlöf 2017
Sources: ”Den goda platsen”, by Stina Roos, C-essay in landscape architecture programme at SLU, Alnarp. Edward Relph’s blogg

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