More on ‘big things’: building events and feelings

Gillian Rose, Begum Basdas & Monica Degen

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Rose, G. , Basdas, B. & Degen, M. (2010). More on ‘big things’: building events and feelings. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 35(3), 334–349.

affect , architecture , experience , Milton Keynes , practice , walk-alongs

This paper begins by reviewing a range of recent work by geographers conceptualising buildings less as solid objects and more as performances. Buildings, it is argued, are not given but produced, as various materials are held together in specific assemblages by work of various kinds. This has led to a range of studies looking at the diverse sorts of work that make buildings cohere: the political institutions they are embedded in, the material affordances of their non-human components, the discourses surrounding particular kinds of buildings, and, in particular, the experiencing of buildings by their human inhabitants, users and visitors. However, this experiencing has been poorly theorised. Those geographers inspired by actor network approaches to buildings acknowledge human experiences, but in very limited ways; while those geographers inspired more by affect theory evoke the 'feelings' that buildings may provoke but evacuate human subjectivity from their accounts of buildings' performances. Through a case study of two buildings, this paper argues that both approaches are flawed in their uninterest in the human, and proposes that more attention be paid to (at least) three aspects of human feeling: the feel of buildings, feelings in buildings and feelings about buildings.

Main finding
The authors found that while while the Milton Keynes shopping centers had a certain 'affect,' or feel created by its design, visitors' experiences in this space were altered by their activities, and their reflections on the feel of the space were informed both by rational and emotional comparisons to memories of other places. The authors suggest that geographers working with actor network theory and affect theory pay closer attention to the complex relationship between material buildings and subjective experiences.

Description of method used in the article
The authors conducted ethnographic fieldwork for three months, including observations, surveys (n = 384), and a novel walk-along method (n = 12) with follow up interviews (n = 17) to study people's behavior in, and perception of, thecentre:mk and Midsummer Place, two shopping centers in Milton Keynes, England.

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