Go to Home Page           Conservationtech.com, Building Conservation Technology

Powered by Translate




Continuity and Sense of Place:
the Importance of the Symbolic Image

by Randolph Langenbach


The EPILOGUE Chapter

a book edited by Hugh Freeman , MS, AA BM BCh FRC Psych DPM (1929-2011)

Published in Great Britain by Churchill Livingstone, 1984


"The action of time makes man's works into natural objects . . . In making
them natural objects also time gives to man's lifeless productions the chief
quality of everything belonging to Nature - life."
(Lee, 1902)

cover photos by
Randolph Langenbach

Hugh Freeman

Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Safford Health Authority; Lecturer, Department of Psychiatry, University of Manchester; Editor of the British journal of Psychiatry


Christopher Bagley PhD; Burns Professor of Child Welfare, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Paul F Brain PhD;  Reader, Department of Zoology, University College of Swansea, South Wales, UK

G. M. Carstairs MD FRCPE FRCPsych;  (Formerly Professor of Psychiatry, University of Edinburgh and Vice Chancellor, University of York), UK

Charles Clark BSc PhD;  Senior Psychologist, HM Prison, Wormwood Scrubs, London, UK (formerly Research;  Worker, Institute of Psychiatry, London)

Kenneth Dean PhD;  Lecturer in Geography, College of St Mark and St John, Plymouth, UK

Hugh L. Freeman MSc MA BM BCh FRCPsych DPM;  Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Safford Health Authority; Lecturer, Department of Psychiatry, University of Manchester, UK

John A Giggs PHD;  Lecturer, Department of Geography, University of Nottingham, UK

D. R. Hannay MD PhD FFCM MRCGP DCH;  Senior Lecturer, Department of General Practice, University of Glasgow, UK

P. M. Higgins FRCP FRCGP;  Professor of General Practice, Guy's Hospital Medical School, London, UK

Howard James MRCP MRCPsych DPM;  Consultant Psychiatrist, Moorhaven Hospital, Ivybridge, Devon UK

J. M. Kellett MA MRCPsych MRCP DPM;  Senior Lecturer, St George's Hospital, Blackshaw Road, London, UK

Randolph Langenbach MArch;  Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, University Of California Berkeley, USA

A. C. P. Sims MD FRCPsych;  Professor of Psychiatry, University of Leeds, St James University Hospital Leeds, UK

Christopher J Smith PhD;  Associate Professor, Department of Geography, State University of New York at Albany, New York, USA

Alex Tarnopolsky MD MRCPsych;  Consultant Psychotherapist, The Maudsley Hospital, London, UK

S. D. Webb PhD;  Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

Keith Wedmore MA LLE;  Barrister‑at‑Law (formerly Research Fellow. State University of San Francisco) 5 Cornelia, Avenue, Still Valley California, USA


1. Introduction: H. L. Freeman

SECTION A: Scientific background
   2. The scientific background:
           H. L. Freeman
   3. Crowding and territoriality: a psychiatric view
           I M. Kellett
   4. Human aggression and the physical 
           P. F. Brain
   5. Geographical approaches to mental health
           C. I. Smith
   6. Urban delinquency: ecological and
   educational perspectives
           C. Bagley

SECTION B: Specific issues
   7. Housing
           H. L. Freeman
   8. Rural‑urban differences in mental health
           S. D. Webb
   9. Environmental noise and mental health
           A. Tarnopolsky and C. Clark
   10. Mental illness and urban disaster
           A. C. I. Sims
   11. Social pathology and urban overgrowth
           Keith Wedmore &
           H. L. Freeman
   12. Residential mobility and mental health
           A. Giggs

SECTION C: Case studies
   13. Stress at Thamesmead
           P. Al. Higgins
   14. Depression and schizophrenia in an English
           K. Dean and H. James
   15. Mental health and symptom referral in a city
           D. R. Hannay
   16. Mental health and the environment in
   developing countries
           G. M. Carstairs

   17. Continuity and sense of place: the
   importance of a symbolic image
           Randolph Langenbach












































































"The continuity of our lives is preserved by being surrounded by the solidified substance of time which has lasted for a given period. Take, for example, a small drawer, which the carpenter has made for the convenience of some household. With the passage of time, the actual form of this drawer is surpassed by time itself and, after the decades as centuries have elapsed, it is as though time had become solidified and has assumed that form. A given small space, which was at first occupied by the object, is now occupied by solidified time. It has, in fact, become the incarnation of a certain kind of spirit." (Mishima, 1959)

In this fictionalised account of a true story, Mishima gave the story of a mad monk who burned down the 500 year-old Golden Temple because it represented the beauty he himself lacked. In doing so, Mishima identified one of the most important, yet intangible attributes of an historic object - time.

Discussing the intangible 'spirit' caused by time on an artifact, I recall that in 1967, 1 had the opportunity to see and photograph the machine shop of the Crown and Eagle Mills in North Uxbridge, Massachusetts. This cotton mill, built in 1825-1850, had survived for almost half a century empty and unused, having been closed well before the Great Depression. It had been carefully preserved on the estate of its wealthy owner until his widow died in about 1969. It was one of the oldest factory buildings in the US, and also one of the most beautiful ever built. It stood like a Loire Valley chateau, spanning the Mumford River on a graceful arch with two parallel canals on either side - a majestic and breathtaking combination of architecture and landscaping. (Fig. 17.1 NOTE: the original referenced illustrations were lost in the 1991 Oakland Firestorm, and so are not reproduced here.  See hyperlinks for views of the subject matter.) Yet until about 1970, this seminal historic building was almost completely unknown outside its region. (See "The Crown and Eagle Mills," Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, August 15, 1971.  To see what ultimately happened to it, Click Here)

On entering the machine shop, behind the main mill, I was confronted by a scene which veritably took my breath away. In front of me was a room filled with tools and machines, left as if nothing had been changed since the workmen had departed 50 years before (Fig. 17.2). To see this was an awesome experience, enhanced particularly by the fact that the building was not 'preserved' as a museum, but was simply existing, having survived the ravages of time to deliver its historical visual message to me. That room, without question, had a kind of spirit. The profound meaning of the Industrial Revolution, the early history of' the rise of American capitalism, and the origins of modern technology and labour seemed to converge and focus upon that one place at that moment. The scene was so charged with feeling, information, and emotion from the past that to touch each item in the room was to touch an icon. One could almost feel the workmen rise from the faded photographs to be present In that space.

The experience of discovering an historic man-made environmental artifact like that called to mind a comment that Samuel Johnson is reported to have made: 'Depend upon it, Sir. when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully' Johnson 1776). Sadly, this beautiful building proved to be a fragile linage. First the machine shop was stripped of its machinery by Old Sturbridge Village Museum ironically destroying the real thing in order to create a museum exhibit commemorating it. Then, in 1977, vandals entered the mill and, when the fire that they had started was out, this remarkable building had been reduced to a broken shell (Fig. 17.3). To find such a building and room, caught as this was between the historic past and an uncertain future, heightened my sense of communication with the past, and embedded the image on my memory, just as it did on the film in my camera, in a way which I will never forget.

It is clear that for almost every person, the man-made environment is important in some way, and that the historic environment is significant for a large section of the population. Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, California, for example, a remarkable palace created from the fragments of European monuments, attracts over 940 000 visitors a year, bringing a $1.3 million annual profit to the State of California which owns it. It is difficult, however, to isolate exactly. what the ingredients are which give certain old buildings their value. Is it their history, their adherence to certain aesthetic principles, their particular place in certain peoples' lives, or changing styles and taste. One thing is evident: certain buildings, when threatened, can be the subject of an enormous outpouring of emotional energy by those who feel in some way attached to them.

Throughout my work as a documentary photographer and preservation advocate, 1 have found myself constantly confronted with the issue of how to assess objectively the value of a building or group of buildings when so many intangible qualities such as taste, aesthetics, history, and time are involved. It is often possible to assess rationally the historical or architectural significance of something, but what is more elusive, and ultimately more significant to people, is an historic building's ability to become the focus of human emotion - to become the incarnation or symbol of something much larger and closer to our own lives. It is at this level that the forlorn and ramshackle former slave cottage can seem as potentially more moving, and in many ways more important, than a carefully restored palace. We must never lose sight of the need to understand the elusive quality of spirit in the objects which make up the man-made environment. If we do, then even when we are successful in preserving something, we may find that we end up only preserving the hollow shells of what once existed.

This observation goes beyond the issue of simple preservation of an artifact to an assessment of how it is to be preserved. It may be clear what the history, of a building is, and also its architectural value, but what is its emotional content? What ingredient gives it the power to move people to make them think about the mysteries of the place's history and to engender love for it? Preservation can at times be superficially successful. A building or district may be 'preserved', but made over into something so new that all the visual time depth has been excised.

An example of this is The Faneuil Hall Markets in Boston. Until the wholesale produce market was moved out, this complex was Boston's Covent Garden or Le Halles. It was then restored as an elegant shopping area, and has even been the model for the similar restoration of Covent Garden in London. As a shopping centre, it has been fabulously successful, and is reported to attract more people than Disneyworld. However, like Disneyworld, it is history reduced to a storybook. Only the stone facades and timber floors of the old buildings were preserved; all effects of age were removed, and all of the residue of its former uses sanitised or cleared away. The complex no longer seems like an historic part of the city, but is a carnival precinct, separate from the real city around it.

Despite this limitation, the commercial success of the project is such that in Baltimore, where no old buildings existed, a new Marketplace was constructed for a similar development, showing that the old buildings, which started as a genesis of the urban renewal idea, end up being so extraneous that they are not even a necessary ingredient of the next project. Has preservation been achieved then? Superficially, it has. The Boston project is a financial success, the shells of the historic buildings still there, but as one walks through the complex, one has a feeling that the buildings have been in a sense 'lobotomised' - their genuine history excised. Time has been flattened, and the effects of age have not been left for people to see. We are still left with the challenge of how to preserve an historic area and make it vital, without destroying the intangible quality which gives it the power to move people - the power to engender attachment and love.

Human attachment to the man-made environment is not a simple concept, and its nature and importance to people varies according to individual needs. Preservation advocates often speak of the need to preserve something for the public good, and ironically, most of the public may be totally unaware of this effort unless, should it be unsuccessful, they notice the ensuing demolition. The geographer Tuan (1974) calls the concept of environmental attachment 'topophilia' which:

"can be defined broadly to include all of the human being's affective ties with the material environment. These differ greatly in intensity, subtlety, and mode of expression. The response to environment may be primarily aesthetic . . . (or be) tactile, a delight in the feel of air, water, and earth. More permanent and less easy to express are feelings that one has towards a place because it is home, the locus of memories, and the means of gaining a livelihood."

He goes on to say that topophilia is not the strongest of human emotions, though when it is compelling, we can be sure that the place or environment has become the carrier of emotionally charged events, or is perceived as a symbol. This observation is important because it is exactly these ingredients which can help define an historical environment as important enough to people to be preserved. Tuan also suggests that for people to be conscious of the importance of an historic environment, whether a building or a whole city district, they must be aware of a connection to important historical events, or informed enough to be able to make the connection between the environment and the symbol: 'the appreciation of the landscape is more personal and longer lasting when it is mixed with the memory of human incidents . . . Homely and even drab scenes can reveal aspects of themselves that went unnoticed before, and this new insight into the real is sometimes experienced as beauty.'

In my work, I have focused upon the early industrial areas of both England and New England, documenting landscapes and buildings which to many are the epitome of the 'homely and drab'. However, I was inspired by what I found to be a certain kind of beauty in these scenes, and my experience has given me insight into how the historic environment becomes meaningful to people. For me, there were two stages to this experience: firstly, the personal transformation that came from discovering specific historic buildings and environments, which in my view had profound value; secondly, witnessing the public respond when confronted with the photographic images of these places, giving me the chance to become aware of the kind of attachments which people have to even the harshest of landscapes.

In his discussion of 'Rootedness versus Sense of Place', Tuan makes the point that sense of place is built upon knowledge of history, and can apply to anyone, newcomers and old-timers alike. Rootedness, however, depends less on thinking and knowing about history than upon living it as it has been lived for generations. Preserving something is to become conscious of it in a new way and thus to lift it out of the daily context of' life and transform it in peoples' minds into something of special importance. Thus, in discovering historic sites and bringing them before the public as a preservation issue, I was both experiencing, and focusing people's attention on, 'sense of place'.

Furthermore, in the act of photographing these sites and then confronting the public with the images, I was participating in an historic transformation of their perception; this documentation and display was helping to convert rootedness to sense of place, which is the essential basis for active preservation. Rootedness relates to passive preservation, which results from continued use through custom and lack of need for change, but active preservation movements have occurred when people have found their environment changing too rapidly. It is at this point that an awareness of the environment as something distinctive and unique can emerge - an awareness which is the sense of place.

In studying and documenting the industrial landscapes of Lancashire and West Yorkshire (see Satanic Mills, published by SAVE Britain's Heritage, 1979), I was confronted by exactly this kind of transformation of attitude. For generations, the landscape was complete - a seemingly limitless world of factories, chimneys, rows of terraced houses, canals, railways, and coal pits. It was not a landscape which anyone considered attractive, nor, with its dirt, darkness and smoke, was it even particularly healthy. So with zeal, urban planners and politicians worked for change, and during recent decades, this has been sweeping (Figs. 17.4, 17.5).

The air became much cleaner with the effects of the Clean Air Act, but as the pall receded, it revealed a rapidly changing and eroding built environment. The rows of terraced housing have been the hardest hit. What had once seemed ubiquitous has been wiped out so quickly that it is now difficult to find any but fragmentary clusters of workers' terraces. Mills and their chimneys have also disappeared at a rapid rate, helped by government subsidies whose goal, until recently, was the almost total removal of them and their associated housing At first, these efforts were applauded, and it would have been unreasonable to expect that this vast environment could or should remain unchanged, but what occurred is massive change almost everywhere at once, so that the historic industrial environment which was once universal lot in these regions, is now rarely found intact anywhere.

One may say, 'This was not an important or beautiful environment, so why does it matter?'  But an interesting phenomenon indicates that the human connection to this historic scene is deeper and more positive than many will admit. L. S. Lowry, a now well known English painter who had lived his life in almost complete obscurity until his late 60s - all the while painting a unique series of images of this industrial landscape - suddenly found himself catapulted to extraordinary fame. He had captured the image of this landscape and interpreted it in his work over the preceding half century, but is was not until the real landscape had noticeably disappeared that he became popular. Now the extent of his popularity provides a strong evidence of the collective sense of loss which people finally felt when a once familiar world had all but disappeared.

This example is not unique. When the organisation Save Britain's Heritage produced an exhibition of photographs which I had taken of the mills and industrial landscapes of Lancashire and West Yorkshire at the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1979, one visitor kept returning day after day. He visited it during his lunch hour, and for a period of over a month, did not miss a single day. When I met him on the final day of the exhibition, he said he had grown up outside Manchester, but had moved to London and become a magazine writer. When he saw the exhibition, he was profoundly moved; for years, he had been aware of his roots in this industrial area, but the photographs served to provide that sense of attachment with a visual image, and it is significant that he chose to come repeatedly to see the photographs, rather than simply return to look at the area. They served to isolate and focus the view, making the landscape itself into a kind of icon. Until this exhibition, most of what he had seen and heard about the industrial North criticised and condemned it as an environmental disaster, but the exhibition gave it legitimacy as an historic landscape, and in so doing, helped to convert his rootedness into an awareness of his own sense of place.

Other examples of this process occurred during the exhibition; there were visitors who wrote letters or poems, and some long-time residents of the areas concerned sent their own works of art, which portrayed the mills. One woman's long letter almost poetically described the social context of this historic environment:

'I thought 1 was the only person in the world who loved old mills. We would see twenty five or so factory chimneys from the school window. One mill was particularly beautiful ... equal (in my opinion) to the Chateaux of the Loire, complete with tower and wrought iron ornamentation . . . 1 used to pass the weaving shed of the Stack Mills on the way to school. The flagstones were hot and vibrating. Children would take their mothers chips black peas, steak and kidney puddings in at dinner time. There was a crèche at Aston Bros. a long time ago to cater for women who worked the machinery ... my mother-in-law started work in (lie paper mill at 11 years old - 6 o'clock start, bread and dripping for breakfast at 8, soup at 12, bread at 4, finish at 6. And no talking allowed'.

The number of people who came to the exhibition was far greater than had been expected, even though it took place far away from the industrial areas portrayed.

This exhibition followed a similar one which I produced in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1975, focused upon a single corporation, the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, which had established and planned the city, beginning in 1838. The pictures emphasised the architectural and urban design quality and legacy of the huge Amoskeag plant, which at the turn of the century, was acclaimed as the world's largest textile mill (Figs 17.6, 17.7). In preparing it, I had no reason to expect that it would be seen by many people beyond the usual attendance of the museum - members of the design professions, those interested and informed about the arts, etc. However, the exhibition deliberately incorporated social history material, including photographs and taped oral history of former workers in the mills (Fig. 17.8)(see Hareven and Langenbach, Amoskeag, Life and Work in an American Factory City, Pantheon Books, New York, 1978).

After it opened, the museum reported gradually increasing attendance, until the gallery was crowded on almost every day; when it closed, it had set a museum record. On the final Sunday, over 1000 people came through in less than 4 hours, but what was most remarkable was that they were mostly those who had worked or were presently working in the mill. Whole busloads came from old people's homes, and many people returned repeatedly, bringing their friends. One one occasion, I witnessed the reunion of two men who had worked together in the mill, but had not seen each other for 30 years.

It may be asked whether this response to the exhibition showed any attachment to the millyard itself, or whether it was simply a reunion with the past, without any expression of concern for the physical remains. Also, do these former workers agree with or appreciate the aesthetics of the architecture and planning of the mill, or care whether it survives? Most of the former workers clearly responded mostly in personal ways; one was surprised and delighted to find the front door to her former house displayed, and another remarked, when she looked at a photograph of the loomfixers, 'I never thought I would ever live to see a photograph of my husband in a museum.' More revealing is the comment that: 'When I walk through the millyard, I feel like a young man again.' Few of the former workers verbalised any directly aesthetic response, but a certain number did express regret to see the ensuing demolition of many of the mill buildings.

Aesthetics in everyday life is rarely isolated from other issues, and expressions of attachment to place can rarely exclude an implied feeling that a certain beauty exists as well; the very tact that so many former workers embraced the exhibition in such a positive way seems to show that they accepted the notion that the millyard had aesthetic quality. For them, the conscious recognition that it was important to the outside world because of its architecture was probably a revelation but the knowledge that it was served to reinforce and expand their own sense of place just as happened during the exhibition in England.

It was during this first exhibition that I became aware, not only of the former workers' emotional ties to their environment, but also of a disagreement between their own point of view and that expressed as being their point of view by the planners, city officials, and leaders of the business community. Countless times I had been told that 'it might be nice to save the mills, but people see them as symbols of their own exploitation, and wish to see them destroyed.' The response to the exhibition and the subsequent oral history project has proved this to be generally untrue, raising the question of why these civic leaders had a distorted impression of' the situation. While documenting the mill districts of England, I found a similar conflict in points of view. Again, civic leaders often claimed that working people hated the old industrial environment, but the workers themselves more frequently spoke with affection towards it, as shown in the letter quoted above.

The reason for these apparently conflicting attitudes is that the local leaders attributed such views to the workers in order to support their own strongly held beliefs that the old mills and houses should be cleared, to make way for a new civic image. Some of these elite people had come into the communities from outside, and saw the old and deteriorating mills as symbols of economic stagnation. For them, salvation lay not only in renewing the physical fabric, but also in changing the image; and ironically, these people often do understand the historic meaning of the buildings they wish to destroy. The problem is that they are motivated to destroy them precisely because it is the cultural and historical messages inherent in these buildings which they wish to erase.

In Huddersfield, England, ICI, a major multinational company which has grown out of the historic dyestuffs industry, is one of several modern industries attracting new people to the area, and for many of these new people, change and modernity is the symbol of their own success. As one long-time resident said in 1977:

"The people that have come into Huddersfield, and have tried to reshape it in the last 20 or 30 years, they're the people that worry me because all they want to do is to march with the tide of 'progress' that's flooding over the country . . . They seem to want to knock Huddersfield down and replace it with major ring roads and faceless buildings that are 'armoured' with concrete, and black panels, and things like that . . . I don't think they've got any root depths in Huddersfield. To them it's merely a removal of certain so-called 'eyesores', that are eyesores to them.

Taped interview with Trevor Burgin,
Huddersfield resident and teacher, May 1977

This difference in attitude has had a very important impact on the historic landscape in both England and America. In this respect, there are two categories of people. The first is a largely inarticulate, long-time local population, who are attached to the physical environment in a variety of different, but largely personal ways. Their expression of attachment derives from the experiences of their own lives, and it may or may not include a conscious desire for preservation of the surroundings. It usually takes major demolition and change for them to become conscious and aware that the physical fabric is something historically important to themselves. Witness, for example, the prints of Lowry paintings now commonly hanging in pubs and private homes throughout the region.

In the second group, we have people for whom personal identity and feelings of success are intertwined with the remaking of the local image from that of a decaying mill town into a community with modern buildings. As the preservation movement has expanded, increasing numbers of these people have embraced the notion that older structures can be remodeled into this new image; but until recently, most believed that major physical change was necessary in order to achieve 'progress'.

In addition to these two categories of attitudes and experiences there are always individuals from either group who are conscious of the historic fabric, and wish to see it preserved; but an interesting diversity of view can also be found among them. My own experience has been that of an outsider, discovering the aesthetic and historical value of each area by relating it to a wider knowledge of other places in the world; but for some, the awareness has grown out of a personal connection with the area. L. S. Lowry was able to achieve the necessary distance between himself and his own world to develop the specific images into an all-encompassing visual symbol.

One former local resident was so strongly affected by the rapid disappearance of the mill chimneys, which had been the strongest visual elements of the area, that he has moved about the region buying the chimneys from the mill owners. His approach is unique in that he has taken title to just the chimney, usually for very little money, becoming responsible for the maintenance, which he does at weekends. The mill owners would otherwise have demolished the chimneys, since few are still in use. In another example, a mill engine machinist became an amateur photographer, and proceeded to achieve recognition for his photographs taken in the mill where he worked, of the other workers. This was done, as it turned out, just before the mill was closed and demolished.

Another local historian of working class background made a comment which revealed something about the difference which can exist, even among the conservation orientated, between those whose roots are in the area, and those who, coming from the outside, recognise the place for its historical and aesthetic qualities. He said, 'I would almost prefer that they knock down the mills than let the trendies get them.' By this, he meant those who convert the mills into elegant shops or other uses, which wipe out the everyday, local, hard, industrial character. For him, it was an issue of a way of life, and he therefore felt a loss in what most people from the outside might perceive as a gain. His sense of place included the way, people lived; the buildings were important to him, but the kind of change that occurred at Faneuil Hall Markets in Boston would be tantamount to destruction. When remodeled like that, the buildings lose their spirit, which is the product of the human life which went on in them.

Apart from confirming my belief that the preservation of parts of those environments is important, my experience with these exhibitions made me aware of a particular aspect in the process of human growth and awareness. What had attracted people's attention was not just the historic environment itself, but the particular image of it which I and others had isolated from the rest of the scene by the use of the camera or paint brush. It was these specific images which became the symbols for the place, bringing people to awareness of the issue of preservation, as their attention was focused by the images on the 'classic views'. Such images can then become so pervasive in the public consciousness that they continue to turn up. Shortly after the SAVE exhibition, for example, a cigarette advertisement used a photograph of an industrial canal in Manchester (England) taken from precisely the same vantage point as one of my published photographs.

(For an example from my later work - subsequent to the publication of this Chapter - see The Piranesi Project, A Stratigraphy of Views of Rome.  The dissemination in Northern Europe of Giambattista Piranesi's engravings of Rome in the 18th Century were largely responsible for the popularization of the "Grand Tour".  This growth in tourism to Rome is what stopped the demolition and quarrying of the ruins of ancient Rome.)

Tuan stated that topophilia is most compelling when the environment has come to be perceived as a symbol.  When I first witnessed the Lancashire and West Yorkshire industrial landscape, I was aware of a certain excitement, which comes from discovering the visual incarnation of an historically symbolic scene. I felt that I was already familiar with it; it was a part of my culture.  It rose out of the pages of Dickens, the Brontes, and many other writers.

The views of this landscape coalesced into an image which constituted a universal type, transcending the individuality of each to become a veritable visual symbol of the Industrial Revolution. 'For all its faults, it is Europe's most romantic industrial landscape. A landscape so true, so honest, that a well known film director taken to a hill above Halifax said simply, "It's too much." In other words, so perfectly "West Riding" that the uninitiated would have had difficulty in accepting the scene as anything but a grossly heightened version of reality.' (Willis, 1975)

When such a view becomes a symbol, conveying a deeper human meaning about the place, it becomes enhanced in people's minds, whether or not it is generally regarded as beautiful. That filmmaker was responding to the drama of seeing the scene for the first time and finding it familiar. It is this enhanced image which people are often trying to preserve when an effort is made to save a building, a group of buildings, or a whole landscape.

Significantly, even a nationally known natural wonder such as Yosemite Valley contains scenic views which are similar to many found elsewhere in the Sierras, but the shape of the valley and the number of similar waterfalls all combine to provide a visual image of much greater formal intensity than anywhere else. Early on, the place became a focus for the natural landscape preservation movement. It provided an image which the public readily identified as a symbol: it was complete - the apotheosis of the Western mountain landscape of the United States. More recently, Ansel Adams has continued to reinforce its symbolic importance with his photographs. People now acknowledge and reinforce the importance of these artistic images by buying prints and postcards of his photographs from a gallery in the valley itself.

Buildings gain meaning through their association with history, but beyond this, it is out of a focus on the symbolic image of a place that active preservation efforts often emerge. More importantly, this transformation of the perception of a place beyond the everyday reality to this more abstract connection with human history and life is how a conscious sense of place is created and reinforced in a community. Continuity in the evolution of the environment is achieved by man's conscious actions to encourage this awareness, be it through literature, art, or social and political efforts.

The challenge to contemporary planners is to help people gain an awareness of the larger meaning of time and human association inherent in the historic environment, and thus renew the image of a place, while preserving rather than replacing the historic fabric. In this way, people will achieve continuity in the human environment without erasing the best that man has created.


Johnson Samuel. (1776) "Goldsmith's Epitaph" in: James Boswell, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Oxford, 1709-1776. Now online for free:  Google Books: http://books.google.com/ebooks/reader?id=NrW02ktOBRMC&printsec=frontcover&output=reader

Lee, Vernon. (1902) In Praise of Old Houses, (essay). (Now online at: http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/62556/)

Mishima, Yukio. (1956) The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (translated into English by Ivan Morris, 1959).

Tuan, Yi-Fu. (1974) Topophilia: A Study Of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, And Values, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, pp 93-95

Willis, R. (1975) Yorkshire's historic buildings, Robert Hale, London.