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Dissertation Commendation

‘Nail house’ marooned in Yichang, China, 2013.
‘Nail house’ marooned in Yichang, China, 2013.

Are You My Mother? - An Exploration into the Bonds Between People and Places
London Metropolitan University
Tutor: Joseph Kohlmaier

Phillipa Longson’s interest in environmental psychology led to her decision to explore place attachment for her dissertation.

‘I’m very interested in the meeting place between architectural practice and environmental psychology,’ she says. ‘It seems to be a Bermuda Triangle – research seems to finish. Place attachment is only just starting to come together as a theory.’

Her dissertation Are You My Mother? - An Exploration into the Bonds Between People and Places considers whether people bond with places in the same way as they do with people. Her starting point was the attachment theory of the mid-20th century, and the need for psychological as well as physical comfort.

‘Do people bond with, and gain psychological comfort from, places in a similar way? It appears we do,’ Longson says. ‘We find comfort in a familiar, trusted space – particularly if we are feeling vulnerable, we identify and connect with some places over others, we get homesick for places we left on purpose, and we have been known to get inordinately angry or distressed when our parents sell the house we grew up in.’

The dissertation also considers environment preference studies and the evolutionary need for both a prospect that gives vantage points and a refuge derived from a sense of enclosure. It explores the psychological response to the loss of place as a result of whole-scale redevelopment, which in some cases can be akin to grief. Place attachment can also drive owners to hold out stubbornly against redevelopment, as in the case of ‘nail house’ properties in China marooned in building sites.

Longson thinks greater awareness of place attachment could help in understanding the response of people who are displaced, whether through urban renewal or as refugees.