The Comfort Pursuit

Lecture in the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at Universidade Federal de Pelotas, in Brazil

palestra pelOn 15th of January 2014 I presented a lecture in Brazil about my PhD research and the work of the School of Landscape Architecture at Lincoln University. The lecture is not the same and has been updated, but it has the same structure and framework of the one presented at CELA 2013.

My father worked at the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism at Universidade Federal de Pelotas for over 30 years. As a child I used to go there, much earlier than I could think about attending an University. After I graduated I kept in contact with lecturers from that Faculty and was delighted with the opportunity of presenting my ongoing work there.

It was interesting to see the reactions from the audience to what happened in Christchurch and to the research I have been working on. I still remember very clearly the speech of a researcher who presented her work after me in the CELA Conference. While answering some questions from the audience – the vast majority from the United States – she said something along these lines: “We develop feelings for places through the development of sense of place. Place attachment is a consequence, or do you think there is any other reason for someone to still be living in Christchurch after the earthquake?” Although this might sound a bit harsh – and at the time it sounded indeed – there is some truth to it.

In many ways we are a product of the place where we live. Place is a space attributed with meaning (Tuan, 1979; Cresswell, 2009) and this meaning promotes the sense of place.

Place is a meaningful site that combines location, locale, and sense of place. Location refers to an absolute point in space with a specific set of coordinates and measurable distances from other locations. Location refers to the ‘where’ of place. Locale refers to the material setting for social relations – the way a place looks. Locale includes the buildings, streets, parks, and other visible and tangible aspects of a place. Sense of place refers to the more nebulous meanings associated with a place: the feelings and emotions a place evokes. These meanings can be individual and based on personal biography or they can be shared. Shared senses of place are based on mediation and representation. When we write ‘Calcutta’ or ‘Rio’ or ‘Manchester’ for instance, even those of us who have not been to these places have some sense of them – sets of meanings produced in films, literature, advertising, and other forms of mediation. (Cresswell, 2009, p. 1)

The surprise I saw on those eyes looking at the post-earthquake environment and the unavoidable question about ‘how can we live with earthquakes’, made me think again about how the landscapes shape us (see last week’s post here).

First of all: we don’t live with constant earthquakes! And second: New Zealanders have also been asking me for the past three years if guns are legalized in Brazil, I say ‘no’. And then they ask about all the crime they see on TV and newspapers, and I answer ‘but they have the guns anyway’. Guess what they ask? Yep, ‘how can you guys live with that?’

If we change the environment we live in we might become a patchwork in some senses. Cultural behaviours that sounded strange become common. At the same time we miss things we don’t have any more, we start to miss things we might not have in the future. It is all a matter of what is normality for us, the things we know and are prepared to face and react to. All the rest is mystery. We, human beings, and our huge capacity to adapt…



Cresswell, T. (2009). Place. In N. Thrift & R. Kitchen (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Human Geography (Vol. 8, pp. 169-177). Oxford, UK: Elsevier.

Tuan, Y.-F. (1979). Space and Place: Humanistic Perspective (Vol. 20): Springer Netherlands.

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