The Experience of Place: A New Way of Looking at and Dealing With our Radically Changing Cities and Countryside by Tony Hiss

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Places Discussed

Posted 2009-10-31

People PlacesBook Notes by John December

"In our culture, people are so used to ignoring their experiences of the places around them... [but] these experiences are under our control; they are a rainbow well within our grasp." (pp. 98-99).
This book describes the author's perception of the "continuum of experience" that he finds in buildings, parks, urban streetscapes, and the countryside. The author's key point is that if we ignore this continuity of experience in architecture and city plans, we lose many chances to support the extraordinary feelings people can have in buildings, parks, and streetscapes.

Tony Hiss describes his perception of places in a variety of settings. The most vivid sections of the book are his analysis of New York City destinations: Grand Central Station, Prospect Park, and Times Square.

Grand Central Station demonstrates the grandeur of a large space and specifically how the experience of sound leads to an extraordinary urban experience. Moreover, this experience is not possible in the low-slung, bunker-like ceilings of other train stations (such as New York's Penn Station). That is, the form of an architectural space affects the human experience of it. It is interesting that Hiss applies this to train stations, as late 20th-century designs of train stations seemed to favor bunker-like warrens of low-ceiling tunnels.

Prospect Park's pathways lead a visitor through a variety of environments that suggest different psychological states. This shows how the park is not just a thoughtless assemblage of open spaces and green spaces, but an interconnected series of contrasting environments. The author's description of his walk through Prospect Park is a vivid highlight of the book.

The author's analysis of Times Square shows how a great urban space is more than just an assemblage of parts. The author shows how New York City's busy crossroads demonstrates the integrated parts of an enormous, urban room. Such a space "can be diminished if spectacular or essential or well-liked compoentns of it are taken away; it can be weakened or contaminated, or even poisoned, by the addition of inappropriate elements..." (p. 82).

The author rounds out the book with some anlaysis of working landscapes and the regional versus sprawl possiblities of the countryside.

Tony Hiss's book makes an exellent case for designing architecture and cities around people rather than around rationally-broken down functions that ignore the continuum of experience people find in places.

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2024-05-14 · John December · Terms ©