In the foreword to Gaston Bachelard’s 1964 landmark study, The Poetics of Space, John R. Stilgoe asked the following question:
If the house is the first universe for its young children, the first cosmos, how does its space shape all subsequent knowledge of other space, of any larger cosmos? Is that house a ‘group of organic habits’ or even something deeper, the shelter of imagination itself?’1
To date, research into child psychology has identified a relationship between the development of the conscious identity and the experiences of the immediate environment of the child. While psychology is responsible for informing the populist view of childhood, the field of psychology alone does not account for the significance of the developing relationship between an individual and their environment. This dissertation therefore aims to explore, according to the question raised by Stilgoe, the recurring significance of the childhood house in the development of an individual’s identity. The adoption of this question as the framework for research is based on a personal interest in the intimate spaces of childhood and the manner in which these experiences are either consciously or subliminally manifest in the experiences of adulthood.
The acknowledgment of the role of the individual as the centre of experience has lead to an exploration of the field of research known as phenomenology. Hence, the majority of the research conducted in the formation of this dissertation is based on the discussion of this relationship by phenomenologists. The findings put forward in phenomenologist theory are bolstered by a variety of other sources found in the fields of psychology, literature, art and architecture.
The research has suggested that although the significance of place is discounted in the mainstream understanding of childhood development, the childhood house as the first known place of life plays a fundamental role in the development of the conscious identity of the individual. This relationship is not only significant in the formative years of childhood, but remains integral through memory, to an individual’s future patterns of perception and behaviour in later life. The significance of the findings of this dissertation in an architectural sense lies not only in an understanding of the role of the material qualities of the childhood house to an individual’s identity, but also in an observation of the way in which these childhood experiences become translated in the creation of future environments.
1 Gaston Bachelard and M. Jolas, The Poetics of Space, 1994 ed. (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), Foreword viii.