Places of the heart – touch which personifies place


To date, posts on panethos have discussed how sound, smell, and taste can personify places. At first thought, touch might seem like the most difficult sense embody the personification of place. But, the more I thought about it, touch is actually a very easy way to do this. For example, I received my undergraduate degree from Purdue University. If you have ever been there, you know that every single building except perhaps one is built of brick because the land grant came from John Purdue, who…made bricks!

Purdue – Source:

The sight and feel (touch) of bricks is one of the things that personifies Purdue’s campus. The same would be true for Michigan State, William & Mary, Harvard, Wake Forest, Miami of Ohio, and any other campus composed primarily of brick structures, Meanwhile, I received my master’s degree from Virginia Tech, whose campus is almost entirely constructed of fieldstone. To me, Virginia Tech would not be Virginia Tech without its lovely fieldstone buildings.

Virginia Tech – Source:

For a third and final example, Indiana University is almost entirely composed of limestone buildings, including the football stadium and basketball arena. So, does that mean this sense can only be felt on college campuses? Of course, not. Here are some other examples that apply to cities and towns.

  • Brick – historic portions of Williamsburg, Virginia and Philadelphia (Society Hill and Independence Mall)

Society Hill – Source:

  • Granite and/or marble – Washington, DC especially around the National Mall

National Mall – Source:

  • Brownstone – New York City and other East Coast cities
  • Sod – pioneer homes in the Great Plains or other places where other suitable materials were lacking


  • Wood – New England and Atlantic Canada fishing villages or those in Skagway and Ketchikan, Alaska. Many western railroad and mining towns were made of lumber too.

Skagway, Alaska

  • Adobe – Santa Fe and other cities of the Southwestern United States

Santa Fe – Source:

Obviously these are only a few examples listed above. But, they clearly depict how the natural resources inherent to a geographic location also serve as a way of personifying it. Granted, as the nation’s capitol, many of the building materials were shipped to Washington, DC from elsewhere. However, in each of the other cases listed, most of the building materials were endemic to that specific region.

It does not have to be only communities or campuses that personify place through touch. Specific structures like the totems of the Pacific Northwest, Stonehenge in the United Kingdom, Buddhist temples in Asia, or a Bedouin’s tent in the desert can also personify place. Similarly, natural features like rock formations, local/regional tree species, sand or soil texture, and native vegetation all can identify place.

Totem near Ketchikan, Alaska

On a more intrinsic note, there is another way touch can personify place and that is through the heart. I can think of a number of places that were so scenic, beautiful, inspiring, or carried such strong and lasting memories that they have touched my heart forever. Here are a few of them, not necessarily in order:

  • Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Oban, Scotland
  • Mount St, Helen’s, Oregon
  • Astoria, Oregon
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
  • Moab, Utah
  • Arches National Park, Utah
  • London, England
  • St. Andrews, Scotland
  • Craters of the Moon National Park, Idaho
  • Chesapeake & Ohio Canal
  • Glacier National Park
  • Straits of Mackinac, Michigan
  • Niagara Peninsula, Ontario
  • Banff/Lake Louise, Alberta
  • Halifax, Nova Scotia
  • Ottawa, Ontario
  • Calgary, Alberta
  • Marquette, Michigan
  • Munising , Michigan
  • Ketchikan, Alaska
  • Flagstaff, Arizona
  • Haystack Rock – Cannon Beach, Oregon
  • Columbia River Gorge
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Vancouver, British Columbia
  • Chicago, Illinois
  • Saskatchewan
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Lake Champlain
  • Totems of Alaska
  • Blue Ridge Parkway
This entry was posted in architecture, art, Canada, cities, culture, diversity, economic development, economic gardening, environment, Europe, geography, historic preservation, history, infrastructure, land use, new urbanism, placemaking, planning, psychology, spatial design, third places, tourism, UK, urban planning and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Places of the heart – touch which personifies place

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