Dense versus diluted places

click on images for full-size:

Etruscan-Roman-Renaissance gate, Perugia, Italy

Colonial church, Las Trampas, New Mexico

Parish church, York, England

Recently built house for two people, Austin, Texas

Motel, Albuquerque, New Mexico

A historically dense place contains -- and makes normative use of -- present traces of a history that has accumulated through long inhabitation. Density involves the marks of age being taken up into the contemporary lived patterns and texture of the place. A medieval English church in a modern city might show the traces of centuries of lived use: the worn floor, for instance, has not been "antiqued," its grooves and uneven surface show the wear that the parish has decided to leave in order to preserve those signs of traditional use as a way of giving depth to current living. For the members of the parish the signs of long use are normatively important, and more than accidental features of the place. In their dealings with one another the members affirm that they are part of a community that has endured all that history.

A historically diluted place may or may not have historical traces, but if they exist they are of no normative importance. Think of all the Hard Rock Cafes in various cities. Some of those franchises are in older buildings, and the historical ambiance may be attractive, but the social grammar of the place takes in the historical traces only as background decor. Historical dilution connects to role thinness, since it is because modern social roles are less substantial that modern places can choose to ignore the weight of history.

A dense place is does not make itself felt immediately; it is less pushy. It does not come at you; it is not aimed at just you; its live history gives it a momentum that does not need your constant support. This is not the case with an historically diluted attraction that which has to come at you in order to keep its reality, because its attraction is a force that is real only when it is being felt. When we find ourselves in such places, often we add complexity to our inhabitation by adding some ironic observation to our roles as consumer.

Historical ensity is not identical to place complexity, but it can encourage complexity.