When I first received this book from Montreal’s Vehicule Press, I really didn’t think it would appeal to me. After all, I am not much of an architecture “enthusiast” and the reminiscences of a world-travelling architect came across as a bit pompous (I plead ignorance to reading any of Mr Friedman’s previous books or knowledge of his fine reputation). Nevertheless, I resolved to give the book a chance and cracked the cover of A Place in Mind.
I was immediately drawn in by the first page; Mr Friedman has an amiable tone to his writing that I found refreshing and unexpected in a book about designing cities for the 21st century. I soon found myself engrossed in a book that I normally would not even have considered reading had I come across it in a bookstore. I guess that is one of the perks of being a book reviewer: getting introduced to new subjects, new authors and genres. A Place in Mind is part memoir, part travelogue, a little history, and a healthy dose of food for thought about our environs, both present and future.
In a nutshell, Mr Friedman takes us to various places that he has travelled to and where he has found what he terms “a sense of place”:
“Places can be engaging. “Good” places know how to engage and keep us coming back. We may stumble across them by accident or be directed to them by others, but they need to be experienced firsthand to be appreciated, and they are kept among our treasured memories.”
Over the thirteen chapters in A Place in Mind, Mr Friedman takes the reader along with him through the past: a tearoom in Istanbul Turkey, a rustic restaurant in Tuscany, his childhood playground in Israel and a street market in China (just to name a few), and reflects on how (or what) made that particular place special and how those qualities could be applied (or, in some cases, should have been applied) to spaces in our time. For example, after describing his Istanbul teahouse experience, he laments:
“Loss of context was a contributor to the diminishment of sense of place. In the Istanbul teahouse, I was surrounded by the markings of a place. Modern communication and the rise of the digital age have served to erode the contextual dimension. Buildings of any style can now be constructed anywhere.”
Reading A Place in Mind induced me to recall places and moments in my past that were special to me, such as the large open playgrounds around my childhood home and favourite pubs and eateries in places I have lived or visited. I’m sure you will enjoy this book and it will undoubtedly cause you to reflect on places you hold dear, whether in the past or in the present. It may even move you to stop and consider the place where you live and influence a future move or trip to a new place in your life.
Avi Friedman is a professor of architecture at McGill University. He is the recipient of several research and design awards including the World Habitat Award and the 2014 Sustainable Buildings Lifetime Achievement Award. He is the author of sixteen books, including Narrow Houses, A View From the Porch and Innovative Houses: Concepts for Sustainable Living. He lives in Montreal.