I recently finished reading one of Michael Pollan's earlier books entitled A Place of My Own. Originally published in 1997 and reissued in 2008, it traces Pollan's decision to construct a writer's cabin or what he sometimes calls his own "primitive hut". Built behind his home in Vermont with the help of an architect and carpenter, Pollan interweaves his personal story with the history and cultural significance of all American building. Broken into the different stages of design and construction, the book begins with the chapter A Room of One's Own and ends with Finish Work. As an architectural designer, I greatly appreciated the structure of book however I do think the first two chapters - A Room of One's Own and Site - contain the most interesting passages of the work as subsequent chapters are more technical and also more contextual to the 1990s post-modern architectural debate. Below are a few of my favorite phrases/lines/paragraphs.
- "a house in first person" (24)
- "Was a place something made, in other words, or was it something given?.....What is a place after all but a space that people like me have invested with meaning?" (38).
- "like everything else once alive, lumber is on loan from the land in thrall to water, which, in concert with the conspiracy of insects and microorganisms we call rot eventually will reduce it to compost" (124).
- "To build, their rituals imply, is in some way to alienate ourselves from the natural order, for good and bad" (173).
- "As Walden itself teaches us, we humans are never simply in nature, like the beasts and trees and boulders, but are always also in relation to nature; looking at it through the frames of our various preconceptions, our personal and collective histories, our self-consciousness, our words....What other creature, after all, even has a relationship to nature?" (264-265).
For me the real takeaway of this book and why I would recommend it, is that it highlights the significance building has on a singular individual as both a profound personal journey and as a part of a greater human tradition and inclination.
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Pollan, Michael. A Place of My Own: The Architecture of Daydreams. New York: Penguin, 2008. Print.