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Public Art & Placemaking A Dissertation.

Alyssa Nicole Suyko

Public Art & Placemaking: The role of public art in making places for the community

Alyssa Nicole Suyko

Bachelor of Interior Architecture Final Year Dissertation Faculty of Built Environment UNSW Australia 2014



1. 2.


Acknowledgments List of Illustrations Abstract


Introduction Context Importance Limits Objective Structure and Overview Methodology


Placemaking Defining Place and Placemaking

6 7



Placemaking and Public Art Defining Public Art 14 The Development of Contemporary Public Art 15 Artist or Place Maker? 16 The Bonds: Place Attachment, Place Identity and Place Memory 17 Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study. An introduction to Rachel Whiteread


House, 1993


Description Interpretation of The Bonds Evaluation: Can it be considered Placemaking?

27 35

Nameless Library, 2000


Description Interpretation of The Bonds Evaluation: Can it be considered Placemaking?

38 46

Conclusion List of References






Acknowledgments I would like to express my sincere gratitude to my supervisor, Dr. Russell Rodrigo, whose expertise, understanding and patience, helped me in all the time of research and writing of this dissertation. I would also like to thank Dr. Judith O’Callaghan, whose lectures were always filled with motivation and encouragement. I am grateful for her guidance and her flair for making complex notions easy to understand. Her wit and sense of humour definitely made our lectures an enjoyable experience. Finally, I would like to thank my family, whose continual support, encouragement, quiet patience and unwavering love, has kept me strong throughout all the challenges I encounter in life.  


List of Illustrations Fig 1. Scannell and Gifford’s tripartite model of place attachment. Photo By: Leila Scannell and Robert Gifford (Kaymaz 2013) Fig 2. Rachel Whiteread, Ghost, 1990 Photo by: Unknown (Corrin, L. et al. 2001). Fig 3. Yellow Leaf, 1990. CAMJAP, Lisbon. Photo by: Unknown (Corrin, L. et al. 2001). Fig 4. House, 1993. Grove Road, London. Photo by: Unknown (Corrin, L. et al. 2001). Fig 5. Progress shot of the making of House. Photo by: John Davies (Lingwood 1995). Fig 6. Second progress shot of the making of House. Photo by: John Davies (Lingwood 1995). Fig 7. High angle shot of House. Photo by: Philip Grisewood (GrisewoodIllustration). Fig 8. Night shot of House. Photo by: Unknown (Independent). Fig 9. Elevation shot of Nameless Library. Photo By: Unknown (Wordpress) Fig 10. Detail shot of Nameless Library. Photo By: Unknown (Wordpress) Fig 11. Perspective shot of Nameless Library. Photo By: Unknown (Wordpress) Fig 12. Second perspective shot of Nameless Library. Photo by: Unknown (Flickr). Fig 13. Front Elevation shot of Nameless Library. Photo by: Unknown (Flickr).


Abstract Placemaking shifts the way designers consider space, beyond the built form and instead focuses on the relationship people have with place. It is about making a public space a living space. For most people, it is probably not the architecture that turns a physical locale, into a well-loved place; it is more often the remembrance of human interaction that helps us claim it (Fleming 2007, p.14). Public art is a significant element in our urban experience which fosters this connection - it is a symbolic representation of a city’s cultural geography and urban sociology, a marker of memory and identity. This dissertation will investigate the role public art plays in shaping communities. Looking specifically at how memory and identity promote a “sense of place.” As well as a “sense of belonging” to place, focussing on the following questions. What is meant by the term ‘place’? How does public art aid in placemaking? How can public art foster attachment or belonging to neighbourhood and create this sense of identity? What is the importance of memories in fostering this connection between people and place? How is meaning conveyed through form, space and material culture? This discussion will closely examine the public artworks (i.e. both temporary and permanent) of Rachel Whiteread. Using the principles of placemaking investigated within this dissertation as the framework. Ultimately, this dissertation aims to examine the potential role art has in placemaking and how it fosters these intimate connections between people and place. More importantly how it should continuously enrich our urban experience.


Introduction Context


Approximately half of the world’s population now lives

This investigation is aimed at drawing on the importance

in an urban context, and this is expected to increase

of making ‘quality public spaces’ through the integration

to 70 per cent by 2050 (Population Reference Bureau

of public art. Quality is measured by how well the

2008). Despite the vast number of people in large

space fosters a connection with the community, in turn

cities, it is not unusual that citizens experience a sense

enhancing this strong sense of place and belonging. A

of loneliness and isolation (Wall and Waterman 2010).

study also concluded that, placemaking is not just about

This is where the need for good public spaces becomes

the relationship of people to their places; it also creates

relevant. Places such as parks and plazas, can help people

relationships among people in places (Schneekloth

feel a sense of belonging and find personal meaning in

2000 p.133).

their local urban environments, as public spaces provide a neutral ground where people can meet, socialise or

Public art, based on its key principles, has the potential

just observe others (Brunnberg 2012, p. 113).

to foster these connections between people and place, in a very unique way. Art is a universal language. It has the

Placemaking revolves around the simple notion of

ability to inform, entertain, enlighten and educate us.

making places for people, where they can develop their

The subjective nature of art, fosters a connection with

own ‘sense of place’. A sense of place is not only the

its audience, by empowering them to develop their own

ability to locate things on a cognitive map, but also

meanings and values. Within this context therefore,

the attribution of meaning to a built - form or natural

there exists limited understanding about how public art

spot (Rotenberg and McDonogh 1993, Walter 1988).

can essentially “make places” for the community.

Finding meaning is a crucial element in a person’s connection to space and it is usually memories that


which triggers this connection. No place is unimportant to the people whose memories dwell there (Fleming

This investigation will be focussing on works of a

2007, p.16).

permanent and semi permanent nature. It will exclude community murals and temporary works such as video

Public art can be seen as a dynamic medium of placemaking that draws upon these key themes of memory and identity. According to the City of Sydney Pubic Art Strategy: ‘A city without a flourishing artistic and cultural life would be a poor place indeed. Our artists celebrate and enrich our city, and contribute to our sense of identity and sense of place.’


and performance art.

Structure and Overview This dissertation is separated into four main chapters. Chapter 1 explores this notion of ‘placemaking’ by first defining ‘place’ for the purpose of this dissertation. Through this exploration, this chapter deconstructs the principles of placemaking, in order to formulate the theoretical framework for this dissertation. Chapter 2 defines public art and provides a historical overview of its development starting from 1960s America. It then goes on to further define the branch of public art, which this dissertation will be focusing on (i.e. site-specific art). Subsequently, this chapter explores the role of the artist and their potential role as “place maker”. Finally, the ‘bonds’ formed between people and place is highlighted, as well as the theoretical linkage between placemaking, public art, collective memory and identity is discussed. Chapter 3 discusses the theoretical framework developed in the first two chapters by testing it against the work of Rachel Whiteread. Whiteread’s unique ability to foster connections between her work and her audience is the reason she was chosen for this investigation. This chapter discuses her two public sculptures: House (temporary work) and the Nameless Library Holocaust Memorial (permanent work).

Methodology The dissertation utilises interpretive research based on historical data and case studies.


Chapter 1 Placemaking

Chapter 1 Defining Place and Placemaking He believes that architects and planners, in not To fully understand the notion of placemaking, an

considering the meaning that places have to individuals

understanding of the term ‘place’ is essential. According

and groups, run the risk of destroying authentic places

to Gieryn (2000, p.465) to define place, it is easier to

and/ or producing inauthentic ones.

account for what it is not. First place is not space which is more properly conceived as abstract geometries

Furthermore, Tuan’s study (1977) draws on the

(distance, direction, size, shape and volume) detached

‘experiential perspective’ of place. He notes that a place

from material form and cultural interpretation. ‘Space’

achieves concrete reality when our experience of it

is what place becomes when the unique gatherings of

is total, that is, through all senses as well as with the

things, meanings and values are removed (de Certeau

active and reflective mind. In addition, Tuan discusses

1988). For the purpose of this dissertation, place will

the dynamic relationship between space and place,

be conceived as a space filled up by people, values and

he notes that, ‘space is transformed into place as it


acquires definition and meaning’. Tuan’s study, pushes us to think of place, not in isolation, rather in relation

Seamon and Sowers(2008, p. 43) point out that:

to people. It is through people, that meaning is given

‘geographers have long spoken of the importance of

to a space. Relph and Tuan’s study both draw on this

place as the unique focus distinguishing geography from

dynamic relationship between people and place, how

other disciplines. Astronomy has the heavens, History

place can only exist, once people give space meaning

has time and Geography has place.’ Acknowledging the

and value.

fact that place belongs in the realm of Geography is the first step to a more complex discussion of defining what

A study (Gieryn 2000, p. 464) examining place in

the term place actually means.

relation to sociology takes on the research of the previously stated geographers and succinctly limits the

Beginning in the early 1970s various geographers

definition of place to having three key features. These

such as Yi-Fu Tuan (1974) and Edward Relph (1976)

three features will be the grounding principles of what

sought to redefine the definition of place. They felt

determines place for this dissertation.

that it lacked philosophical and experiential value.

Relph’s phenomenological study (1976) identifies three

1. Geographic Location

components of place: physical setting, activities and

This features refers to place as a unique spot in the

meanings. He argues that of these three components,

universe. It allows for people to make a distinction

‘meanings’ is probably the most difficult to grasp.

between here and there.


A study (Entriken 1989, 1991) considered how a ‘place

This third principle highlights the need for people to

could be your favourite armchair, a room, building,

take action. In this case, to ‘invest’ meaning and value

neighbourhood, district, village, city, county, continent,

into a space, in order for it to become a place.

planet-or a forest glade, the seaside, a mountaintop. It is evident that there is a broad spectrum as to what can be

Furthermore, according to Schneekloth and Shibley

considered a place. In essence this first feature of place

(1995, p.1) ‘placemaking is not just about relationship

refers to it as a physical location.

of people to their places; it also creates relationships amongst people in places.’ These key ideas of ‘identity’

2. Material Form

and ‘belonging’ are essential societal values and

This second feature addresses the physicality of place.

placemaking can be key to its attainment. These values

Gieryn (2000, p. 465) states that ‘whether built or

will be further discussed in the later chapters of this

just come upon, artificial or natural, streets and doors

dissertation. The essence of placemaking relies heavily

or rocks and trees, place is stuff.’ It is a compilation of

on fostering a relationship between people and place,

things or objects at some particular spot in the universe.

as well as between people within these places. Since it is through people, that which meaning and value is

3. Investment with Meaning and Value

invested within a space, in order for it to be considered

This is the third and final principle of what determines a

a place. Shchneekloth and Shibley (2000, p. 132)

place. Without naming, identification, or representation

addresses how, ‘placemaking is the way all of us human

by people, a place is not a place. Meaning and value

beings transform the [spaces] in which we find ourselves

needs to be added to principle 1 and 2, in order for

into places in which we live.’

a space to become a place. Gieryn (2000, p. 465) concludes that a ‘spot in the universe, with a gathering

Therefore through this deconstruction of the idea of

of physical stuff there, becomes a place only when it

place and placemaking, it allows this investigation to

ensconces history or utopia, danger or security, identity

move beyond the boundaries of architecture and into

or memory.’

the realm of public art. Does public art play a role in placemaking within the community? How does

Therefore it can be concluded that in order for a

public art foster meaning and value for people in order

space to be considered a place it must first fulfil all of

to establish this “sense of place” or more importantly

the three principles. However for the purpose of this

a “sense of belonging to place”?

dissertation, we will be examining more closely the idea

will investigate how public art can essentially foster

of placemaking in relation to the third principle (i.e.

this sense of belonging, through an exploration of

Investment with Meaning and Value). Placemaking,

key societal values (i.e. memory and identity). In the

simply put, is the “making of places.” It is an action or

next two chapters, this dissertation will draw on the

a process, a dynamic relationship between people and

theoretical linkage between public art, placemaking,


collective memory and identity.


This dissertation

Chapter 12 Placemaking & Public Art

Chapter 2 Defining Public Art According to the Perth City Link Public Art Strategy (2014), ‘Public art is an artistic work that is created and located for public accessibility. The defining principle of public art is that the work has been designed by an

Site-specificity, a technique in which context was incorporated in to the work. Over the years...[it] underwent many permutations. Most fruitfully, context was extended to encompass the individual site’s symbolic, social, and political meanings, as well as the discursive and historical circumstances within which artwork, spectator and site are situated.

artist for the enhancement of a particular public realm.’ This excerpt’s expansion on the term ‘context,’ highlights In addition, Miles (1997,p.5) addresses it as art that is,

the dynamic nature of site-specific art. It goes beyond

‘located outside conventional (museological or private)

looking at context as just the physical attributes of the

locations and settings: city squares, parks, buildings’

site, to the ‘symbolic, social, and political meanings’

exteriors, and infrastructural sites such as railway

it possesses. One can argue that any type of art

stations, roundabouts, and airports.’ It is evident from

incorporates context. However, site-specific art heavily

both definitions that context plays a critical role in any

integrates and is dependent on context. To the point

public artwork. It’s ‘enhancement of the public realm’

that if the artwork is displaced, it will render the work

is not only in reference to its aesthetic value, more so,


its potential role in placemaking, which will be further discussed within this chapter.

As stated in Chapter 1, to transform space into a place, it relies on an ‘investment of meaning and value’. Site-

Public art can be through any type of medium. Cartiere

specific art draws on this ‘investment’ and materialises it

and Willis (2008, p.15) discuss how, ‘[it] is an expanding

by giving it form, which in turn makes it easily accessible

practice that continues to incorporate every medium

by the community. Therefore site-specific art links

and discipline, from painting to new media, sculpture

people to these places, establishing its potential role in

to design, architecture to performance.’ However, this

placemaking. However, before we draw conclusions, an

dissertation will only be concerned with works of a

overall understanding of public art and its principles is

permanent and semi permanent nature. It will exclude


community murals and temporary works such as video and performance art. To further limit our investigation, this dissertation will focus on a particular branch of public art, which is referred to as ‘site-specific art’. The article Uneven Development: Public Art in New York City (Deutsche 1988) explored this notion in the following excerpt:


Chapter 2: Placemaking & Public Art

The development of contemporary public art

Sharp et al. (2005). (a) Physical and aesthetic claims - enhancing aesthetic

By definition, public art dates back to the beginning of

quality: improving the attractiveness of a place and

ancient human civilisations. Though in order to limit

thereby encouraging more intensive use of a public

this investigation, this dissertation will only explore the

space; upgrading visual or aesthetic quality of a place,

spread of contemporary public art, which began in the

and turning a former anonymous place into a physical

United States during the 1960s.

reference point.

Katz (1994, p.28) accounts that, ‘in 1965 the National

(b) Economic claims - enhancing economic activity:

Endowment for the Arts (founded under Johnson’s

attracting and increasing investments in the arts;

administration), [marked] the first time in American

improving economic regeneration conditions through

history that substantial federal tax-based funds were

creating richer visual environments.

allocated for arts spending at the state and local levels.’ (c) Social claims - enhancing community and social In doing so, Smagula (1983, p. 13) reflects that arts

interactions: addressing community needs; eradicating

were, ‘officially sanctioned as significant contributors to

social exclusion; promoting social change by revealing

our nation’s well being and support for culture.’ The

fundamental social contradictions or undermining

various benefits public art had for our civic spaces was

dominant meanings of urban space and encouraging

recognised and highlighted. According to Hall (2003),

links between artists and professions that shape

‘from the 1980s onwards it has been both prominent

the environment, such as planning, landscaping,

and controversial in urban upgrading: public art is

architecture, design, and engineering.

considered capable of legitimising as well as criticising prevailing urban developments.’ Therefore it was seen

(d) Cultural- symbolic claims - creating symbolic value:

as an integral element of our urban spaces. Public art

enhancing awareness of local history and identity;

not only contributed to the aesthetics of these spaces,

promoting national identity;

it contributed to a community’s cultural heritage,

distinctiveness and developing civic identity.

contributing to local

connection to place and sense of identity. This is an important point which will be further explored in this

It can be deduced, that public art provides a holistic


benefit to society. However you must keep in mind, the aforementioned claims are only a projection of the

Zebracki (2010, p. 787) lists the following key ‘public-

benefits of public art. It does not take into account the

art claims’, which is primarily drawn from the research

much wider debate (Chang, 2008) of its subjective

of Hall (2003), and are all reflected in the work of Miles

‘publicness and artfulness.’

(1997), Remesar (2003, 2005), Selwood (1995) and


This dissertation will limit its investigation to these

part of placemaking. What this excerpt alludes to is

claims. In doing so, one can already draw parallels

the artist’s role in the promotion and preservation of

between public art and placemaking. Both claim to

our culture. Artists’ work are a reflection of the world

enhance the relationships between people and their

they live in. It is their ability to ‘give form’ to ‘the most

spaces, more importantly promote civic identity, drawn

pervasive ideas’ of society, which further highlights their

from history and memory. The two also claim to enhance

potential role in placemaking.

relationships between people in these spaces. Although these are just initial observations, for the purpose of this

This notion will be further explored in Chapter 3

dissertation, it is interesting to see surface connections

through a case study of artist, Rachel Whiteread.

already forming. A deeper investigation of public art

However before her work is explored,the other half of

and its potential role as a ‘place-maker’ is to follow in

this dissertation needs to be addressed.

the next few sections. It was established earlier, that this investigation will

Artist or ‘Place Maker’ ?

not only explores how public art can “create a sense of place”, it will also investigate how public art can foster

Since connections are already forming between the

this “sense of belonging to place.” The parameters

intentions of placemaking and public art within this

of this investigation draw on the theoretical linkage

dissertation, questioning the role of the artist is the

between placemaking, public art, collective memory

next logical step for this investigation. Apart from the

and identity. Therefore the later notions need to be

conventional disciplines involved in placemaking (i.e.

addressed in order to provide a holistic dissertation.

architects, engineers and designers), do artists also have a significant role in our placemaking practices? Before this notion is explored, an understanding of the conventional role of the artist within society is needed. Throughout history artists have been an integral part of our society. Nemser (1973) reflects how, In every culture, artists have functioned as formgivers to the most pervasive ideas of their time. Indeed without the concrete artefacts handed down to us by architects, painters, sculptors and artisans, we would know very little about the history of human life. In the individual and collective creations of artists past and present, resides the sum total of our civilisation. Culture is the backbone of our society and is an integral


Chapter 2: Placemaking & Public Art

Place attachment, place identity and place memory

behavioural psychological processes’ (refer to Fig 1). While Milligan (1998) states that, ‘an emotional bond

In chapter 1, a definition of place was established, as

with a place is formed by the meaning given to a place

space that has invested meaning and value. This section

by the individual, as a result of his interaction with the

aims to explore how place can promote a feeling of

place.’ Najafi (2011) continues to expand on this notion

belonging within the community. Belonging is this

by stating how, ‘people have feelings about places as

feeling of inclusion, to be a part of a whole. A recent

well as beliefs and memories and they act certain ways

study (Inalhan, 2011) stated that, ‘a sense of belonging

in different places.’ Therefore it can be deduced, place

is necessary for psychological well-being which is

attachment is deeply rooted in fostering connections

developed by relationships with the environment.’

with places, based on meaning and experiences which often involve relationships with other people.

For the purpose of this dissertation, we will investigate this notion in regards to concepts of place. From this

A further study (Lewicka, 2005), ‘showed that people

point onwards, we will be exploring this concept

attached to a place expressed more interest in the place’s

of belonging, in relation to bonds people have with

past and in their own roots than people with fewer

places. Lewicka (2008, p.212) states, ‘in environmental

emotional bonds.’ Lewicka (2008, p.211) describes how

psychology research, many agree that development of

awareness of history of the place, facilitates attachment:

bonds with places is a prerequisite of psychological

people inhabiting city districts that are endowed with more historical traces (historical sites, pre-war architecture) or pre-war houses will show stronger place attachment to their neighbourhood, city district and to city in general than those living in modern city quarters and modern post-war houses.

balance.’ Lewicka (2008) goes on to define these bonds within these three measures; place attachment, place identity and place memory. In this dissertation, an exploration of these three measures is needed, in order to draw correlations between people, place and public art in the next chapter. Firstly, place attachment is used to describe emotional connections people form with places. These emotional connections can be formed from a variety of ways. Scannell and Gifford (2010) defines place attachment as, ‘a bond between an individual or a group and a place that can vary in terms of spatial level, degree of

Therefore it can be inferred that a wide variety of factors can influence the formation of these ‘emotional connections’ between people and place. However for the purpose of this dissertation, we will focus on history, how memory of the past can form an attachment with place. This notion will be further discussed in Chapter 3.

specificity, and social or physical features of the place, and is manifested through effective, cognitive and



Fig 1. Scannell and Gifford’s tripartite model of place attachment. A variety of external factors influence our emotional connections with space. However this dissertation will only be focussing on the how memory fosters attachment. Photo By: Leila Scannell and Robert Gifford (Kaymaz 2013)

Chapter 2: Placemaking & Public Art

Along with place attachment, place identity is another measure of people’s bonds to place. Although keep in mind, there isn’t that much degree of separation between the two. Lewicka (2008) explores how, ‘some researchers consider place identity as a dimension of place attachment; while some others suggest that place identity is necessary for the formation of place attachment.’ Therefore for the purpose of this dissertation, we will look at these two bonds as closely related ideas. Jacobsen-Widding (1983) defines ‘identity’ to mean two things, ‘sameness (continuity) and distinctiveness (uniqueness).’ The word identity comes from the Latin root, identitas and is defined as ‘the fact of being who or what a person or thing is’ in the Oxford English Dictionary.

In contrast with the first definition, this second definition conceives place identity as a feature of the person and not the place. The third and final measure is place memory. In order to understand this concept, we must first define the boundaries of memory for this investigation. For the purpose of this dissertation we will define memory according to a study (Paez et al. 1997), which explores this notion called ‘social memory.’ Social memories or sometimes referred to as “collective memories”, are the memories shared by groups or societies. Lewicka (2008, p. 212) further explains how, social memories may concern events that happened during our life or that took place before we were born and therefore belong to the history of the family, ethnic group, state, or the world. In the latter cases, what we “remember” depends not on personal experience but on oral traditions, cultural transmissions or own motivation to do the detective work in discovering the past. Therefore “place memory” in this investigation, will

Subsequently, Lewicka (2008, p.211) goes on to

refer to the bonds people form with places based on

apply this concept of identity to place and notices two

this notion of collective memory. It not only highlights

different meanings forming. The first meaning refers

the connection between people and place, but also the

to the concept of “genius loci,” which according to

connection between people in these places. Which, as

Norberh-Shultz (1980) is the ‘impalpable but generally

deconstructed in Chapter 1, forms the integral thinking

agreed upon unique character of a place.’ It refers to the

behind placemaking.

‘spirit of place’, when a place will evoke similar responses in people, regardless of the individual aspects a person

Place attachment, place identity and place memory, all

brings with them. Conversely, the second meaning is

rely on an ‘investment’ of meaning and value which

defined by Proshansky (1978, p.147) as,

we explored in Chapter 1. Whether it be through

those dimensions of self that define the individual’s personal identity in relation to the physical environment by means of a complex pattern of conscious and unconscious ideas, beliefs, preferences, feelings, values, goals, and behavioural tendencies and skills relevant to his environment

emotional connections, or bonds based on identity or collective memory, all of these are investments people make to form connections with their places.


However what this dissertation is interested in is how public art can foster these bonds. How does public art mediate this connection between people and place? How are concepts of attachment, identity and memory explored by the artist in relation to place? Essentially exploring the potential role public art plays in placemaking. These notions will be explored in the next chapter, through a case study of the work of British artist, Rachel Whiteread.


Chapter 3 Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

Chapter 3 An introduction to Rachel Whiteread As stated before, Rachel Whiteread had never intended her work to be associated with placemaking. However, throughout this dissertation, we have deconstructed placemaking to the “making of meaningful and valuable places.” As a result, we have established that meaning and

addresses this notion in the following excerpt, almost all of Whiteread’s sculptures are cast from objects relating to the human body: the cupboards, mattresses, baths, sinks, shelves, hot-water bottles, floorboards, rooms. They are the kind of banal, household things we use or move about everyday and yet they have an intimate bond with our private lives.

value, comes from these “bonds” (i.e. place attachment,

Whiteread has the ability to shed light on these ordinary

place identity and place memory) people share with

objects which we encounter in our day to day lives. This

places, as well as with each other.

choice of subject matter, inevitably draws a connection between her work and a wide audience. These sculptures

Therefore the challenge for this chapter is to explore the

push us to reconsider objects, which we most often take

potential of the artist, in this case Rachel Whiteread, to

for granted. Elliot (2001, p.9) goes on to further discuss

become a ‘place maker.’ The conclusion will be drawn


from an exploration of Whiteread’s work in relation to their ability to foster or discourage these bonds. This chapter will investigate two of Whiteread’s work, House (temporary work) and Nameless Library Holocaust Memorial (permanent work).

we share ourselves with these things, both literally and metaphorically. An emptied bath carries the sloughed off skin, hair and grime from our bodies, while a stained mattress declares a range of possibilities, from sickness to passion. Whiteread’s unique ability to foster connections

Rachel Whiteread is an internationally recognised artist.

between her work and her audience is the reason she

According to Jones (2001, p.7), ‘Whiteread first came

was chosen for this dissertation. One can argue that

to the attention of the wider audience when she showed

most artists foster connections between people and their

Ghost (refer to Fig 2) - a plaster cast of the interior of a

work, however within Whiteread’s art-making process,

room - at the Chisenhale Gallery in London in 1990.’

this connection is central.

She studied at Brighton Polytechnic and at the Slade School of Art, and was described as a ‘slightly separate

According to Elliott (2001, p.9), ‘the things she has

figure... she was never part of the social whirl that was

cast have a human scale and dimension, reflecting

the hallmark of the 1990’s London art scene.’

their function. They are metaphors for our own lives and bodies.’ Whiteread’s creative vision also centres on

Her work practice follows a very traditional way, ‘using

creating work that literally “matches” our bodies. Elliott

casting techniques which date back several hundreds

(2001) accounts how conversations between Whiteread

of years.’ However, what sets Whiteread apart, is her

and the material manufacturers have led to improbable

interesting choice of subject matter. Elliot (2001, p.9)

requests: ‘ “try to make it the colour of piss in the


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

Fig 2. Rachel Whiteread, Ghost, 1990. The Saatchi Gallery London. Plaster on steel frame, (270 x 336 x 317cm). Photo by: Unknown (Corrin, L. et al. 2001).


morning”; “make it the colour of semen”; “I want it to

of place, or more importantly a sense of belonging to

look like bone”. This exactitude and determination to

place? Does it have the potential to mediate these bonds

get the right materials typify Whiteread’s approach.’

between people and place (i.e. place attachment, place identity and place memory)? These questions will be

Apart from the aesthetics, Whiteread also fosters

addressed in the last few sections of this chapter.

this strong connection with her audience through the themes she addresses in her work. Corrin (2001)

Fostering a connection with place is not a foreign

writes, ‘her work reveals traces of our humanity and

concept to Whiteread’s work. In fact, according to

the passage of time, and most profoundly, the cold fact

Schliekler (2001), ‘the relationship to our direct

of our mortality.’ Memory and the past is a key theme

domestic environment and its emotional resonance is

she explores within her work. Her sculpture Yellow Leaf

characteristic of all of Whiteread’s work.’ In addition,

1989 (refer to Fig 3), a cast of the space underneath

Corrin (2001) points out that, ‘our physical relationship



to Whiteread’s work inflects and compresses the

grandmother owned, is a testament to this. Her work is

experience of our physical relationship to our

autobiographical in nature, however it acquires a wider





potency, due to the fact that it is a memory most of us can relate to.

It can be inferred that concepts of place have been

Elliott (2001, p.10) accounts,

considered throughout Whiteread’s art-making process.

We may not be able to remember much of what our grandparents said or did, but odd things stick in our mind and come to embody a person and place: the curtain material, the highbacked armchair, the smell of stew, the ritual of the yellow leaf. The sculpture itself stands as a monument to such childhood memories and particularly feelings of community. Her work triggers memories, not just her own, but more importantly collective memories. Whiteread’s work has the ability to connect with her audience beyond face value. The everyday objects depicted in her work do not discriminate. Therefore it is established that Whiteread’s art-making process is grounded on fostering a connection with her audience. However, for the purpose of this dissertation, can her work be considered placemaking? Can it foster a sense 26

However, the challenge for this dissertation is to draw on the theoretical framework of placemaking, which was established in the previous chapters and evaluate the potential of her work to be considered placemaking. The aim for this section is to explore the potential of public art, to foster a sense of place as well as, a sense of belonging. In order to draw a conclusion, we will be closely studying two of Whiteread’s public sculptures (i.e. House and Nameless Library). The methodology chosen for this exploration will be using the previously stated bonds (i.e. place attachment, place memory or place identity) as the foundation for each investigation.

Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

Fig 3. Yellow Leaf, 1990. CAMJAP, Lisbon. Plaster, formica and wood, (73.7 x 150 x 94cm). Photo by: Unknown (Corrin, L. et al. 2001).


Fig 4. House, 1993. Grove Road, London. Front elevation showing the concrete- casted windows and doors. Photo by: Unknown (Corrin, L. et al. 2001).


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

House (temporary work) 193 Grove Road, London E3, 1993 Description House (refer to Fig 4), is a temporary public sculpture in the East End borough of London. It was completed on October 25 , 1993 and is one of Rachel Whiteread’s most renown and ambitious works. The sculpture is a unpolished concrete cast of a modest Victorian terraced house. Schlieker (2001) describes, ‘covering every corner, wall, staircase and window with sprayed concrete and then peeling away the actual ‘skin’ of the building. House became a life-size, negative mirror image of the tangible, air-filled spaces that were once inhabited’ (refer to Fig 5). This concrete sculpture is a ‘negative mirror’ image of a quintessentially British house. However through Whiteread’s art process, she was able to shed new light on this seemingly ordinary subject matter. Lingwood (1995 p.9) writes, ‘close to the textures of the cast, the indentations of domestic details invited contemplations of the interior life the house once had. ‘


Fig 5. Progress shot of the making of House. All the walls of the old Victorial terraced house was sprayed with concrete. Photo by: John Davies (Lingwood 1995).


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study


Fig 6. Second progress shot of the making of House. The concrete was left to dry and set within the walls of the Terraced house, before the walls were carefully peeled back. Photo by: John Davies (Lingwood 1995).


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study


Fig 7. High angle shot of House, showing the surrounding context. Rows of similar terraced houses used to run along this area. Now the sculpture stands in isolation, a memorial to what was once a dense residential area. Photo by: Philip Grisewood (GrisewoodIllustration).


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study


Fig 8. Night shot of House. It was lit from beneath, creating this sense of grandeur and it also highlighted the concrete details of the facade. Photo by: Unknown (Independent).


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

Interpretation of The Bonds

However, this would have only been limited to the local community, who was aware of its history. Therefore,

Place memory is a key bond which Whiteread explores

this investigation calls for a much closer look at this

in this work. As it was defined in the previous chapter,


this bond is fostered through shared or collective memories. House promotes an immediate connection

The Victorian terraced house is a significant element

to place due to its obvious choice of subject matter, but

of the British urban landscape. Whiteread (1994)

also where it was situated. House’s location is outlined in

comments how her work, ‘transforms the space of the

the following excerpt (Schlieker 2001, p.59),

private and domestic into the public - a mute memorial

Once a rough, working-class area this East End borough has been gradually gentrified over the last few years. Part of a row of condemned buildings, Whiteread’s House was the last one left standing and thus deliberately foreshadowed the changing history of this part of London. It can be inferred that the sculpture stood as a testament to the local history of this part of London. What once was a place that was filled with rows of similarly built houses was now empty. With Whiteread’s sculpture the only one ‘left standing’, becoming a memorial to the past. The politics of this location, brought about notions of memory and nostalgia. Massey (1995 p. 37) writes, ‘memory and nostalgia are active forces precisely in the constitution of communal identifications and political subjectiveness.’ The community had such a strong emotional response to this work. ‘In articles, in interviews, in letters to newspapers, people talk of the sculpture, bringing back memories.’ It’s location alone

to the spaces we have lived in, to everyday existence and the importance of the home.’ Whiteread’s reference to her work as a, ‘mute memorial’ to the importance of the ‘home’, automatically invokes a connection with her audience. It triggers the emotions and memories we associate with our home. This sculpture enables us to foster a connection with our most intimate domestic environment. In addition, place identity is another bond explored in this work. In this case, it is the identity of the person, in which fosters this connection to place. How one interprets and makes associations with his environment, in relation to personal identity. Massey (2001) writes how, turning the space inside out which ‘defamilarises’ it. ‘And in achieving that, it challenges us to put our own meanings on them. It is not merely physical space which it turns inside out, but the whole burden of meaning and metaphor which this space has to so often carry.’

enabled a connection to form between the community and this place, by triggering the memories associated with the local history.


Whiteread’s work allows the audience to form connections with her work to their own homes. Which in turn, promotes this sense of place. To be able to make associations between the sculpture and with one’s personal memories/ experiences of their own homes, allows for this feeling of belonging.

Evaluation: Can it be considered placemaking? Through the deconstruction of placemaking throughout this dissertation, and from the reasons stated above, House does have the potential to be considered a placemaking, since it fulfils the criteria of placemaking we have set up earlier on. It does foster a sense of place as well as, a sense of belonging. What Whiteread allowed the audience to do, is to make connections with their own personal environments, by triggering these bonds, which were based on memory and identity.


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

Fig 9. Elevation shot of Nameless Library. The sculpture is situated in the middle of Judenplatz Plaza, its repetitive aesthetic mimics the surrounding buildings. However, it’s minimalist concrete facade allows for this interesting juxtaposition. Photo By: Unknown (Wordpress)


Nameless Library Holocaust Memorial (Permanent Work) Judenplatz, Vienna, 2000

the physical environment is reflected in the realisation of the memorial. The residential nature of the Judenplatz square, highly


influenced the aesthetic of the memorial. Shlieker (2001, p.60) details,

The Nameless Library (fig...) is a permanent public work situated in Vienna’s Judenplatz, the city’s old Jewish centre. It was once the site of one of the largest Jewish synagogue in Europe and is enriched with layers of Jewish history. Whiteread won the commission for this memorial in January 1996. This specific public work is

Whiteread’s ‘library’ displays details such as ceiling rose, cornices and panelled double doors, ubiquitous features of these nineteenth - century bourgeois (middleclass) interiors. Thus the typical room size of a Judenplatz apartment... became the benchmark for its human scale.

unique and stands in contrast with the typical works

The memorial measures at 3.8m high, 7m wide and 10m

found in Whiteread’s portfolio. Whiteread (1996)

long. However, what catches the audience’s attention is

comments on the relationship between House and the

the shelves of books that cover its four walls. The front

Nameless Library: ‘The difference between House... and

wall has two panelled doors that are sealed shut. The

the Judenplatz monument is that House was in effect

plinth has inscriptions in German, English and Hebrew.

a private sculpture being made public “by default”

Moreover, engraved in this concrete base is the names of

(as a result of its scale and visibility). The Judenplatz

the 41 concentration camps where Austrian Jews died

monument is from inception bound up in history and

(refer to Fig 10).

politics.’ Shlieker (2001, p.61) further explains, unlike any of her other public commissions, the Vienna memorial carries the challenge and the burden of permanence. And also in contrast to the previous work, it is not cast from a ‘found’ object, an existing room or situation, but is constructed entirely of elements emerging from the artist’s imagination and thought. Whiteread’s vision for the memorial was an inverted library made entirely of concrete. According to Shlieker (2001) Whiteread’s work, ‘quarries the notions of interiority with such determination and poetic clarity.’ Therefore, the small and intimate scale of Judenplatz was an appropriate envelop for Whiteread’s artistic approach. Since Whiteread’s public sculptures always respond to their context, the surrounding features of 40

Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

Fig 10. Detail shot of Nameless Library. The concrete plinth is inscribed with the 41 concentration camps where 65,000 Austrian Jews died. Photo By: Unknown (Wordpress)


Fig 11. Perspective shot of Nameless Library. The concrete books were positive cast, as opposed to Whiteread’s signature negative-casting technique. This was a strategic decision to ensure legibility. As well as to essentially “add” to the overall sense of place and belonging. Photo By: Unknown (Wordpress)


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study


Fig 12. Second perspective shot of Nameless Library. The plinth also served as seating for the community. It enabled them to sit, relax and remeber those who have passed. Photo by: Unknown (Flickr).


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study


Fig 13. Front Elevation shot of Nameless Library. The sealed double doors symbolise this end of a significant chapter in the Jewish lives. 65,000 lives lost. Photo by: Unknown (Flickr).


Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study


Interpretation of Bonds

in history, where thousands of Jewish people lost their lives. In addition, there exists a dynamic interpretation

Place identity is the first bond that is explored within

of Jewish culture within her work, especially since

this work. As mentioned in the previous chapter, place

Whiteread comes from a non-Jewish background. She

identity can be formed in two different ways. The

does not have any personal connections to this period

Nameless Library explores both dimensions. The first

in time. However, through extensive research and her

dimension is the bond formed, when a person’s own

own personal reflection, a meaningful piece of art was

identity (i.e. conscious and unconscious ideas, beliefs,

formed. Gruber (2002, p.27) explains:

preferences, feelings, etc.) is reflected within their

Today in Europe the public idea of Jewish culture- or what is “Jewish”- is shaped very much from the outside as well as from within the Jewish community... Jewish identity as often as no ends up advancing in the minds of a non-Jewish rather than a Jewish audience.

physical environment. This notion is clearly evident in Whiteread’s use of books within her memorial. Shlieker (2001 p.60) explains how, Whiteread was familiar with the distinguishing appellation of Jewish people as ‘people of the book’. According to Jewish belief, the book epitomises heritage and endurance in the face of displacement and Diaspora; it is seen as a symbol of sanctuary for Jewish learning and for the continuance of tradition. The memorial’s use of the book symbology, forms this intimate bond with the Jewish people. The significance of this memorial, is its ability to identify with the collective, to create this sense of belonging. Shlieker (2001) writes, ‘the memorial’s shelves are filled with seemingly endless copies of the same book, a reference to the vast number of victims and their life stories.’ One can argue, that it is the identity of the Jewish people,

Therefore it can be deduced, that Whiteread’s memorial fosters a connection with its audience, both Jewish and non- Jewish, through a holistic exploration of place identity. Place memory is the second bond Whiteread explores with this memorial. As previously discussed, this bond is based on this notion of collective memory. In this case it explores a significant time in modern history, the Holocaust. This memorial was built to commemorate the 65,000 Austrian Jews who died in Vienna or in concentration camps under the National Socialist

that which materialises Whiteread’s vision.


The second dimension of place identity refers to this

The inscriptions of the names of the concentration

notion of ‘genius loci’, which as stated in the previous chapter, refers to the spirit of a place. It is when a place evokes similar responses within people. This dimension of place identity, would be true for the case of non-Jewish people, who visit this memorial. For the non-Jewish, this memorial stands as a reflection of that significant period 48

camps are the most obvious memory triggers. These inscriptions are by far, the only identifiable element that is typical of memorial conventions. However, Whiteread’s unique artistic style mediates the past through a much more complex interplay of elements within the sculpture.

Chapter 3: Rachel Whiteread, A Case Study

The first element that is significant in Whiteread’s work

Virilio (1994) in the following extract:

is this use of books. According to Storr (2000), the books are associated with ‘Vienna’s cultural heritage (books written by Viennese Jews); an archive in which each book represents the history of an individual or family; and history books that tell of Austrian Jewish destiny under Nazi tyranny. In addition, Shlieker (2001) writes, ‘the memorial’s shelves are filled with seemingly endless copies of the same book, a reference to the vast number of victims and their life stories; books now forever closed.’ There exists an interpretive challenge, like all of Whiteread’s sculptures. She allows room for imagination for her audience. The minimalist and abstract nature of the books are a creative device she employs in order to let her audience, in some way, “fill in the blanks.” Therefore the figure of the book, becomes, ‘a motif that not only conjures associations with Jewish scripture, culture and learning, but also the book as the traditional medium of memory’ (Bauman, 2002 p.199). Apart from the books, reading the memorial as a whole is another way of interpreting Whiteread’s sculpture. During the design phase, Whiteread was influenced by bunkers she encountered when she went to Normandy. Rose (1997, p.31) accounts, ‘one of the typological forms that inspired the memorial were the bunkers that make up the Atlantic wall’, she was fascinated with how these fortifications were constructed. The memorial does not aim to duplicate the bunkers aesthetics, Whiteread was more interested in what it stood for. As Hatton (1996, p.31) has observed, ‘the word bunker in English can mean, store as well as shelter: it can keep in as well as out.’ This image of the bunker is further explored by

In the middle of courtyards and gardens...their blind, low mass and rounded profile were out of tune with the urban environment... as though subterranean civilisation had sprung up from the ground. This architecture’s modernness was encountered by its abandoned, decrepit appearance. These objects had been left behind, colourless; their grey cement relief was silent witness to a warlike climate. Virilio’s words can easily be used to describe Whiteread’s memorial. Nameless Library encompasses the spirit of a bunker. The memorial can be seen as this ‘silent witness’, fearlessly protecting the memories of the Holocaust. As well as, taking cue from its surrounding context, the aesthetics of the memorial is still ‘out of tune with the urban environment.’ The sculpture seems to interrupt the site lines within this picturesque Vienna backdrop. In addition, its pale concrete finish, stands in contrast with the rich stucco facades that surround it. This contrast creates a dynamic interplay between the memorial and its surrounding context, creating a sense of place. In addition, Whiteread’s unique ability to turn buildings “inside-out” is clearly evident in the memorial’s deconstruction of a bourgeois interior. Shlieker (2001, p.61) writes, ‘the library appears to be exhaled from the surrounding houses . A private place for contemplation and learning, its emotional force, as always with Whiteread, is restrained, dignified and elegiac.’ This creative move adds to this dynamic relationship with the surrounding context. Whiteread creates a unique sense of place place, that appears to shift between the 49

public and private realm. Carley (2010) comments on how, ‘it functions as a perennial reminder that interiors are repositories for grave secrets and buried memories, hidden behind even the most picturesque of facades.’ Therefore it can be concluded that the bonds (i.e. place identity and place memory) are evidently explored in Nameless Library. Whiteread’s unique ability to foster a connection with her audience, within this sculpture was successful in the way she allowed her audience to interpret their own meaning, thus forming their own connections. Carley (2010) writes, ‘Whiteread’s memorial refuses to do our memory work for us and utilises formal strategies that function as an analogue for a process of identification that operates in mourning.’

Evaluation: Can it be considered placemaking? Through the deconstruction of placemaking throughout this dissertation, and from the reasons stated above, Nameless Library does have the potential to be considered placemaking. Since it fulfils the criteria of placemaking we have set up earlier on. It does foster a sense of place, through the dynamic relationship formed with the surrounding Viennese backdrop. While a sense of belonging was created through the connections, Whiteread made with both Jewish and Non-Jewish audience. Whiteread’s sculpture allowed the audience to foster these connections with their own personal environments, by triggering these bonds, which were based on memory and identity.


Conclusion This dissertation was set up to examine the dynamic

the world they live in. Public art enhances the public

relationship between placemaking and public art. More

realm aesthetically, as well promote meanings that are

so, to evaluate the potential of public art to “make

associated to its context. In particular, site-specific

places” for the community. Through a deconstruction

art heavily integrates the context (e.g symbolic, social

of the term ‘placemaking’, several key points were

and political meanings) of a site. Public art’s ability to

established which aided in setting up the theoretical

manifest/materialise contextual meaning, promotes it

framework for the evaluation.

within the community. These meanings are also, in turn preserved for future generations. It claims to provide

Initially, the most important feature of a place, is that it

aesthetic, economic and social benefits. Therefore public

is a space that has invested meaning and value. Meaning

art proves to be an important asset of our public spaces.

and value comes from this dynamic relationship between people and place. Since placemaking is essentially an

In regards to its potential in placemaking, it’s established

action or a process, for the purpose of this dissertation,

that public art can create a sense of place. It mediates

it was this dynamic transformation of a space into a

this connection between people and place through an

place, which defined what placemaking was for this

artistic interpretation of context, Rachel Whiteread’s


art-making process is a testament to this claim.

It is people, who invest meaning and value into a space,

The second half of the investigation draws on how

therefore establishing this connection is the first step of

public art can create a sense of belonging. Belonging is

placemaking. In addition, placemaking is not just this

this feeling of inclusion, to be part of a whole. A sense of

relationship between people and place, it’s also about

belonging is developed by forming relationships with the

establishing connections between people within these

environment. Therefore this dissertation has established

places. Therefore, fostering these key societal values of

the key bonds; place attachment, place identity and

memory and identity is key to promoting a ‘sense of

place memory, which formed the framework for the

belonging’, which is the second step of placemaking.

evaluation of Rachel Whiteread’s work. All three bonds rely on an investment of meaning and value. Whether

This deconstruction of the idea of place and

it be through emotional connections or bond based

placemaking, allowed the investigation to move beyond

on identity or collective memory, essentially all bonds

the boundaries of architecture and into the realm of

form meaningful connections between people and their

public art. The parameters of this investigation draw on


the theoretical linkage between placemaking, public art, collective memory and identity.

Rachel Whiteread’s key works, House and Nameless Library, provided this dissertation with a platform,

Artists have this unique ability to give form to the most

to test these bonds and to fulfil the aim of this

pervasive ideas of society, their work is a reflection of

investigation (i.e. evaluate the potential of public art to 51

make places). Since, Whiteread had never associated her work with placemaking, it was the accepted challenge for this dissertation. To draw on the deconstructed and established notions in the earlier chapters and put them to the test, proved to be a rewarding experience. Whiteread’s work was viewed from a new perspective. Her unique art-making process, fostered connections between people and place as well as with each other. Her exploration of the key themes of memory and identity proved to foster a sense of place, as well as a sense of belonging. Therefore, for the purpose of this dissertation, it can be concluded that, public art does have the potential to make places for the community. ‘It reminds me of when we were kids. It’s a statement of how things used to be. I grew up in a house like that. I expect she [Whiteread] has a different interpretation, but it’s how you see it isn’t it? It’s like going to the moon.’ - Henry Daly, a local builder who was asked what he thought about House. (Blundy, 1993)


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Public Art & Placemaking  

UNSW Bachelor of Interior Architecture

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