Under the term ‘spatiophilia’ I present the result of the photographic report that I’ve been conducting for a couple of years now, on how the concepts of space and place are perceived and used with communicative intent through the streets of Milano, Italy.


It was surprising for me when I recently typed the word ‘spatiophilia’ in the box of different web search engines, and, after I pushed enter, I got almost no results. Actually, I got two false positives from a book written in 1538 by Pietro Bembo, an Italian scholar and Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church: here, the algorithm of the search engine misplaced ‘spatiophilia’ for the bastard Latin-Italian expression ‘spatiosa sia’, which, in the original treatise, was written with a baroque style which could have deceived the algorithm.

I didn’t expect that: I was looking for a term, a single word, that could actually resume with a concise expression the ‘feeling for space’ in the sense of attachment for space, or, more generally, an expression to render the idea of attraction, bias, or proclivity that people have for space and its linguistic usage, in different contexts or situations, including daily routines. That was what resulted from the photographic report that I’m presenting here. After all, as proclaimed by Michel Foucault a few decades ago, the present epoch is ‘the epoch of space’;[1] therefore, the existence of that phenomenon — the conscious or even unconscious attraction that people have for space and its recurrent linguistic usage to account for the physical surrounding context (i.e., the circumambient world), especially —  seemed to me a well-diffused phenomenon, even outside the architectural domain. In the end, nothing bizarre, quite the contrary: it was bizarre to realize that nobody already took charge of describing that phenomenon using a particular or an apparently technical term like ‘spatiophilia’.[2] But I think there is an explanation for that. 

Slideshow (below): The unsuccessful query for the term ‘spatiophilia’ on different web search engines

All scholars who have some interest in the humanistic study of spatial/placial concepts have probably already understood what I want to say: ‘spatiophilia’ is here intended as the correlative expression or counterpart of ‘topophilia’, a well-known spatial term and concept since the ‘70s, when the Chinese-American geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, used it as the title of his fortunate, often-quoted book ‘Topophilia’ (1974), to describe ‘the affective bond between people and place’.[3] For the sake of precision, the term ‘topophilia’ was already used years before by Gaston Bachelard, in his ‘Poetics of Space’ (1957, the first French edition), and, a few times, by the British-American poet W. H. Auden, in his introduction to the book of poems by Sir John Betjeman ‘Slick but not Streamlined’ (1947). In Bachelard, as well as in Foucault — see note [1], above — there was a supreme ambiguity, if not an indistinguishable mixture between concepts of space and place, as also observed by the Australian philosopher Jeff Malpas.[4] Probably, so far, that was a good reason to include the term ‘space’ (and, therefore — I believe — the attraction that people have for the conception of space as well) within concepts derived from the old Greek root ‘topos’ (e.g., ‘topophilia‘, or even ‘topology‘, which is the study of the properties of mathematical space). But, as you probably know if you have read some articles of this website, I reject, more often than not, the possibility to understand space as a derivative notion (a synonymous) from ‘topos’: that is the root cause of many confusing and ambiguous interpretations regarding the concepts of space and place, in almost any domain of human knowledge. Without a specific study of the origins and histories of thoses spatial/placial notions — which is the route I’m following and proposing at RSaPRethinking Space and Place — it is impossible to disentangle their intricate interconnections. The fact that I use the term ‘spatiophilia’ as a counterpart of ‘topophilia’ means that ‘spatium’ and ‘topos’, here used as representative terms for ‘space’ and ‘place’, are very different concepts. Deeply related, but different; a relation of continuity and opposition I’d say. This means that ‘topos’ and derivative concepts cannot indifferently play the part or resume the sense of space or place, as it seems by reading Bachelard’s and Foucault’s narratives (but they are just the tip of the iceberg). Leaving aside for the moment the ambiguities behind Bachelard’s and Foucault’s spatial terminology, and accepting Tuan’s genuine intuition, if ‘topophilia’ is ‘the affective bond between people and place’, your guess is right: here, ‘spatiophilia’ is the correlated technical term to define the attraction, attachment, bias, or inclination — if not properly an affective bond or love, as the beautiful land art installation in the image below seems to suggest — that people have for space and its linguistic usage (I mean ‘space’ apart from its astronomical sense: in that case we speak of ‘spacephilia’, properly — see note [2]). 

Image 1: Spazio Amato (i.e., Loved Space), neon installation by the italian artist Massimo Uberti, Capalbio (GR), Italy, 2020 (Info: Hypermaremma.com).

Spatiophilia: Photographic Report on how the concepts of space (spazio) and place (luogo) are perceived and used with communicative intent through the streets of Milano

I wasn’t able to synthesize better, in other terms than ‘spatiophilia’, the result of the photographic report that I’m presenting in the galleries below — a report that I’ve been conducting for a couple of years now; I wanted to see how the concepts of space and place were perceived and used with communicative intent through the streets of Milano, my city of birth. Sometimes used interchangeably in the same context and with the same intent, sometimes not, there is an evident unbalance between the times the word space is used with respect to the word place. The attraction for ‘space’ — for its frequent linguistic usage — rather than ‘place’ to describe either a specific or generic environing/environmental situation especially (e.g., apartment rooms, shops, offices, showrooms, classrooms, buildings, theaters, parks, streets, squares, etc.) is tangible: as the 50 galleries of 300 images below show, the approximate ratio between the use of the two words is 5 to 1. That is: the word ‘space’ (in Italian, spazio) used in signs, billboards, shop windows, public warnings, street banners, description of activities, hand-writings, tags, stickers, etc. is five times more recurrent than the word ‘place’ (in Italian, luogo). This seems to be a clear indication that the mind of the modern man is space-biased, or spatially-oriented, rather than place-biased, or placially-oriented, which means that one tendency is more abstract than the other: we tend to think we are living in a domain of space, forgetting that, to begin with, the reality we live in is a concrete place-based realm or system. This (natural? induced?) tendency or bias that people have for space is what I mean here by ‘spatiophilia’. After all, in the past decades, this abstracting feeling or tendency towards the environment we live in has also been indirectly proved by the success of cognate conceptualizations like ‘non-places’ (Marc Augé) or ‘placelessness’ (Edward Relph), in social and political contexts, especially. At RSaP, I’m arguing that this spatially-biased, partial and abstracting vision of reality, if not contrasted by more concrete attitudes, is the root of dangerous distortions which affect some of the most important questions of our contemporary epoch — biological, environmental, social, political, and economic questions (not to mention architectural questions). These are questions inextricably connected to the way we think about reality — i.e., the surrounding environment — in terms of space and/or place, that is in terms of permeability/impermeability, presence/absence of limits, borders, boundaries, thresholds, or other liminal notions on which the meanings of place and space are also constructed. To tackle those relevant human questions with the most appropriate theoretical tools, we need to rethink space and place so that they can function as complementary concepts, in dynamic balance, one complemented by the other, encompassing the whole of reality in between concrete (placial) and abstract (spatial) aspects and values, without one aspect of reality cannibalizing the other, as it is especially evident in our contemporary epoch, where the sense of place has been buried in space or other recently-discovered hybrid domains.

To rethink space as place – and not the reverse, as in the early Modern Era…’ is the urgent task of many contemporary thinkers, the American philosopher Edward S. Casey noted,[5] indirectly pointing out the dangers behind traditional forms of spatial understanding and descriptions. The photographic report shows that the term ‘space’ is overused in various contexts where other terms (e.g., place, location, environment, atmosphere, room, park, shop, office, etc.) would be more appropriate to describe the situation or its qualitative, experiental character. The quite recent critical attention that scholars, researchers and practitioners are directing towards traditional and new spatial or placial terminology, e.g., using terms like ‘environment’, ‘bioregion’, ‘atmosphere’, ‘ambience’, for the description of physical contexts and backgrounds or situations can be seen as an indication of the ongoing shift of interest from the inherently abstract and neutral nature of space to the more concrete qualities of places and related concepts (see From Space to Place: A Necessary Paradigm Shift…).

Spatiophilia: Galleries

Gallery 01 (Images 01-06)

Gallery 02 (Images 07-12)

Gallery 03 (Images 13-18)

Gallery 04 (Images 19-24)

Gallery 05 (Images 25-30)

Gallery 06 (Images 31-36)

Gallery 07 (Images 37-42)

Gallery 08 (Images 43-48)

Gallery 09 (Images 49-54)

Gallery 10 (Images 55-60)

Gallery 11 (Images 61-66)

Gallery 12 (Images 67-72)

Gallery 13 (Images 73-78)

Gallery 14 (Images 79-84)

Gallery 15 (Images 85-90)

Gallery 16 (Images 91-96)

Gallery 17 (Images 97-102)

Gallery 18 (Images 103-108)

Gallery 19 (Images 109-114)

Gallery 20 (Images 115-120)

Gallery 21 (Images 121-126)

Gallery 22 (Images 127-132)

Gallery 23 (Images 133-138)

Gallery 24 (Images 139-144)

Gallery 25 (Images 145-150)

Gallery 26 (Images 151-156)

Gallery 27 (Images 157-162)

Gallery 28 (Images 163-168)

Gallery 29 (Images 169-174)

Gallery 30 (Images 175-180)

Gallery 31 (Images 181-186)

Gallery 32 (Images 187-192)

Gallery 33 (Images 193-198)

Gallery 34 (Images 199-204)

Gallery 35 (Images 205-210)

Gallery 36 (Images 211-216)

Gallery 37 (Images 217-222)

Gallery 38 (Images 223-228)

Gallery 39 (Images 229-234)

Gallery 40 (Images 235-240)

Gallery 41 (Images 241-246)

Gallery 42 (Images 247-252)

Gallery 43 (Images 253-258)

Gallery 44 (Images 259-264)

Gallery 45 (Images 265-270)

Gallery 46 (Images 271-276)

Gallery 47 (Images 277-282)

Gallery 48 (Images 283-288)

Gallery 49 (Images 289-294)

Gallery 50 (Images 295-300)


[1] In a manuscript prepared for a conference held in Tunis, in 1967, at the Cercle d’études architecturales,  and later published and translated into English with the title ‘Of Other Spaces’, Michel Foucault wrote: ‘The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space.’ In Michel Foucault, ‘Of Other Spaces’, Diacritics, Spring 1986, 22.

I must point out that in that brief essay, it is difficult to disentangle concepts of space and place, which are indiscriminately included within the term ‘topos’ and derived terminology (e.g., utopias, heterotopias). It seems ‘topos’ takes it all. For me, that is a limit in Foucault’s otherwise-interesting analysis of space and place (heterotopology or heterotopoanalysis), as also observed Edward Casey in The Fate of Place: ‘heterotopology… harbours three problems. First, Foucault nowhere makes a clear, much less a rigorous distinction between such basic terms as “place”, “space”, “location” and “site”. As a consequence, these terms are often run together or interchanged indifferently…’  In Edward Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997),300.

[2] Of course, immediately after the search for ‘spatiophilia’, I wanted to see if there could be some ‘more popular’ variations of the same concept: so, I typed the less-fascinating, but certainly more popular word ‘spacephilia’, and, as I expected, I found a lot of results concerning different Institutions and individuals who have an attraction or attachment for astronomical space. In addition to the attraction for space in the astronomical sense, I found one Instagram account of an Interior Design Company presenting some zenithal images of tables and chairs with their respective measures to see the extent that people need to move around tables and chairs (the floor-space or area taken up by furniture is the ‘ABC’ of architects and house-planners). So, in the end, even the more popular term ‘spacephilia’ did not give me the indications I was looking for. 

 [3] Yi-Fu Tuan, Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 4.

[4] ‘… many of the discussions of place in the existing literature suggest that the notion is not at all clearly defined. Concepts of place are often not distinguished at all from notions of simple physical location, while sometimes discussions that seem implicitly to call upon notions of place refer explicitly only to a narrower concept of space. Is Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, for example, really about place or space?’, in Jeff Malpas, Place and Experience: A philosophical Topography (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 19.

[5] Edward Casey, The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), 309.

Works Cited

Casey, Edward. The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Foucault, Michel. ‘Of Other Spaces’, in Diacritics, Spring 1986. 

Malpas, Jeff. Place and Experience: A philosophical Topography. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. New York: Columbia University Press, 1974.

Image Credits

Featured Image and all other images in the Slideshow and the Galleries above by Alessandro Calvi Rollino, CC BY-NC-SA.

Image 1 (source) Spazio Amato, installation, on insideart.eu

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