Meaningful spaces

The Meaning of Home, by Edwin Heathcote, Frances Lincoln, RRP£12.99, 192 pages

Edwin Heathcote, the FT’s architecture critic, sets out to answer a fundamental question: “What does a home mean?” Part architectural criticism, part social anthropology, his book is a delightfully imaginative study of the symbolic significance that people have attached to floors, ceilings, cellars, attics and everything in between. “The most mundane of houses,” Heathcote insists, “can carry within it memories and layers of culture.”

His survey darts nimbly from Roman villas to Russian dachas, with a field of reference that embraces Walter Benjamin, Alfred Hitchcock and Hieronymus Bosch. There are some rather lofty assertions – that “dwelling is both place and process”, for example, or that “the hall, to paraphrase Sartre, is other people”. But these are evened out by Heathcote’s encyclopedic eye for detail – for the corners and crevices of his subject. Who knew that Wittgenstein played a crucial role in the development of the modern door handle?

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