The Papers: Analysis of a Place

You may ask yourself, "Well, how did I get here?"

                               -Talking Heads

Within the ill-hallowed casino halls of Las Vegas, no clocks adorn the walls.  Knowing the time would only give gamblers a reason to sleep rather than continue with another round of blackjack; Las Vegas casinos, for all their decor, design their casinos so as to keep players playing--and the House always wins.  The modern movie theater was designed with air conditioning; at the the time, movie houses were the only location blowing cold air during the hot summers.  Electronic stores have grouped their items by individual category; furniture dealers set up rooms with entirely different pieces: DVD players and computers sell with greater frequency when positioned side by side for an easy comparison of feature while a row of sofas lacks the nuance and atmosphere of intimate bedrooms which may resemble your own furniture arrangements.    

In this assignment you are to go a single location, familiar or entirely new, and analyze the space.  Note any points of interest, such as color scheme, layout, demography, geography, purpose, etc.

Although your studied location may be familiar, be wary of it being an intimate space.  Avoid using your dorm room, your childhood home, or church.  These spaces will likely lack planned trends or careful marketing.  Furthermore, your place must be a physical place-not the still, quiet place in your mind, for instance, or Middle Earth-because you will need to go there for part of the assignment.

The point of this assignment is to make interpretations and connections between these observations and an overall schema of the location, and then analyze why.  Merely describing a place helps locate important aspects of it but cannot provide insight by itself.  Insight comes from the analysis of the parts of the place and how they work together to give the place its significance, meaning, function, and overall profile. A classic example is noting that milk is usually located at the back of a grocery store; this placement is not dependent on the ease in which refrigeration can be installed but rather because milk is a necessity, and if customers pass by other isles of products on the way to the milk, they are more likely to be enticed to buy such products, thereby increasing store profit. 

To ask "What does a place mean?" may sound like a strange question. But this is essentially what you will be doing, or, perhaps, it is more accurate to say that you are asking, "How does a place mean?"

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Watch a film clip from the film High Fidelity

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