On Dwelling and Creative Practice

Building Fragments

On an alternative reading of the architectural implications of Heidegger’s concept of dwelling.


Aidan Williams is an early career researcher at the University of Dundee. After graduating with a Masters in architecture with distinction in 2009 he began working towards his doctorate.  In 2011 he was awarded the Edinburgh University ‘Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities’ Postgraduate Writing-Up Prize and he has spoken at various art, architecture, and philosophy conferences around Britain.

His research explores the physical and emotional sense of belonging to place with particular emphasis on a re-evaluation of Heidegger’s concept of dwelling. This is carried out through creative practice involving sketches, montages, and models.



Heidegger’s primary focus in his later period was with the problem of emotional homelessness. In the wake of the post WWII housing shortages he perceived an increasing sense of alienation from place due to rapid technological and social changes. His essays on dwelling were a call to remember the ways in which we relate to place and find a sense of belonging.

Heidegger’s thought states that dwelling should not primarily be considered in its noun form where dwelling means a home, but in its verb from whereby the primary essence of our Being is dwelling. By dwelling we make places ‘near’ to us, these relationships are constructed in the ongoing process of day to day dwelling.

However, his philosophy states that we no longer build as though we are dwellers. The way in which we generally construct physical buildings is removed from the way we mentally construct nearness to meaningful places. This gulf is, in his view, the root of our feelings of alienation.

This thesis stresses the importance that Heidegger’s concept of poetry has on dwelling. This poetry emphasises that dwelling is an engaged, creative act of making places meaningful to ourselves. Heidegger’s work has often been discussed by architects but through the reading provided by this thesis we see that his work is often misunderstood.

The insight gained into dwelling through this thesis is arrived at through analysis of spatial experiences using creative practice. By thinking about spatial experience through sketches, montage, and models, Heidegger’s philosophy is explored in a way that links one’s inner appreciation of place with the external world.

These creative methods can be extrapolated into architectural theory to hypothesise a way in which we can build to enhance our innate dwelling character as opposed to suppressing it. Thus the strength of this research is not solely in a close reading of Heidegger. It is in an exploration of his ideas through physical examples and into architectural theory. This is required to bridge the existing gap that Heidegger says exists between our concepts of building and dwelling.


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