The co-construction of spatial memory: Enriching architectural histories of 'ordinary' buildings

Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Fabrications, 2014, 24 (2), pp. 178 - 197 (18)
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While the disciplines of oral history and architectural history are beginning to engage with the expansive possibilities for oral testimony in relation to architecture, the question of how spatial memory operates in an interview is yet to receive thorough attention. Earlier approaches combining oral history and architecture tended to focus on interviewing architects. This research takes a different tack, interviewing workers about their experiences of working life, and, in the process, discovering that the their narratives often have strong spatial and architectural specificity. Interviews with former printworkers about their memories of the NSW Government Printing Office in Sydney uncovered a wealth of spatial and architectural content embedded within workers recollections. The interview is also a site where meaning is made. Accordingly, this paper explores how, through oral history, a co-construction of spatial memory is produced between the interviewer and the interviewee, resulting in a mnemonic spatial reconstruction of architectural space. The results recover detailed accounts of much-loved fig trees, painted-on doors and dysfunctional woodblock floors, to name but a few. This method of charting architectural memories has important implications for how we interpret the architectural histories of oft-ignored institutional buildings, and it highlights disparities between `official concepts related to modernist factory buildings and the lived experiences of workers.
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