Author: Howard Mansfield

Publisher: Bauhan Publishing, 2013

ISBN: 978-87233-167-9

Howard Mansfield begins with this premise: “When we live heart and soul we dwell.” [Today] “We have ‘housing’ without dwellings.” He uses history to explain our loss. After bringing the campfire inside, and then entombing it in a box, and finally moving it to the basement, we began to long for those nights around a flickering flame. Someone even invented fireplace mantles for radiators in homes, recognizing the market for nostalgia. Mansfield cautions how everyday decisions and assumptions about Progress determine how we will live in the future. Electricity has had unintended consequences: Except for listening to the radio (“a violation of Dwelling”), we no longer gather together in one room; we disperse to our separate spaces to watch TV, read, write, play video games. By our brilliant lamplight, we lost the shadows, which were calming retreats. More recently, getting our clutter organized has been better news for the merchants of closets and boxes than it has been for us. He counsels: Just live. In his own New Hampshire town, neighbors recognized that straight, new sidewalks are safe but boring and disconnected them from a New England tradition of meandering on footpaths. They acted to find a compromise.

This prolific essayist (with several books, and many articles in prestigious magazines), stands out in the elite crowd of writers concerned about a sense of place. Mansfield’s not a trained architect or urban planner; he is by nature and practice an avid historic preservationist and cultural historian. It is not aesthetics that informs his narratives; it is sensitivity to human needs; it is compassion; and ethics. He makes us look at ordinary things differently. His measure for successful housing is: “Are the people here dreaming well?”

The most astonishing feature of this book is its politically charged center. Between chapters on relatively benign subjects that make us reflective and help us laugh at ourselves, are three powerful sections on “de-housing,” specifically, our nation’s efforts to deprive our enemies in World War II of their secure homes, to set them into the streets, “to break the spirits of the people.” He writes about our bombs that won the war and left tens of thousands of families homeless. Then, when these ruined towns were rebuilt, they were stripped of meaning by Modernism, made by and for machines; and rampant technology eliminated our sense of time.

I was only halfway through this book when I began to quote from it. It is strong stuff and goes deep. It should be on every thoughtful citizen’s “must read” list.

*The book will be available in September 2013.

Follow Here To Purchase Dwelling in Possibility: Searching for the Soul of Shelter

Check Out Some Great Deals On