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11:30  Liminality of Porches

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This paper will provide a structured examination of implied symbolic and functional liminal qualities of porches and similar features of heritage buildings and sites. The primary goal will be to provide a basis for making critical assessments of related intangible factors of potential significance associated with porch-like features of heritage buildings and archaeological sites. Presentation topics will include an examination of how these porch-like features have long served as extended thresholds to deftly straddle transitional zones betwixt and between more private and more public spaces. How, for example, have ramadas long served as critical liminal spaces for daily activities in indigenous structures in the American Southwest, and how can archeological postmold evidence provide insights into the presence, uses and meanings of similar features elsewhere in North America and beyond? How also have porches and perrons of cathedrals and churches long served to bridge sacred and secular realms as liminal spaces for observances of important quasi-religious rituals and traditions? 

The paper will also explore how various characteristic designs have employed forms and markers that embody liminality to extend symbolic messages. For example, how monumental porticoes and grand colonnades may imply power and authority, while verdant verandas and rustic piazzas may imply comfort and continuity. And, indeed, how has the porch served as a tangible metaphor for the liminal tensions between the thirst for connections and the fears of loneliness and security that characterize so much of the human social experience? 

The third topic will consider how the concept of controlled liminality may be used to better understand how physical dimensions, location, orientation, and furnishings of porches and porch-like features have spawned and supported highly nuanced rituals, social behaviours and significant cultural traditions that otherwise would be difficult to achieve, especially in stratified societies. Notions of “porch manners” and “piazza etiquette,” for example, will be explored as venues for better understanding dimensions of complex cultural heritage contexts. The final topic of the paper will return to the introductory theme by examining how the addition of porches to buildings became a popular fad in North America during the nineteenth century; how the removal of existing porches served as a tangible social statement of the twentieth century; and how cultural changes during the recent past have altered uses and perceptions of this important liminal space. 

The findings of this historical research are based on my analysis of an extensive corpus of field data gathered through direct observations, interviews, and photo-documentation of numerous heritage sites across Canada and the United States, coupled with historical research utilizing primary and secondary archival sources conducted at major university libraries and museums in Quebec and the United States. Pictorial evidence has also been gathered through detailed analyses hundreds of historic photographs, important examples of which will be included in the conference presentation. Further insights into cross-cultural and interdisciplinary perspectives on liminality and cultural heritage have been gained through extensive readings and research drawn from the domains of diaries and journals, newspaper articles, novels, travelogues, sketches, art, poetry, songs, recollections, builders’ guides, women’s magazines, home economics texts, and home improvement books and magazines, as well as from scholarly articles and books.

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