Book Review: Places of the Heart by Colin Ellard

Places of the Heart by Colin Ellard Review

You know a book was worth reading when you finish with four pages stuffed full of notes. That was exactly the case for me when I read Colin Ellard’s Places of the Heart.

Ellard’s ode to built and natural spaces is crammed full of fascinating nuggets of research, as well as personal anecodotes from the author’s experiences.

Whilst reading this book, you truly get a sense of Ellard’s excitement in what he writes about. Ellard is able to make his research methods sound as exciting as the results of his studies.

Of all the places Ellard writes about in this book, the one I’m most intrigued to see is actually his research lab!


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You Are Here
by Colin Ellard

Ellard’s earlier work, subtitled Why We Can Find Our Way to the Moon, But Get Lost in the Mall, talks about how in the age of Sat Navs we are more spatially disconnected than ever before.

Welcome to Your World
by Sarah Williams Goldhagen

This book, written by an architecture critic, looks at how built space influences our lives. Colin Ellard recommended this book when we interviewed him.

The Great Indoors
by Emily Anthes

Colin Ellard also recommended this new book by Emily Anthes when we interviewed him. In the book, Anthes explores the influence of design on our health and happiness.


The middle chapters are especially absorbing. Ellard divides these central chapters into themes: Places of Affection, Places of Lust, Boring Places (much more interesting than it sounds!), Places of Anxiety, and Places of Awe.

Whilst I’m convinced that reading all of the chapters provides a greater understanding of the power of space, my personal favourites were Places of Lust and Places of Anxiety.

Read our interview with Colin Ellard here

In the chapter on Places of Lust, you might expect a solacious exposé of bedroom design, but lust stretches far beyond this definition. Ellard talks about the thrill of crime and the adrenaline rush of the theme park as equally tapping into our lustful desires.

He also talks about how certain environments, such as casinos, are expertly designed to manipulate our need for lust – often against our better interests.

Places of the Heart: The psychogeography of everyday life by Colin Ellard

In the later chapter on Places of Anxiety, Ellard again expands on the influence environments exert on individuals.

Particularly fascinating in this chapter is Ellard’s own research, conducted in Mumbai, India. He found that people don’t always realise how stressed they are.

For example, he found that local residents would report feeling perfectly calm when crossing a busy road in the city – “it’s not a big deal, you get used to it”.

However, despite what they say, Ellard says, “their sweat gland responses were off the charts, suggesting that although they might feel that there was nothing particularly unusual or taxing about being buffeted by a swarming sea of noisy cars and motorcycles, their bodies were showing stress reactions that were probably not very different from my own.”

Research findings like this has definitely got me thinking about how we might use our conscious mind to overrule unconsious and physiological messages from our body. Afterall, the human body isn’t especially well-adapted for our modern environment, but our brain is so powerful that it can “correct” for this without us being aware.

This book is notably interdisciplinary, drawing on geography, medicine, psychology, architecture, art and more. This multi-faceted approach enables Ellard to develop a deep and convincing argument through the book.

Readers of this book are guaranteed to gain a richer understanding and awareness of the space around us, and how humans interact with the space… and each other.

I’m sure, like me, you’ll emerge eager to experience Ellard’s own Urban Realities Lab at the University of Waterloo.

Ellard points out in the book that his innovative research methods – using virtual reality equipment – is becoming increasingly accessible.

Perhaps you already have a VR Headset, in which case this book may inspire you into designing your own experiments using this incredible piece of kit.

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About Daniel Edward 65 Articles
Daniel set up Psychology Unlocked in 2016 to support Psychology students in higher and further education. Daniel has a Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Psychology, Politics and Sociology from the University of Cambridge.