The Search for Home

Story Nels Long

LOS ANGELES — Ever since I was asked for this composition, a narrative between myself and the place I call home has been looping through my subconscious — a curation of experiences and lessons learned in between. The pursuit of an architectural practice creates interesting side effects — filters through which the world is distilled. Space and the experience of it become the language through which all of life is conveyed.

While studying architecture at Mississippi State, I began to recognize that this language is rooted in two components, environments and people. Projects based around northern Mississippi provided me with the laboratory to explore this relationship, but it wasn’t until I was afforded the opportunity to study abroad, first in the Netherlands and later in Turkey, that I began to understand what it was about the South that would continue to call me back. It was at this point I understood that no matter where I was, this place would always be my home.

Despite spending most of my life in Starkville between the ages of 2 and 20, it never really felt like home. My extended family lives in California with the exception of my parents, who relocated to the South before I was born. Because of this the word “home” in our household referred to the West Coast, while nearly every one of my friends and their families’ “home” was close by. Rather, Starkville was a place I lived with the intention of soon living elsewhere, and that new place would become my home. I don’t remember ever being confused by this difference, but I suspect it was responsible for my belief that home was something that must be found.

In 2013 I graduated from MSU and moved to Los Angeles to earn a master’s degree from the Southern California Institute of Architecture. L.A. is a place that exports culture, although it is without culture itself. That isn’t to say there are no cultures here — a brief stay would expose a visitor to more cultures than nearly anywhere else in the world. It is this separation between a place and its people that gives L.A. a sharpness, a hardness, evident in even the most kind of stranger’s smiles.

When I think about Starkville, the opposite is true. The grounding of its people with their environment creates a sense of belonging I have not noticed in many other places. It is this grounding, this relationship I remember when I think of home. The amazing food, music and friendships that will last a lifetime all blur together into a single image of what I imagine home to be.