Martin Heidegger's "Building Dwelling Thinking" (in: "Poetry, Language, Thought") opens with an argument that seems rather obvious, that a structure is essentially designed for man's dwelling. But he soon raises some considerations that undermine the simplicity of this statement. In fact, Heidegger argues, not all buildings are designed for dwelling, which is also obvious when we consider factories, office buildings etc. this is the initial framework for Heidegger's "building dwelling thinking" which looks into the relation between dwelling and building and asks what it means to dwell, how does building relate to dwelling and does building in itself allows for dwelling.
Heidegger asserts that the modern world ('building dwelling thinking" was written in the wake of the housing shortage after ww2) has brought about a negative severance between building and dwelling. He looks at the origins of the German word "bauen" – "to build" and claims that it has lost its original meaning of "being" in a certain place. Heidegger then proceeds to argue that the manner in which we dwell is the manner in which we are, we exist, on the face of the earth – an extension of our identity, of who we are.
Since dwelling relates to the manner in which we exist, our "being in the world", Heidegger holds that problems of building are essentially problems of dwelling. Building is, in fact, dwelling, and with dwelling being the manner in which human beings exist on earth building as dwelling is something which nurtures things, natural or man-made.
Heidegger proceeds to argue that modern times have brought about confusion in the understanding of relations between building and dwelling with building not conceived as related to the state of our existence in the world. Building, in other words, in not a mere problem of providing shelter or housing. Building as dwelling is not just a functional need for a building, in this respect, does not only make apparent but also constitutes a part of the tradition that it endows. It is built as a part of a community and enables this community to experience a mutual sense of the present, forged by a known historical past and a predicted future.
Dwelling according to Heidegger is to remain in place and to be situated in a certain relationship with existence, a relationship which is characterized by nurturing, enabling the world to as it is. And in Heidegger's own words: "the basic character of dwelling is to spare, to preserve… dwelling itself is always a staying with things. Dwelling, as preserving, keeps the fourfold in that with which mortals stay: in things" (Heidegger – "Building Dwelling Thinking" pp.150-151).