On the Interpretation of Architecture
Theory of Interpretation

Vol. 12, No. 2, December 2008


___M. Reza Shirazi
  ‘Genius Loci’, phenomenology from without


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picture 1:
Charles Bridge, Prague

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picture 2:
Model of Rome about 300 A. D.

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picture 3:
Sears Tower by SOM, Chicago

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picture 4:
Copley Square, Boston with new John Hancock Tower by I. M. Pei

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picture 5:
Sports Palaces by Nervi, Rome,
exterior view

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picture 6:
Sports Palaces by Nervi, Rome,
interior view

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picture 7:
Local Character, Dipoli, Finland,
by Reima Peitilä

Christian Norberg-Schulz claims that he has always been in a certain way during his architectural investigations and has never changed his goal and approach. According to him, the changes are just a certain change in method; in ‘Intentions in Architecture’ (1963) he employed the ‘scientific’ analysis, but found it later not illuminating.[1] Later, in ‘existence, space and architecture’ (1971) he changed his method to ‘phenomenology’ and in this respect he took Heidegger and his thought as the point of departure. As he confesses, “the philosophy of Heidegger has been the catalyst”[2] in his later books. Obviously, his phenomenological understanding of architecture is based fundamentally on Heidegger and his thought on being, world, truth and work of art. He has elaborated a kind of architectural analyzing and interpretation method in his various texts and books, supporting them with numerous examples and illustrations to strength the presented approach as much as possible. However, ‘Genius Loci: towards a phenomenology of architecture’ (1980) could be considered as the vital source and main text, because as the title of the book presents the aim of the book is establishing an understanding of phenomenology concerning architecture and founding a phenomenology of architecture. This purpose and his Heideggerean understanding are both clearly obvious in the ‘preface’ of the book, in which he gives a general view to his ideas elaborated in the coming chapters. By studying this preface it will be confirmed that he uses Heideggerean terms such as ‘gathering’, ‘thing’, dwelling’, ‘being-in-the-world’ and ‘truth’ as inspiration source to establish his unique perception of architecture.

Thus, it seems to be safe to concentrate on this book as the main source by which he intends to give a phenomenological interpretation of architecture based on the concept of ‘genius loci’, concentrates on ‘phenomenology of architecture’ and presents a method of analyzing. Therefore, ‘genius loci’ is the core and essence of his understanding of architecture. Here I would like to present the most important characteristics of ‘genius loci’ introduced in his books and writings to show what he means by it.
  • The term ‘genius loci’ is an ancient Roman belief and indicates that “every being has its ‘genius’, its guardian spirit. This spirit gives life to people and places, accompanies them from birth to death, and determines their character.”[3]

  • Accordingly, “ancient man experienced his environment as a revelation of definite ‘genii’.”[4]

  • “The ‘genius’ thus corresponds to what a thing ‘is’, or what it ‘wants to be’.”[5]

  • Moreover, the ancient man “understood that it is an existential necessity to come to terms with the ‘genius’ of the locality where his life takes place.”[6]

  • To catch the ‘genius’ of a place implies identification with it. “To identify with a place primarily means to be open to its character or ‘genius loci’ and to have a place in common means to share the experience of the local character. To respect the place, finally, means to adapt new buildings to this character.”[7]

  • This identification is fulfilled through architecture. “Architecture means to visualize the ‘genius loci’, and the task of the architect is to create meaningful places, whereby he helps man to dwell.”[8]

  • ‘Genius loci’ has two connotations: meaning and structure. Meaning is the subjective aspect of ‘genius loci’. “The ‘meaning’ of any object consists in its relationships to other objects, that is, it consists in what the object ‘gathers’. A thing is a thing by virtue of its gathering.”[9]

  • On the other hand, structure relates to the objective aspect of ‘genius loci’. ‘Structure’, instead, denotes the formal properties of a system of relationships.[10]

  • However, man is part of a world; he is ‘in’ the world, and belongs to a totality which comprises natural and components. In this way, meaning necessarily implies a world.

  • Thus, ‘genius loci’ consists in concrete architectural structures and possesses a distinct character. “Such a character is never simple, and in our time it is certainly full of complexities and contradictions, but this does not mean that it is without structure or meaning.”[11]

  • Although places change permanently and never have a fixed structure; their ‘genius loci’ do not necessarily change and remains the same. Therefore, even the time can not cancel the ‘genius loci’; places preserve their identity during a certain period of time as ‘stabilitas loci’, and the existential contents of the human kind remain the same in a broad period of time.

  • ‘Genius loci’ is manifested as location, spatial configuration, and characterizing articulation. To preserve the genius loci, is actually respecting these factors: “the type of settlement and way of building (‘massive’, ‘skeletal’ etc.) as well as characteristic motifs…. If the primary structural properties are respected, the general atmosphere or ‘Stimmung’ will not get lost. It is this ‘Stimmung’ which first of all ties man to ‘his’ place and strikes the visitor as a particular local quality.”[12]

  • These ‘primary’ structural properties are capable of interpretations and respecting them is not repeating the same, but implies new interpretations and manifestations. “To respect the ‘genius loci’ does not mean to copy old models. It means to determine the identity of the place and to interpret it in ever new ways.”[13]

  • In this regard, “any place ought to have the ‘capacity’ of receiving different ‘contents’, naturally within certain limits” and “a place may be ‘interpreted’ in different ways.”[14]

  • “To protect and conserve the ‘genius loci’ in fact means to concretize its essence in ever new historical contexts.”[15] Thus, a work of architecture ‘keeps’ that essence through building.

  • In this way, the task of architect is taking care of the things, and expressing the self-realization of the place through the works of architecture. However, this endless process alludes to the never-ended possibilities of manifestation and interpretation.

To present an articulated view to the above mentioned statements, it can be said that every being has its own ‘genius’ by which it gains its special character. Thus, every thing and every place has its ‘genius’, its particularity. In this way, human being as an existential being whose life ‘takes place’ needs to comprehend the ‘genius loci’ of the given place. To perceive it implies being open to the environment, receiving its particularity and presenting them into a work of architecture, as a concrete entity with its special character. Therefore, by erecting buildings and making architecture man reveals the ‘genius loci’ of the given site and lets the place to manifest its ‘genius’. This action which is based on ‘identification’ with the place is fulfilled through ‘visualization’, that is, concretization through building. However, visualization implies meaning and structure, the way it ‘gathers’ its surrounding as a ‘thing’ and the way it is manifested in a formal character. These two aspects constitute the ‘world’ of the work, a totality within which it takes place.

On the other hand, the existing surrounding is not a constant entity, but changes over the time. This changing, however, does not mean that it becomes completely different. Rather, every place keeps its particularities and preserves them. These properties possess an existential dimension and construct the general atmosphere or the ‘Stimmung’.

To respect these constant properties does not mean repeating them, but ‘interpreting’ them in ever new ways. In other words, ‘genius loci’ preserves and admits these interpretations. Interpretation has a two-fold implication: it is rooted in the existential and fundamental ‘genius’ of the place on one hand, and gives it a new appearance and manifestation on the other hand. Thus, a work of architecture is the realm of this never-ending interpretations and manifestations, by which the ‘genius loci’ is preserved.

As remarked before, Norberg-Schulz takes Heidegger as the departure point. To be sure, Heidegger and his architectural examples are extensively read and considered by architects and architectural theoreticians. Although Heidegger acknowledges that he does not intend to present any architectural discussion or introduce architectural rules, his explanations on some architectural works have always the inspiration source for architects and critics. Norberg-Schulz as the true believer of Heidegger considers these examples as effective sources by which he can catch some mediatory themes that go beyond mere philosophy and obtain somehow concrete characters. However, the way he pays attention to those examples, in my belief, leads to some misunderstandings that disable ‘genius loci’ as the true and comprehensive phenomenological method of interpreting architecture.

The most important architectural examples presented by Heidegger are ‘Greek temple’ in ‘The Origin of the Work of art’ (1936), the ‘bridge’ and the ‘farmhouse’ in ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ (1951), and the example of ‘Winter Evening’ a poem by Georg Trakl in ‘Language’ (1950). Here I am not to review Norberg-Schulz’s interpretation of the above mentioned examples, but I intend to concentrate on the way he takes these examples as the departure point, to consider this fundamental question that which of these examples and which particularities of them constitute the basic concerns of the term ‘genius loci’ and thus results in the following shortcomings.

In the first chapter of the book, Norberg-Schulz explains his interpretation of the poem ‘Winter Evening’ and highlights it’s most essential point effectively. What is obvious in this interpretation is that both in Heidegger’s text and Norberg-Schulz’s review the themes ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, or ‘within’ and ‘without’ play an important role. In other words, that house is understood as a ‘whole’, as a comprehensive entity which not only gathers essentially earth and sky, but ‘interior’ and ‘exterior’. In this way, both ‘within’ and ‘without’ are fundamentally prominent. In addition, in the example of the ‘bridge’ in ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’ the focus is in the way it gathers the ‘surrounding’, the ‘landscape’ as a true ‘thing’. It can be said that as a work of architecture, a house has more ‘interiority’ than a bridge, and if we consider an ‘inside’ for the bridge, that is, its immediate surrounding, it is obviously ‘outside’ comparing to the interiority of a house. The case of ‘Greek temple’ is also such an example. Heidegger in his explanation of the Greek temple in ‘The Origin of the Work of Art’ alludes to its ‘standing’, to show how that building ‘standing there’ links its surrounding to each other. In this case, Heidegger stands out of the temple and concentrates on its exteriority and outer appearance, its ‘outside’, and Norberg-Schulz’s understanding possesses the same character. But Heidegger’s interpretation of the Greek Temple has another implication. If the Greek Temple, as he states, is the ‘setting-into-the-work’ (ins-Werk-Setzen) of truth, then the preposition ‘into’ (ins) becomes very important. In other words, the truth in set ‘into’ the work of architecture, ‘into’ the building of the Greek Temple, and not ‘onto’, ‘on’, ‘over’… The preposition ‘into’ reminds that ‘truth’ is set not only ‘on’ the work, but ‘within’ the work, and supposes the work as a ‘whole’, not as a separation between ‘within’ and ‘without’, between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’.

Moreover, Heidegger presents another example in ‘Building Dwelling Thinking’, the ‘farmhouse’ in the Black Forest, and gives a brilliant explanation of it. In this case, he does not remain out of the house, but goes into the building and explains the way the ‘fourfold’ is presented.

“Let us think for a while of a farmhouse in the Black Forest, which was built some two hundred years ago by the dwelling of peasants. Here the self-sufficiency of the power to let earth and heaven, divinities and mortals enter in simple oneness into things, ordered the house. It placed the farm on the wind-sheltered mountain slope looking south, among the meadows close to the spring. It gave it the wide overhanging shingle roof whose proper slope bears up under the burden of snow, and which, reaching deep down, shields the chambers against the storms of the long winter nights. It did not forget the altar corner behind the community table; it made room in its chamber for the hallowed places of childbed and the "tree of the dead" – for that is what they call a coffin there: the Totenbaum – and in this way it designed for the different generations under one roof the character of their journey through time. A craft which, itself sprung from dwelling, still uses its tools and frames as things, built the farmhouse.”[16]

This example which is not considered by Norberg-Schulz, and the example of ‘Winter Evening’ show that the way a building gathers the ‘fourfold’ is not merely based on its ‘exteriority’, but also its ‘interiority’. In other words, a true building as a ‘thing’ which gathers the fourfold and lets dwelling to take place, should be able to fulfill this fundamental action in both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, not merely in ‘outside’. That is, ‘genius loci’, in Norberg-Schulz’s terminology, must not only rely on the exteriority of the buildings, but should be manifested and presented in ‘within’, in the ‘interior’. In this respect, I want to stress that although Norberg-Schulz is essentially Heideggerean and puts his examples as the source of inspiration, he concentrates only on the examples which consider a building from outside, from without, from exterior. And this leads to a misunderstanding of Heidegger. That is to say, Heideggerean thought of ‘fourfold’ and ‘thing’ considers the architectural work as a whole, as the unification of interior and exterior, and does not neglect inside, but Norberg-Schulz emphasizes merely on its exteriority.

In this regard, I consider Norberg-Schulz’s phenomenology and ‘Genius Loci’ as ‘phenomenology from without’. It rarely knocks the door and enters the inside. ‘Genius loci’ wanders in the surrounding, looks at the buildings from outside, flies over the environment, and sometimes comes close to the buildings, but stands behind the entry. ‘Genius loci’ is mostly aerial. To use a filmic term, it gives ‘long shots’, not ‘close ups’. It understands architecture from above, and seldom stands on the earth.

Let’s review the analyses Norberg-Schulz presents as the case studies or examples of his phenomenology and ‘genius loci’. He investigates genius loci of three cities, Prague, Khartum and Rome. He believes that these are remarkable examples in which the city has preserved its ‘genius loci’ during the time, with new interpretations. In fact, he takes these examples as a case to prove all his opinions on the ‘genius loci’ and its implications, and refers directly or indirectly to his arguments presented in the first chapters of the book. In the case of Prague, he explains that how the ‘Charles Bridge’ gathers the main two parts of the city, the ‘Old Town’ and ‘Small Town’, and constitutes the ‘Prague view’. “From the bridge the whole is experienced as an ‘environment’ in the full sense of the word; the bridge constitutes the very centre of this world, which evidently gathers so many meanings.”[17]

Prague located in Bohemia, is the center of that country. Its buildings gather and condense the genius loci and make the city appear as a place saturated with locally rooted meaning. Thus, “knowing Prague is like listening to a great work of music: it always discloses new aspects of itself.”[18] However, Prague has conserved its genius loci and particular character throughout the course of history so that “today Prague is different and still the same.”[19]

In the case of Khartoum, he finds a ‘strong quality of place’. He states that “the Khartoum conurbation has an imageable and meaningful spatial organization. The very simple spatial elements offered by nature, are taken as the point of departure from a man-made environment, which facilitates orientation and image-making.”[20] On the other hand, the sand as the most prominent element is omnipresent and gives the landscape a barren character. However, the Nile makes the life possible, and the oasis along its banks offers a dwelling place. The interior of the dwelling, the private domain, is an enclosure which prepares a comfortable ‘inside’. Thus, man not only should be friend with the desert, but also “has to withdraw into a psychologically and socially meaningful ‘interior’, from which he may return to the desert as a ‘conqueror’ either through the local adding up of such interiors (dwellings), or through the propagation of their cultural message.”[21] In brief, the quality of place in Khartoum is the result of the interaction between natural forces in one hand, and the adopted cultural forces in other hand.

Rome is known as the ‘Eternal City’ and this indicates that the city has always conserved its ‘identity’, and remains the same. Norberg-Schulz explains that “Rome is monumental and grandiose, but at the same time its spaces have an ‘interiority’ which give us a strong sense of protection and belonging.”[22] Moreover, there is a sense of ‘rustic simplicity’ in the city which brings nature close. In this way, the ‘genius loci’ of the Rome is based on the feeling of rootedness in a ‘known’ natural environment. On the other hand, the ‘cardo-decumanus’ scheme exerted in the urban texture played an important role in the configuration of the city. According to him, “Rome possessed a ‘double’ spatial structure: the vernacular cluster of settlements with roots in the earth to which it belongs, and the abstract axis which made the city become the focus of a more comprehensive totality. The main property of the first component is the ‘idyllic’ enclosure of the urban spaces, the second, instead, aims at axial symmetry.”[23] Thus, we find an ‘axially ordered enclosure’ which is the basic element of the Roman architecture. Moreover, in Rome space becomes the primary concern of the architecture. Buildings make up an interiority in enclosed form, and this leads to a strong sense of interior space.

At the end, Norberg-Schulz argues that the current construction in the city of Rome does not imply an understanding for the ‘genius loci’ of the Rome. He only alludes to the ‘Sports Palaces’ by Nervi, and believes that this building has a Roman sense of place and plastic presence.

All the above mentioned examples and analyses imply a special and particular approach to the city and its ‘genius loci’. In fact, Norberg-Schulz intends to develop his particular attitude to the settlement and city, to the natural and man-made environments. This study reveals and highlights those aspects of the cities which were less considered up to now. How the city establishes its unique identity during the time through gathering the natural and man-made elements, and how its preserves its ‘genius loci’, are the themes discussed and illustrated in detail. In this way, we find a qualitative analysis of the cities by which he tries to see the things in their world and in their connection to the surrounding.

However, ‘genius loci’ in the above mentioned analyses remains in a macro or middle level and seldom enters into the buildings. All the explanations of the cities and buildings are exterior explanations, and the interior explanations are rare.[24] Thus, that phenomenological interpretation which takes the ‘genius loci’ as its point of departure starts from the macro level – the relationship of the settlement with the surrounding environment and the way it gathers it –, enters into the city, analyses the urban fabric, and finally concentrates on the single buildings and describes their ‘Stimmung’ and atmosphere comparing to the stated ‘genius loci’. If there is an interior description, it is to acknowledge the exterior character.

On the other hand, it seems to be meaningful that Norberg-Schulz selects the cities as his case study to investigate his understanding of ‘genius loci’. The reason is that the concept of ‘genius loci’ is inherently a ‘macro’ concept with macro implications. In other words, it seems that this ‘exterior’ character of ‘genius loci’ originates from its ancient meaning; the ‘genius’ of a place is the protective spirit of that place, and protecting a place or a building necessitates standing out of the door and defending against the threads and offensives. Thus, it is the very character of ‘genius loci’ as a macro concept that persuades Norberg-Schulz to choose a city as the case study.

Let’s review some other examples presented in the book to find other shortcomings. Discussing on the possibility of preserving ‘genius loci’ within the necessary changes of the new cities, Norberg-Schulz asks that how the ‘genius loci’ can be preserved under the pressure of new functional demands. That is, how can we preserve the ‘genius loci’ – if we have found the true genius loci – of a city or settlement with the rapid developments and constructions?

Norberg-Schulz refers to the examples of Chicago and Boston to show his intention precisely. He argues that in Chicago the open orthogonal urban structure which is the concretization of the image of an open and dynamic world constitutes its genius loci, and because of that character, round, enclosed and freely shaped buildings are meaningless. He refers to the ‘Sears Tower’, a work by ‘SOM’ and finds its configuration and appearance as an impressive interpretation of the spirit of Chicago.[25]

In Boston, the ‘genius loci’ was based on the dense cluster of relatively small houses, and the environment was characterized by significant local motifs. However, this fabric has been destroyed by construction of super-buildings. As an example, he points to the ‘John Hancock Tower’ by I. M. Pei “which completely destroyed the scale of a major urban focus, Copley square.”[26]

Both the examples indicate that in the macro level, his discussion on the way the ‘Sears Tower’ respects the general character of the Chicago, and the way John Hancock Tower destroys the atmosphere of the square and environment seems satisfactory; however, the matter is that can we reduce all the spatial characteristics of a building to mere a ‘figural correspondence’? Considering ‘genius loci’ in this way reduces it to the mere ‘adaptation’ and ‘accordance’ with the given character and configuration of the place, to just a ‘figural’ and ‘formal’ correspondence, and the interior space and character of the buildings have no importance. In other words, buildings are reduced into a ‘cover’ or ‘mask’ over the buildings, and respecting the ‘genius loci’ is respecting the given ‘character’ through the figural and scenographic harmonization.

The case of ‘Sport Palaces’ by Nervi is potentially an acceptable example for his idea on presenting the supposed ‘genius loci’ of the Rome. However, he overlooks its configuration and never describes it in detail. This building seems to persevere and represent the ‘interiority’ of the Roman architecture well, both in its appearance and its interior space. Its concrete dome and its structure give a strong sense of interiority, similar to the great buildings like Pantheon.

The other examples which deal with a single building and possess a closer consideration have the same problematic. At the end of the book Norberg-Schulz gives different examples to show that against the loss of place in the modern movement, there is a tendency to recover the sense of place. He explains that in the work of Aalto and in Villa Mairea “the Finnish genius loci is strongly present.[27] Thus, he finds a ‘regional’ approach in that building. Moreover, he finds a “figural character in relation to the landscape, and a meaningful, social ‘inside’ in his works.[28] According to him there is a strong local character in the works of Jörn Utzon, and ‘Dipoli’ by ‘Reima Pietilä’ was designed to express the dream of the people of the forest, and visualizes the structure of the Finnish landscape in a ‘romantic’ way.

All the above mention explanations are presented from without, from the exterior. He just pays attention to the way they appear from outside and the way they try to adapt themselves with the ‘atmosphere’, ‘Stimmung’ or the special character of the given landscape, or their genius loci. Norberg-Shulz stands always outside, never knocks the door, and never steps inside the building.

In addition, ‘genius loci’ as Norberg-Schulz introduces it suffers from another shortcoming. In all his interpretations, in both urban level and building level, the body as the perceiver of the space is still and motionless. It seems that ‘movement’ and its role in perceiving of space is a forgotten aspect in his theory. He expresses that “a complex architectural organism can only be experienced through a movement where the succession of perceptions becomes organized mentally into a total experience… We do not experience a building or a square as an isolated phenomenon, but as a part of a comprehensive urban organism. This organism ‘colors’ the perception of the parts.”[29] However, although he states that movement is vital for experiencing of space, it remains forgotten in his theory and analysis. To be sure, ‘genius loci’ pays attention to ‘concretization’, and Norberg-Schulz talks about the way a building is embodied in a landscape, however, this is the body of the building that is considered, not the body of human being as the perceiver. Thus, in ‘genius loci’ the body of perceiver – the body which has its own characters – is neglected. It is safe to say that the perceiver is an ‘omnipresent’, ‘dispersed’ entity. Moreover, the body in ‘genius loci’ stands in special points and never moves. ‘Genius loci’ does not walk around the building, but stands in front of it, and looks at it from the point which reveals the supposed ‘genius loci’ clearly. This fact eventuates to a one-dimensional experiencing of the work of architecture and makes, ‘genius loci’ disabled and motionless.

Therefore, ‘exterior phenomenology’ of Norberg-Schulz results in a ‘scenographic’ approach to the works of architecture. This character is well comprehensible in his attention to ‘postmodernism’ and the works of ‘Robert Venturi’. He appreciates Venturi’s ideas and works and finds them as a true understanding of a work of architecture. He especially emphasizes on Venturi’s book ‘Complexity and Contradictions in Architecture’ (1966) and its concepts including ambiguous element, the double-functioning element, and the conventional element used in a new context as a potential approach to the architecture, so that he finds the book as “a valuable guide to the ‘seeing’ of architecture.”[30]

Norberg-Schulz condemns modern movement because of creating houses that lack any ‘figural quality’ and do not look like a house. He claims that modern house favored ‘life in space’ rather than ‘life with images.’[31] In this connection, he finds the works of postmodernism and the houses of Robert Venturi as a response to the demand for meaningful forms. He states that Robert Venturi “re-introduced ‘conventional’ elements such as gables and arches, and aimed at giving his houses the identity of a ‘tower’, a ‘garden pavilion’ or a ‘balcony on the world’.”[32] In this regard, Norberg-Schulz focuses on the Vanna Venturi House (1962) by Venturi and claims that it was “a first setting-into-work of the new architecture of complexity and contradiction.”[33] To this polemic statement he adds some explanations and concentrates on the way it introduces a new and fascinating interpretation of the ‘free facade’. According to him, the screen-like façade of the house reflects complexities of inside, and the wide gable immediately signifies that this is a ‘house’. Moreover, the break in the middle of the façade and its inscribed arch gives a Baroque tone to the building. Thus, Norberg-Schulz believes that this house formally and spatially evokes simultaneous associations and has the collage-like quality of the modern work of art. “Moreover it adds a new possibility to the grammar of the free plan by acting as a ‘screen’ which forms a transition between the private complexity inside and the grander scale of the public world outside. A solution to the problem of adapting a particular building to a coherent urban space is thereby suggested.”[34]

In this way, Norberg-Schulz interprets Venturi’s ‘decorated shed’ as a valuable suggestion for adapting new building to the existing fabric. But the matter is that reducing the building to a decorated shed and enriching it with conventional ‘signs’ and formal motifs which refer to the past, without having a coherent and articulated relationship with the inside, reduces the building to a ‘screen’ and concentrates all the potentialities and essences of a work of architecture in a covering. This superficial approach to architecture by Norberg-Schulz seems to be either a misunderstanding in contrast to his own ideas and explanations about the true setting-into-work of place by a work of architecture, or an acknowledgment to what I have referred as ‘phenomenology from without’ and ‘partial phenomenology’. As discussed before, here, his partial phenomenology once more stands out of the building and neglects the necessary interior-exterior articulation of a work of architecture as the setting-into-work of the place. To set the place into the work necessitates a true and articulated understanding of the place, and presenting it into all the aspects and dimensions of the work, not condensing them in a screen-like decorated shed.

At the end, Norberg-Schulz states that the free façade of Venturi illustrates Heidegger notion on the ‘boundary’, as a place of presencing not stopping. However, it seems that Venturi’s boundary does not go into the building, but stands outside and makes a ‘scenographic’ show.

As mentioned above, ‘genius loci’ in Norberg-Schulz’s understanding presents an ‘exterior phenomenology’, and appears insufficient to consider architectural work as a ‘whole’, as the combination of ‘within’ and ‘without’. But this is not the point. It seems that the concept of ‘genius loci’ has the capacity of going into the buildings and analyzing the interior. It is a misunderstanding if we consider it incapable of doing it. All the themes and characters elaborated as the constituent elements of the ‘genius loci’ could be also studied within the buildings, in their interior spaces, materials, walls, roofs … If we can imagine a ‘preserved sense’ of place and hence a ‘genius loci’ in a city, then it is the single buildings as the generator elements of the city that conserve and respect that ‘genius loci’. Thus, staying out of the building is not based on the poverty of the concept and theory, but implies an underestimation. In fact, ‘genius loci’ as a concept based on the thought of Heidegger has the potentiality of interpreting both interior and exterior, and has the capacity of dealing with the work of architecture as a ‘whole’. A comprehensive study of the works of Heidegger shows that this matter is not only possible, but also necessary.[35]

Thus, we need a ‘phenomenology from within', a phenomenology that opens the door and enters into the inside. A phenomenology that concerns interiority in an essential way, walks through the interior spaces, and experiences it from within. A ‘phenomenology from within’ will be a supplementary to the ‘phenomenology from without’ and will lead to a true, comprehensive and articulated understanding of the work of architecture, as ‘lived’, not as ‘seen’ and ‘observed’.



1, 2, 3, 4, 7: Norberg-Schulz, C.; Genius Loci, towards a phenomenology of architecture, 1980, New York: Rizzoli;

5, 6: author.



[1] Norberg-Schulz, C.: Genius Loci, towards a phenomenology of architecture, 1980, New York: Rizzoli, p. 5.

[2] Norberg-Schulz, C.: Architecture: Presence, Language, Place, 2000, Milan: Akira, p. 5.

[3] Norberg-Schulz, C., Kahn, Heidegger and the Language of Architecture. Oppositions, 1979 (18), p. 45.

[4] Ibid, p. 45.

[5] Ibid, p. 45.

[6] Ibid, p. 45.

[7] Norberg-Schulz, C.: The Concept of Dwelling, on the way to figurative architecture, 1985, New York: Rizzoli, p. 63.

[8] Norberg-Schulz, C.: Genius Loci, towards a phenomenology of architecture, 1980, New York: Rizzoli, p. 5.

[9] Ibid, p. 166.

[10] Ibid, p. 166.

[11] Norberg-Schulz, C.: existence, space and architecture, 1971, London: Studio Vista London, p. 68-69.

[12] Norberg-Schulz, C.: Genius Loci, towards a phenomenology of architecture, 1980, New York: Rizzoli, p. 180.

[13] Ibid, p. 182.

[14] Ibid, p. 18.

[15] Ibid, p. 18.

[16] Heidegger, M.: Building Dwelling Thinking, in Basic writings: from being and time (1927) to the task of thinking (1964), D. F. Krell, Editor. 1993, Harper San Francisco: [San Francisco, Calif], p. 361-62.

[17] Norberg-Schulz, C.: Genius Loci, towards a phenomenology of architecture, 1980, New York: Rizzoli, p. 82.

[18] Ibid, p. 97.

[19] Ibid, p. 109.

[20] Ibid, p. 125.

[21] Ibid, p. 135.

[22] Ibid, p. 142.

[23] Ibid, p. 149.

[24] This book is illustrated with 351 pictures. However, only 22 pictures are from interior, and the others present an exterior view to the buildings.

[25] Norberg-Schulz, C.: Genius Loci, towards a phenomenology of architecture, 1980, New York: Rizzoli p. 182.

[26] Ibid, p. 185.

[27] Ibid, p. 196.

[28] Ibid, p. 198.

[29] Norberg-Schulz, C.: Intentions in Architecture, 1963, Oslo: Allen & Unwin LTD, p. 198.

[30] Norberg-Schulz, C.: roots of modern architecture, 1988, Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita Tokyo, p. 67.

[31] Norberg-Schulz, C.: The Concept of Dwelling, on the way to figurative architecture, 1985, New York: Rizzoli, p. 110.

[32] Ibid, p: 110.

[33] Norberg-Schulz, C.: roots of modern architecture, 1988, Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita Tokyo, p. 67.

[34] Ibid, p. 67.

[35] Although most of the interpretations of Norberg-Schulz are from without and partially, he gives a brilliant interpretation of the Tugendhat House by Mies (1929-30) and I believe that this interpretation could be considered as a splendid phenomenological reading of a work, in which he considers the building both from inside and outside, based on his elaborated ideas and understanding of the architecture as the setting-into-work of place. See: Norberg-Schulz, C., roots of modern architecture, 1988. Tokyo: A.D.A. Edita Tokyo. p. 81-83.