The everyday world of our life consists of certain “phenomena”. It consists of people, animals, flowers, trees, rock, soil, wood and water, cities, streets, houses, doors, windows and furniture. It consists of the sun, the moon and stars, changing clouds, day and night and changing seasons. However, it also consists of immaterial phenomena, such as emotions. This is what is given, this is the substance of our existence.
Through all my reading and thoughts about phenomenology and perception, I keep coming back to certain concepts such as the meaning of the “place”. What is the place as a phenomenon? I guess that it consists of smaller phenomena like the ones described above, which are connected with each other in complex and sometimes even conflicting ways. A phenomenon can form an environment for other phenomena to happen.
It is amazingly beautiful what language can reveal. Even in english, which is not my native language, I think that the notions that come of these thoughts are unexpectedly connected with each other. Like the word “place”. Or space, site and, eventually, environment. Eventually or initially.
All these smaller phenomena give life to the character of the site. This is the substance of the place. The place is presented as an ensemble, that cannot be limited to its individual properties. It exists as a whole. As an existential dimension. The character of the site indicates a general atmosphere, while it refers to the form and the material substance of the elements that consist this space. To understand the substance of the site, we have to ask ourselves, what form do the limits that consist this site take? And how can it be understood?
The structure of the place is not necessary a stable, unchanging situation. Sites change, sometimes really rapidly. This does not mean that its substance changes. It is not easy to understand the stability of the place through the dynamics of change. Through life and human activity, the site reinvents its substance in new historical contexts, each time with new parameters.
I stumbled upon a very interesting concept which describes this site substance that I’ve been talking about. The spirit of the place. Genius loci. It is a roman concept, according to which every independent being has its own demon (genius), its guardian angel. This spirit gives life to people and places, accompanies them through life and death, and determines their character or substance. Genius indicates what is and what it want to be.
It seems like modern man believed that, through technology and science, he can escape from his connection with the spirit of places. From his dependence on them. The break of this connection is impossible, as the one cannot exist without the other. The one is an element to the substance of the other. So let us try and understand this substance, and maybe form new phenomena in it.
Genius Loci, Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture by Christian Norberg-Schulz
image from Athens, Greece