The Local Spirit or Genius Loci



In his book Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture, published in 1980, Christian Norberg-Schulz continues to embroider on the work of the great philosophers Edmund Husserl, Gaston Bachelard and Martin Heidegger. As Norberg-Schulz says in his book: “Every place constitutes a space that has its own particular character. Since time immemorial, the genius loci, or the spirit of the place, has been recognised as a true reality, which people are confronted with in their daily life.” So, how does one discover the spirit of the place? Is this discovery an evolution that cannot be limited in time, and can therefore only be experienced by one’s long-term presence? Does this statement not contradict the contemporary design-based research in architectural practices where the time factor has a different dimension? A brief interpretation of a project site that forms the basis for a new design?

We find it apposite to refer to Heavens, the work by Anton Kusters, in which he endeavours to photograph the sky from all of the 1,075 concentration camps. The sky symbolises a means of escape, peace and freedom in bad times. The only view in which many people living in abject misery seek solace. A frustrating gift, an intangible freedom. The only way out.

In a relatively short time, the work manages to say something about the soul of those places. Even though it is a rather emotional interpretation, it highlights the need for reflection in any context. It makes the link between the environment and the background history in a very straightforward way, but without actually being all that straightforward. It looks for the poetry in the place with a freedom which, as a given, completely frames the historical value. The spirit of the place continues to exist into the beauty of the intangible and the incomprehensible.