WHEN GOD SAID TO ADAM: Genius Loci! …
When God said to Adam:
«a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth»1; he put man in front of his most basic problem: to cross the threshold and regain the lost place»2.
(CLICK HERE TO READ IT IN ITALIAN) Occupying a place and building a space makes concrete architecture. The poetics of the project shows in the human act of building: to build a house or to build a shelter means to give life to a place. Christian Norberg Schulz writes:
“Existential foothold” and “dwelling” are synonyms, and “dwelling”, in an existential sens, is the purpose of architecture. Man dwells when he can orientate himself within and identify himself with an environment, or, in short, when he experiences the environment as meaningfull. Dwelling therefore implies something more than “shelter”. It implies that the spaces where life occurs are places, in the true sense of the word. A place is a space which has a distinct character3.
In the architecture subject, we often ask ourselves what is the meaning of the word «place». That’s because when architecture means building it has its own placement, but it also it becomes real in our architectural minds when we imagine it in a environment.
The concretee things which constitute our given world are interrelated in complex and perhaps contradictory ways. […]. “Landscape” in such a comprehensive phenomenon. In general we may say that some phenomena form an “environment” to others. A concrete term for environment is place. It is common usage to say that acts and meaningless to imagine any happening whithout reference to a locality. Place is evidently an integral part of existence4.
Generally an artificial place tells many things about the place on which it’s placed ; the natural place. That’s where the reasons and the intentions of a place come from. A site is a mix of concrete characteristics that define the essence of the evironment; this is called the «essence of a place». It has been said about a place «it is a complete and quality phenomenon, which cannot be reduced to any of its characteristics»5. Each environment has a Genius loci; that’s how it’s called the spirit of a place. From Christian Norberg-Schulz’s statement:
Genius loci is a Roman concept. According to ancient Roman belief every “independent” being has its genius, its guardian spirit. This spirit gives life to people and places, accompanies them from birth to death, and determines their charachter or essence. […]. The genius thus denotes what a thing is, or what it “wants to be”, to use a word of Louis Kahn6.
The Joseph Rykwert’s Genius loci finds its roots in the memory in particular where Adam found his house home in the eden garden. A house become a Home when the sensory forms are enhanced and is able to suggest a fine living in armony with nature. The Genius loci inproves the good relationship between man and nature, between the environment and the house and between what’s natural and what’s not; it recalls «life in Paradise». These bounds are what architects are more stressed about: the form, the morphology, the guidelines and the oranization of the space as to aim to this lost memory. Yet, when the architect will try to find the reasons of his work, trying to turn a house into a home, he’ll live a paradox, because the home that Adam found in his Eden house is a myth and as a myth it can’t be studied but only adapted to the many situations.
The nature of my topic is a paradox because the pricipal subject of my research must be the memory of something that can’t be lost; something that has always been lost can’t be,litterally, remembered. Yet this memory isn’t really the memory of something concrete rather than something that existed or was and made by somebody; an action. […]. The architect must do a flashback to an age when there was no conception of building; this research of the memory should reveal the very first ideas from which the following building criterias was born and it would also help to understand the basic elements that the architects must use as simple tools to create from the simpler to the most difficoult statemant7.
It will be really important to understand the different needs and how a man will organize the internal space for a fine living. Generally speaking about houses means speaking about open and central spaces or about closed spaces which find their own placement because of their functions. The Genius loci helps us to find these collocations and gives us the right advice to make the right choices always respecting the matter of the surrounding environment. When architecture translates the characteristics of a place and make them avaible for the man’s needs, we can say that it expresses the belonging sense to a place. That’s what genius loci is about.
Architecture comes into being when a “total envirnment is made visible”, […]. In general, this means to concretize the Genius loci. […]. To belong to a place means to have an existential foothold, in a concrete everyday sense. When God said to Adam: «a fugitive and a vagabond shalt thou be in the earth»; he put man in front of his most basic problem: to cross the threshold and regain the lost place»8.
Cover: “Cacciata dal Paradiso Terrestre”, Michelangelo, Cappella Sistina, Roma; “L’angelo che scaccia Adamo e Eva dal Paradiso Terrestre”, Masaccio, Cappella Brancacci, Firenze.
University / Institution: Roma Tre University, Faculty of Architecture.
Author: Alessandro Petroni