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speech: 09 2012. Genius Loci

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speech: 09

Genius Loci

Uitgever:speech:

ISBN: 978-3-8692-2019-2

  • Paperback
  • Engels, Russisch
  • 288 pagina's
  • 21 sep. 2012

The theme for this issue of speech: might strike some readers as mystic, strange, abstract, and so of little relevance to the rational and practical discipline of architecture. Nevertheless, genius loci – a notion which traces its origins to antiquity and means ‘spirit of the place’ (‘genius’ of place or its ‘guardian angel’ according to an alternative interpretation) – is of the utmost importance for architecture, if only because buildings do not exist separately from place. And place is always determinate and specific: it possesses not merely objective, determinable parameters and a history (or lack of a history), but also an individual character and spirit which may only be sensed and captured at an irrational level. All buildings change and transform the place in which they stand.

This transformation may ‘kill’ or disfigure the place or may, on the other hand, underline the latter’s distinctive character and bring out and express its essence. Modernism – with its striving for universality and emphasis on technological progress, mobility, and mutual replaceability – initially, by definition, ignored the notion of ‘place’, not to mention the latter’s ‘spirit’. But flying city or walking city remained a drawing-board utopia. In reality, houses were built down at ground level, and in the second half of the 20th century they were mostly built using industrial, massproduction methods. The reaction to the predominance of characterless buildings, districts, and even entire towns that lacked either any marks of identity or anything to tie them to a particular place came in the form of Postmodernism. However, the Postmodernist use of the traditions of the past, like the ‘contextual approach’ which gained strength at the same time, most often amounted to nothing more than purely formal stylization and mere citation – and this was in its turn subjected to criticism and prevented these movements from developing further.

The theme for this issue of speech: might strike some readers as mystic, strange, abstract, and so of little relevance to the rational and practical discipline of architecture. Nevertheless, genius loci – a notion which traces its origins to antiquity and means ‘spirit of the place’ (‘genius’ of place or its ‘guardian angel’ according to an alternative interpretation) – is of the utmost importance for architecture, if only because buildings do not exist separately from place. And place is always determinate and specific: it possesses not merely objective, determinable parameters and a history (or lack of a history), but also an individual character and spirit which may only be sensed and captured at an irrational level. All buildings change and transform the place in which they stand.

This transformation may ‘kill’ or disfigure the place or may, on the other hand, underline the latter’s distinctive character and bring out and express its essence. Modernism – with its striving for universality and emphasis on technological progress, mobility, and mutual replaceability – initially, by definition, ignored the notion of ‘place’, not to mention the latter’s ‘spirit’. But flying city or walking city remained a drawing-board utopia. In reality, houses were built down at ground level, and in the second half of the 20th century they were mostly built using industrial, massproduction methods. The reaction to the predominance of characterless buildings, districts, and even entire towns that lacked either any marks of identity or anything to tie them to a particular place came in the form of Postmodernism. However, the Postmodernist use of the traditions of the past, like the ‘contextual approach’ which gained strength at the same time, most often amounted to nothing more than purely formal stylization and mere citation – and this was in its turn subjected to criticism and prevented these movements from developing further.

Today too, in spite of the great stylistic diversity of contemporary architecture, disregard of context is characteristic of most projects that are being created in conditions of economic and cultural globalization. There can be no doubt that paying attention to the character of a specific place, to its landscape and cultural, historical, social and other contexts, and to its ‘spirit’ requires architects to be particularly sensitive. As it is an individual approach it cannot be multiplied. But the necessity for such an approach is now increasingly recognized.

This issue of speech: deals with the interaction between buildings and their places; with contextuality as one of the fundamental characteristics of architecture; and with the growing tendency to prioritize the ‘local’ over the ‘global’ in modern architecture. Its heroes are architects for whom the label ‘genius of place’ seems absolutely apt.

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