The genius loci – why the spatial atmosphere should have impact to your design

Sometimes buildings or places have a very strong special energy that catches you, a spirit that envelops the space. It’s kind of magical. Do you know that special magic when you enter a place or room?

I feel that whenever I am at home. For me it’s a very special place, the old building has it’s special character, also the church and the pond only a few meters nearby. And of course also the four-lane street a few meters the other direction. When you step into our street and leave traffic and noise it seems as if you would step into another world. This place has a very special meaning for me.

Also the apartment. When we moved back after spending 17 years in Munich we settled in the south of Berlin. Our bigger daughter got a place in the Kindergarten near the pond and every day we went 2 km home from Kindergarten I thought „I would love to live here near the pond“ I loved this special place and in some way mystique atmosphere. And we met new people, some of them became wonderful friends.

And one of those really special friends lived here in the apartment. I remember when I was here the first time, I loved it! It was old and charming, very special and wonderful. And every time I went by I thought „I would love to live there“. And two years later the magic happened. Our friends bought a house in the neighbourhood. A few people wanted to have the apartment but we got it. And really every minute I am here I enjoy and feel deep pleasure and gratitude.

A very important aspect when designing a place – your home as well as an urban surrounding – is to respect and analyse the space itself. It’s not enough to look only for the needs and functions it has to fulfil. Last week my course participants got the task to analyse their own surrounding before they develop a new design that aligns to them and the space itself. It sometimes means hard work at the beginning but it’s the basement of good architecture and design. I love that early stage of design process because it means research and developing. Architecture is it a mixture of psychology, technology, sociology, philosophy, history and future. And maybe also mythology when we come back to the space itself again. 

Space has always an impact on us, always. No matter if it’s an urban area, nature or our home. It influences our feelings, thoughts and also behaviour, if you like to or not. If you feel it or not. Consciously and unconsciously. It’s a constant interaction between people and space. 

And this is why we have to be aware of what we do, how we build and act with places. Of course we form a space the way we design and use it but at the other had the space forms us. So our high demand should be to create places of high quality.

Every place has it’s special character, the genius loci. As an architect I am fascinated by it because it also means a space is more than a reaction to needs and conditions, it’s also a special spirit, meaning and atmosphere that forms the character. Unfortunately this is often not considered enough in design process. But it should because it has decisive impact on design quality, too.

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