When we urban designers start to design a site, we will generally be required to understand the place at the very early stage. However, what shall we look at? what should be experienced from the site?

Refer to these questions, Christian Norberg-Schultz (in Larice and MaCdonald (ed.), 2013 (2nd)) used Georg Trakl`s (1914) poem “A Winter Evening”:
“When the snow falls against the window,
The evening bell rings long,
The table is prepared for many,
And the house is well cultivated.

Some in their wanderings
Come to the gate on dark paths.
The tree of grace blooms golden
From the earth’s cool sap.

Wanderer, step silently inside;
Pain has petrified the threshold.
There in pure radiance
Bread and wine glow upon the table.”
This poem using the daily used items and words such as the “house”, “path”, “Tree” to represent a imaginary place. Norberg-Schultz believes that in this phenomenon, the identification between private and public is blur as the private insides are also part of public outsides. The private and public is thus produces a public totality. Based on such understanding, the structure of a place could be simplified as “landscape” and “settlement”, which, in other words, is “space” and “character”. Norberg-Schultz summarises these as genius loci, which could also be understood as the identity of the area.

Refer to our reality, when we start doing a project. understanding the area always require a detailed observation and direct feeling. In terms of observations, a wide range of settlements are needed such as building types, materials, resources distribution, topography, water, trees and so on. Direct feelings could be lifestyle, how people talk, activities, views from different angles and so on. These elements and information collected could help us to build up a genius loci. Genius loci is not necessarily to be changed with the physical changes of local settlement, it is the identity of the area. Therefore, it is important to put genius loci in priority as it is always where our design concept comes from.



Norberg-Schultz, C., “The Phenomenon of Place”, in Larice, M., and MaCdonald, E (ed), 2013, “The Urban Design Reader (2nd)“, Routledge: London

Trakl, G., 1914, “A Winter Evening“[Online], Available at: [Accessed at 17th May 2015].


  1. Hi there, I like your blog although it is not long. Understanding what genius loci is very important for urban design. Since urban design is about space making, place making and connection between cities and buildings. As you mentioned in your Blog, understand a place is key before design. However, my question about that is image you are asked to design for a project which is located in another country, you maybe have only very short time to finish your design, in this case, how to make sure that you know everything you need about genius loci before you start design. What is more, how to distribute the time you spend in understanding and studying the site and its wider context and designing which you may spend most your time on Photoshop, CAD and Sketch Up. In addition to that, you may only have very little time during the site visit to another country for instance, you are very likely to miss lot information which only local people knows like culture and traditions. SO how to solve the questions I ask and I do like to hear your response.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Hit Counter provided by recruiting services