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Christian Norberg-Schulz's Phenomenological Project In Architecture

Elie Haddad

Available online: 30 Mar 2010

To cite this article: Elie Haddad (2010): Christian Norberg-Schulz's Phenomenological Project In Architecture, Architectural Theory Review, 15:1, 88-101


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NORBERG-SCHULZ’S PHENOMENOLOGICAL PROJECT IN ARCHITECTURE This paper will examine the theoretical work of one of the

This paper will examine the theoretical work of one of the major proponents of a phenomenological approach in architecture, the historian-theoretician Christian Norberg- Schulz, examining the development of his ideas across 30 years. While Norberg-Schulz started out with Intentions in Architecture (1963), a work that was clearly influenced by structuralist studies, he soon shifted to a phenomenological approach with Existence, Space and Architecture (1971), and then with Genius Loci (1980) and The Concept of Dwelling (1985). He attempted through this trilogy to lay down the foundations of a phenomen- ological interpretation of architecture, with an underlying agenda that espoused certain directions in contemporary architecture. This paper will examine the major writings of Christian Norberg-Schulz, critically evalu- ating his interpretation of phenomenology in architecture in its ambiguous relation to the project of modernity.

ISSN 1326-4826 print/ISSN 1755-0475 online ª 2010 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/13264821003629279

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It is paradoxical that the phenomenological discourse appeared on the architectural scene after the decline of structuralism and semiotics, while in philosophy and the humanities, it was the decline of phenomenology in the 1960s that prompted the development of structural- ism. This ambiguous situation may be explained by the time-lapse between the moment philosophical ideas are articulated and their translation into the architectural field.

to poetic or artistic practice. 3 It was this later

Heidegger who would become influential among a number of architectural theorists, namely Christian Norberg-Schulz, who was among the first to attempt to translate this phenomenological approach in architecture.

Christian Norberg-Schulz’s first theoretical work was very much influenced by the structuralist tendencies of the 1960s, 4 without being specifically anchored to any single source

Phenomenology owes its main thrust to


reference. Intentions in Architecture appeared

Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger. Husserl


1963 and constituted an ambitious project

launched the phenomenological movement


develop an overarching ‘‘system’’ that would

in philosophy with the intent of developing

account for the various poles of architectural

it into a method of precise philosophical

activity. The framework for this study included

investigation—that is, a comprehensive new


combination of scientific ideas derived

‘‘science’’, but it was his student Heidegger who

from sociology, psychology and semiotics.

took it into another direction and turned it into one of the major philosophical movements of

Already at that time, he attributed the con- dition of ‘‘crisis’’ in architecture to the failure

the twentieth century, influencing all subse-


modern architecture to take account of

quent developments in philosophy from Sartre

some of the essential factors that give signi-

to Foucault and Derrida. Heidegger trans- formed Phenomenology into a means for the

ficance to the built environment, primary among those the role of perception, in addition

questioning of philosophical traditions, a radical


the importance of history as a source of

dismantling to be followed by a reconstruction,

meanings. 5

with the intent of founding a new fundamental ontology that looks at the way in which the structures of ‘‘Being’’ are revealed through the structures of human existence. 1

Norberg-Schulz’s discussion of perception was largely influenced by Gestalt psychology, to which were also added the socialization of perception and the process of ‘‘schematiza-

The main thrust of Heidegger’s philosophy was developed in his major work, Being and Time (1927), which constitutes the basis of his phenomenological approach. Yet, as scholars of Heidegger remark, his later works, especially the series of essays ‘‘The Origin of the Work of Art’’ (1935), ‘‘Building, Dwelling, Thinking’’ (1952) and ‘‘The Question concerning Tech- nology’’ (1949), 2 reflected a turn in his orienta- tion from the earlier Being and Time towards a mythopoeic approach that privileges a direct reflection on the nature of elements, common

tion’’, that is the way in which perception leads

to the construction of an understanding of the

world, based on the pioneering studies of Jean Piaget in child psychology. From this, he

proceeded to outline a theoretical framework which would include all the semiotic dimen- sions. This theory, influenced to a large extent

by Charles Morris’s interpretation of semiotics,

constituted a similar attempt to develop a comprehensive structure—that is, an ‘‘archi- tectural totality’’ that would account for all the dimensions of architecture: the technical


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structure, environment, context, scale and ornament. 6 It is worth noting that this work

did not list any single reference to Heidegger in

its bibliography, only mentioning him in a single

footnote. 7

A few years later, Norberg-Schulz published a

work with a very indicative title, Existence, Space and Architecture (1971), followed by

Genius Loci (1980) and The Concept of Dwelling (1985) which constitute his phenomenological trilogy in architecture. Existence, Space and Architecture marked a turning point in Norberg- Schulz’s theoretical project. While his first work was based on a structuralist approach blending semiotics and Gestalt theories, this work betrayed a shift which would be translated later into a move towards a phenomenological approach. In the foreword, Norberg-Schulz announced, in fact, a ‘‘new approach to the problem of architectural space’’, attempting to ‘‘develop the idea that architectural space may be understood as

a concretization of environmental schemata

or images, which form a necessary part of man’s general orientation or ‘being in the world’’’. 8 This reference to ‘‘being in the world’’

is indicative of this new shift, supported by

several quotations from Heidegger. Still, in this

transitional work, Norberg-Schulz stood on a middle ground between the structuralist posi- tions of Piaget, Arnheim and others, and the phenomenological position represented by Heidegger and Bollnow. 9 This attempt at reconciling structuralism with phenomenology may also be traced in his subsequent works and never seemed to pose any problems for Norberg-Schulz.

The major concept in Existence, Space and Architecture is ‘‘space’’. The discussion of ‘‘space’’ was motivated by what the author perceived as a reductive reading of that concept, first


given currency by Giedion and later used by others, particularly Bruno Zevi. 10 Norberg- Schulz qualified space as ‘‘existential space’’, structured into schemata and centres, direc- tions, paths, and domains; concepts that he illustrated by concrete examples derived from multiple sources, from Mircea Eliade to Otto Bollnow, Gaston Bachelard, Claude Levi- Strauss and Kevin Lynch. The centre, for instance, was illustrated by the image drawn from Eliade’s discussion on mythology, a mythical origin traversed by a diagram of the axis mundi, which represents a connection between the different cosmic realms. 11 Simi- larly, the path was related to the idea of departure and return home, and the division into the ‘‘inner’’ and ‘‘outer’’ domains of existence, as explained by Bollnow. Norberg- Schulz also introduced a new concept that would be expanded later, that of genius loci , literally the ‘‘spirit of a place’’. 12 He identified four levels of ‘‘existential space’’: geography and landscape, urban level, the house and the thing. In discussing the house, Norberg-Schulz re- ferred to Heidegger’s essay on dwelling and the etymological roots of ‘‘building’’ which go back to ‘‘dwelling’’, stressing the role of the house as the ‘‘central place of human existence’’:

The House, therefore, remains the central place of human existence, the place where the child learns to under- stand his being in the world, and the place from which man departs and to which he returns. 13

The last chapter discussed the concept of ‘‘architectural space’’ which he defined as a ‘‘concretization of existential space’’, illustrated by a historical survey of various architectural works, from villages and towns to specific architectural artefacts, subjected to a classifica- tion in terms of the spatial concepts of centre,

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path and domain, as well as a qualitative description in terms of their phenomenological attributes. Existential space was thus defined as a qualitative space, manifest in the monumental architecture of the Parthenon as well as that of the medieval towns, in the dynamic architec- ture of Borromini as well as in that of the Renaissance, in the work of Le Corbusier, La Tourette (Fig. 1) being a favoured example, as well as in Louis Kahn’s and Paolo Portoghesi’s works.

For Norberg-Schulz, there exist multiple varia- tions to the concept of ‘‘architectural space’’, but its essential aspects had been obliterated by some modern works, especially at the level of urbanism. There, the figural quality of the street and its variations, the centrality of the town square and its existential role have all been ignored by architects, which led to

deficient urban environments. In this respect, he joined Venturi, Jacobs, and Rossi in criticizing Modern Architecture for its shortcomings, especially at the level of the urban environ- ment. As in the case of Venturi, but using a different approach, Norberg-Schulz returned to history in its wider sense to give compara- tive examples of buildings, towns and land- scapes as examples that naturally incorporate these qualities of ‘‘existential space’’, creating meaningful and wholistic environments.

Norberg-Schulz reiterated the necessary re- cognition and understanding of the different levels of architectural space that ‘‘form a structured totality which corresponds to the structure of existential space’’. 14 This under- standing of ‘‘existential space’’, ignored by ‘‘orthodox modernism’’ reappeared, according to him, in the work of Louis Kahn, Robert

according to him, in the work of Louis Kahn, Robert Figure 1. La Tourette. Photo: courtesy

Figure 1. La Tourette. Photo: courtesy of David Rifkind.


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Downloaded by [] at 21:40 01 May 2012 HADDAD Figure 2. Vitorchiano. Photo: Author. Venturi and

Figure 2. Vitorchiano. Photo: Author.

Venturi and Paolo Portoghesi. Portoghesi was singled out for his supposed mastery through the application of geometry of the interaction between different levels of space, resulting in a balanced relation between the building and its environment. Norberg-Schulz concluded with a quote from Heidegger: ‘‘Mortals dwell in as much as they save the earth’’, as a confirmation of the necessity of re-appropriating the elements of existential space into the founda- tion of architecture. 15

Genius Loci

Norberg-Schulz introduced his major opus, Genius Loci , 16 as a sequel to his previous two works in architectural theory, despite the radically different direction that this work took in relation to the first. Genius Loci was perhaps the most influential of Norberg-Schulz’s writ- ings, as it came out at a time when questions of meaning, history, and mythology assumed greater importance in architectural discourse, in a post-modernist climate that gave back credibility to these themes. And unlike his


previous studies, this one was more explicitly concerned with the interpretation of phenom- enology in architecture as its subtitle indicated, and as clearly stated in the introduction that acknowledged the debt to Heidegger’s ideas, particularly his essays gathered in Poetry, Language, Thought . 17 The book cover was quite indicative as well; in clear contrast to the plain white cover of his first book, it featured a panoramic photograph of the medieval Italian hill town of Vitorchiano, in the region of Latium (Fig. 2).

In this photographic essay on architecture, with its illustrations ranging from the macroscopic scale of landscapes to the microscopic scale of architectural details, Norberg-Schulz proposed to elaborate the constituting elements of a ‘‘phenomenology of place’’, using as a keynote the poem of Georg Trakl, ‘‘A Winter Evening’’, quoted in one of Heidegger’s essays. The main lesson of this poem, as explained by the author, is the importance of ‘‘concrete images’’ that constitute our experiences, represented by poets, architects and artists. The phenomen- ological challenge lies therefore in reviving

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this poetic dimension of things and in re- establishing the lost connection between the various elements that constitute our world. Specifically, Norberg-Schulz stressed the con- nection between the man-made world and the natural world, historically evident in various places and environments from around the world. This relationship is established through a three-point process of visualization, comple- mentation, and symbolization. 18 This process was attributed to Heidegger’s concept of

‘‘gathering’’. Its last phase, symbolization, plays

a more crucial role in the concretization of

meaning in a place, and in the realization of the concept of ‘‘gathering’’. Norberg-Schulz’s main thesis rested therefore on the marriage

of these two concepts, Heidegger’s concept of

‘‘gathering’’ and the old Roman concept of

genius loci :

The existential purpose of building (ar- chitecture) is therefore to make a site become a place, that is, to uncover the meanings potentially present in the given environment.

Genius Loci is a Roman concept. Accord- ing 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 character or essence. Even the gods had their genius, a fact which illustrates the fundamental nature of the concept. 19

In what amounts to a mixing of mythology with

philosophy, Norberg-Schulz proceeded to de- velop his theory, supported by a litany of well chosen photographs that depict various condi- tions and sites, from the historic towns of Europe to the landscapes of Tuscany, Switzerland, Finland and Sudan, and from the

characteristic images of people walking in the Nordic winter snow to barefoot children posing in their desert village in Sudan. This ‘‘photo-historiography’’, as pointedly analysed by Jorge Otero-Pailos, 20 also encompassed select examples of historical periods from Greek to Baroque and Modern Architecture. The reference to Greek examples, such as the iconic Tholos and Theatre of Delphi was somewhat legitimized and necessitated by the appeal to the concept of genius loci , with its mythological aspects that invoke the specific appropriations of different places by specific gods, a theme that also brings back Heidegger, specifically his essay on ‘‘The Origin of the Work of Art’’. 21 As for landscapes, Norberg- Schulz again drew on Heidegger in calling for a ‘‘phenomenology of natural place’’ which recalls the different topological contexts and re- examines their etymologies in the hope of uncovering their original meanings:

Whereas valleys and basins have a macro or medium scale, a ravine (cleft, gorge) is distinguished by a ‘‘forbidding’’ narrowness. It has the quality of an ‘‘under-world’’ which gives access to the ‘‘inside’’ of the earth. In a ravine we feel caught or trapped, and the etymology of the word in fact leads us back to rapere, that is to ‘‘seize’’. 22

Norberg-Schulz’s personal religious affinities played a significant role in the articulation of his ideas. Thus, it is not only landscape in general that stimulates a phenomenological understanding of the world, but specific sanctuaries within the landscape that create a favourable condition for ‘‘intimate dwelling’’. These ‘‘sub-places’’, such as the Carceri of St Francis near Assisi or the Sacro Speco of St Benedict near Subiaco, offer ‘‘archetypal retreats where man may still experi- ence the presence of the original forces of the earth’’. 23


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Yet what is most surprising in this interpreta- tion of the environment was Norberg-Schulz’s reductive categorization of landscapes into three basic types: Romantic (the Nordic region being its main illustration), Cosmic (defined as an environment that makes an absolute and eternal order manifest, represented best by the infinite desert), and Classical (varied yet orderly, an example of which is the Greek landscape). Yet these landscapes do not simply present abstract topological conditions; they appear intimately connected to certain social or cultural characteristics, which take the form of historically determined judgments. Thus, the Romantic landscape encourages an intimate relation with the earth where dwelling takes the form of a refuge in the forest, while the desert seems to act as a natural framework for the unifying message proclaimed by religions like Islam, and the Classical landscape appears like an in-between condition, a condition of equilibrium that generates a meaningful order, and fosters a ‘‘human fellowship’’ where the individual is neither absorbed by the totality (the cosmic order) nor forced to seek his private hiding place (the romantic world). This last case offers, accordingly, the best possibility for a ‘‘true gathering’’—for dwelling in the Heideggerian sense. 24 These three types of landscape constitute ‘‘archetypes’’, which do not always present themselves in the ‘‘pure’’ form of the examples mentioned, and some- times lead to ‘‘complex’’ landscapes, according to the author—that is, composite landscapes such as Naples or Venice, or Brandenburg where ‘‘extension is squeezed in between a sandy moor and a low, grey sky, creating a landscape which seems saturated by the monotonous, cheerless rhythm of marching soldiers’’. 25

The same reductive approach that was followed to categorize the various landscapes


was also used to categorize ‘‘man-made’’ place, meaning architecture, into ‘‘Romantic

architecture’’, ‘‘Cosmic architecture’’ and ‘‘Clas- sical architecture’’. While Classical architecture offers itself more easily to categorization, as

it is historically recognized, it is interesting to note the selective reading of the author regarding the other categories, which pro- ceeds from the same geographical determina- tion applied to landscape. Thus, ‘‘Romantic architecture’’ does not indicate a specific style or period, but an architecture ‘‘distinguished by multiplicity and variety’’, ‘‘irrational and subjective’’, ‘‘phantastic and mysterious but also intimate and idyllic’’. 26 This strange definition brings together disparate examples from the medieval towns of Germany to the vernacular architecture of Norway, even extending to the work of Guimard and Aalto in our times. In the same vein, cosmic architecture applies to works characterized by ‘‘uniformity and absolute order’’ and supposedly finds its best manifestation in Islamic architecture. 27

The concluding chapters were dedicated to

a selective study of three settlements that

best illustrate these three categories, a study which, in reality, translates into something in between a travel guide and an architectural survey of these three cities: Prague, Khartoum and Rome. While Prague exudes a romantic sense of mystery confirmed by the novels of Kafka and supported by its rich architectural heritage, the ‘‘cosmic’’ Khartoum offers the opposite feeling of an infinite landscape defined by the movement of the sun and the Nile River. And while Rome was probably selected to illustrate the third case, upon closer scrutiny its genius loci appears to escape any strict definition, and thus emerges as a ‘‘complex’’ case which ‘‘contains every- thing’’.

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Norberg-Schulz concluded by a discussion of the ‘‘loss of place’’ in the contemporary world. This is, in essence, the second thesis of the book, and presents the underlying project of Norberg-Schulz, which is similar to that of other theorists who were preoccupied by the dis- integrating urban condition around the world. Here Norberg-Schulz presented a pragmatic assessment of the problem, from the destruc- tion of the ‘‘urban fabric’’ to the loss of character and place. Yet once again, his conciliatory approach left the issue unresolved, as he did not take any firm stand regarding it. While the illustrations accompanying this part showed the Federal Center in Chicago by Mies van der Rohe and the Green City by Le Corbusier as examples of this deficient urbanism, the text reads more like an apology for the Modern Movement. The author saw this movement, in fact, as an attempt to give form to a ‘‘new spirit’’, which reflects a new genius loci, with the aim of helping people ‘‘regain a true and meaningful existence’’, even going as far as suggesting that some of its early manifestations such as Neue Sachlichkeit, effectively meant a ‘‘return back to things’’. 28 Accordingly, this return to things may be observed in some of the masterpieces of modern architecture, such as the Villa Savoye and the Haus Tugendhat which, despite their ‘‘lack of substance and presence’’, satisfy modern man’s search for freedom and identity. It is only when moving to the urban dimension that modern architecture fails to ‘‘gather’’ and to create significant environments. 29

In what amounts, then, to a confirmation of the theses of his teacher Giedion, Norberg- Schulz concluded that the underlying basis of the Modern Movement was ‘‘profoundly meaningful’’ and that only at the hands of some imitators the movement had lost its objectives. These objectives were again being rediscovered in this second phase which

proposes to ‘‘give buildings and places indivi- duality, with regard to space and character’’, as manifested in the works of Aalto, the late works of Le Corbusier, and most significantly in the work of Kahn whose poetic descriptions come close to Heidegger’s. 30 A third genera- tion of architects, composed of Utzon, Pietila, Stirling and Bofill, appeared to him on the right path towards an architecture that concretizes this recovery of place. 31

The Concept of Dwelling

The Concept of Dwelling constituted the third part of Norberg-Schulz’s phenomenological trilogy, still supported by a framework of semiotic, behaviorist and other studies. 32 In this work, Norberg-Schulz directly addressed the issue of ‘‘dwelling’’, a concept that was singled out by Heidegger’s famous essay. Here, surprisingly, the subtitle indicated a movement

towards ‘‘figurative architecture’’. 33 In the fore- word, the author announced the basic premise

of the book as the rediscovery of ‘‘dwelling’’ in

its comprehensive totality, leading towards a final overcoming of functionalism and a return

to figurative architecture. 34 The keynote to this

work is given by the Norwegian story of Knut,

a youngster who recognizes, through a sort

of spiritual revelation, his presence in the forest as a fundamental aspect of his exis- tence. Two illustrations, a Norwegian forest and a farmhouse, accompany this introduction, further evoking this idea of dwelling as a return to the sources. 35

The Concept of Dwelling was organized into a structured study that proceeded from the general outline to the development of the concept, and again from the macro level of the settlement to that of the individual house, passing by the intermediary ‘‘modes’’


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of dwelling, urban space and institution. These four basic modes of dwelling are organized through two ‘‘aspects’’: identification and orientation. Mingled in the text are various quotations from Heidegger, but also from Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, to give a phenom- enological flavour to an otherwise structuralist work that revives the same concepts derived from Gestalt psychology, from Kevin Lynch, in addition to references to the work of Mircea Eliade on mythology. In focusing his attention on laying down the foundations of an archi- tectural ‘‘language’’, Norberg-Schulz in fact returned to the earlier phase of his Intentions in Architecture , coloured by his more recent discovery of phenomenology. In this work, the author re-examined the four categories of dwelling under the structuralist template of ‘‘morphology’’, ‘‘topology’’ and ‘‘typology’’, which constituted the organizing structure that was applied onto the dimension of ‘‘being’’:

Man’s being-in-the-world is structured, and the structure is kept and visualized by means of architecture. 36

And further:

The meaning of a work of architecture therefore consists in its gathering the world in a general typical sense, in a local particular sense, in a temporal historical sense, and, finally, as something, that is as the figural manifestation of a mode of dwelling between earth and sky. 37

Once again, the selection of ‘‘particular’’ examples of dwelling at the level of the individual house is quite revealing of the author’s selective interpretation. The first example mentioned was the Hill House by Mackintosh, lauded for its fulfilment of the task of dwelling: to ‘‘reveal the world, not as


essence but as presence, that is as material and colour, topography and vegetation, seasons, weather and light’’. 38 After the Hill House, the author turned to vernacular architecture, particularly to the types of dwelling common in northern European countries, which were mentioned by Heidegger (Fig. 3). In addition to these, Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen’s Hvit- tra¨sk complex (Fig. 4), Behrens’ house in Darmstadt, Hoffmann’s Palais Stoclet and Wright’s prairie houses, which share little in common, were seen as good examples of this interpretation of dwelling.

Yet this time, the critique of the ‘‘modern house’’ was more explicit, and the author recognized its failure to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the problem of dwelling, for it lacked the ‘‘figural quality’’; it did not look like a house. Hence, what seems to be the problem is simply the inability of the modern house to look like a house, and not, as Heidegger had alluded to, the inability of modern man to dwell. Norberg-Schulz expressed here the hope that the revival of this figural quality, as evident in many post-modern projects, will again make dwelling possible. 39 Despite a cautionary remark against the fall into eclecti- cism, the book ends on an optimistic note that this recovery of the figural quality would lead to a recovery of dwelling, in which pheno- menology would play a major role as the catalyst for the rediscovery of the poetic dimension in architecture. 40


Despite its wide dissemination in architectural circles during the 1980s, Norberg-Schulz’s phenomenological interpretation received re- latively little critical overview, apart from the usual book reviews, most of which were

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Downloaded by [] at 21:40 01 May 2012 Figure 3. Traditional House in southern Germany. Photo:

Figure 3. Traditional House in southern Germany. Photo: Author.

01 May 2012 Figure 3. Traditional House in southern Germany. Photo: Author. Figure 4. Hvittra ¨sk.

Figure 4. Hvittra¨sk. Photo: Author.


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generally positive. 41 The strongest attack against this interpretation of phenomenology came indirectly from Massimo Cacciari, who criticized the naı¨ve interpretations of Heidegger’s concept of dwelling. 42 Cacciari, in clear opposition to Norberg-Schulz, read in Heidegger’s essay a recognition of the ‘‘impos- sibility of dwelling’’, rather than a desire for a nostalgic return to pre-modern conditions of dwelling:

No nostalgia, then, in Heidegger—but rather the contrary. He radicalizes the discourse supporting any possible ‘‘nos- talgic’’ attitude, lays bare its logic, pitilessly emphasizes its insurmountable distance from the actual condition. 43

The difficulty of interpreting Heidegger’s later writings has been raised by some critics. Hilde Heynen, for instance, saw in these different interpretations of Heidegger an opposition between two ideological positions, utopian- nostalgic and critical-radical, represented re- spectively by Norberg-Schulz and Cacciari. In this opposition, Heynen recognized the defi- ciencies of both positions, the first for its simplistic reduction of the problematic to a question of architectural form, the second for its assimilation of the condition of anxiety as a generative principle. 44

It is precisely this aspect that constitutes the weakest point in Norberg-Schulz’s theoretical proposition: his desire to translate phenomen- ological discourse into a tool for the genera- tion of architectural forms that recreate a semblance of meaningful environments. In his interpretation of Heidegger, Norberg-Schulz did not go beyond the surface, satisfying himself with the later works of Heidegger, without attempting to answer some of the


problematic issues raised by its critics. Further- more, phenomenology, in Norberg-Schulz’s understanding, was continuously supported by a structuralist framework, which puts into question the very possibility of overcoming the duality of mind/body as phenomenologists claim, using this structuralist framework as a pretext for one of two possibilities: a return to vernacular architecture as an archetype for an idealized dwelling on the one hand, or an espousal of a ‘‘figurative’’ post-modernist architecture as a second option. Even in his last publication, Norberg-Schulz did not pro- pose anything beyond a synthesis of these various concepts from structuralism to phe- nomenology into yet another work that attempts to give a ‘‘comprehensive’’ account of architecture from all periods and regions. 45

Heidegger’s later reflections on art and architecture—and the mythopoeic turn that he took—may also be partly responsible for this particular interpretation of phenomenol- ogy, which was translated by some as a nostalgic return to an ‘‘authentic dwelling’’ and, consequently, as a retreat to certain styles or periods. The later developments in archi- tecture and the various appropriations of the ‘‘figurative’’ have shown that the crisis of the object, of which Tafuri had spoken, cannot be simply resolved by such artificial measures. It is questionable whether other phenomenological interpretations would be more successful in resolving the problematic condition of con- temporary architecture, without addressing the current conditions of its production. A phe- nomenological approach, in the real sense of the term, cannot be reduced to a formal manipulation of specific parameters such as tactility or vision. 46 And despite the occasional masterpieces which can bring forth intense spatial experiences that distinguishes them

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from ‘‘ordinary’’ productions, such as the work of Peter Zumthor, it is questionable whether it is possible to raise architecture as a whole to this level of aesthetic resolution, within a


practice that continues to separate architecture from its social and political dimensions, which was the historic condition for the generation of ‘‘meaningful’’ environments. 47

1. Dermot Moran, Introduction to Phenomenology, London/ NY: Routledge, 2000, ch. 6.

structed’ system, and not naturally inherited or meta- physically inspired, thus

deeper probe into the very

of Architectural Education , 21, 3, 1967: 8–10.

2. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time , Harper, 2008; ‘‘The

opening the way for a

foundations of this system,


Christian Norberg-Schulz, Existence, Space and Archi- tecture , NY: Praeger, 1971,

Origin of the Work of Art’’ and ‘‘Building Dwelling

which directly affects the way we construct our real-



Thinking’’ are included in the collection of essays pub- lished as Poetry, Language, Thought, Harper, 2001; ‘‘The Question Concerning Technology’’ in The Question Concerning Technology, and

ity and the world. Although in his collection of notes, the term ‘structure’ was never used by Saussure, but rather ‘system’, later readers of Saussure came up with this terminology


Otto F. Bollnow, author of Mensch und Raum , 1963 as well as a number of works on German existential phi- losophy and hermeneutics, among others.

Other Essays, Harper: 1982.

which became a standard bearer for other studies,


Norberg-Schulz, Existence, Space and Architecture , p. 12.

3. Moran, Introduction to Phe- nomenology, p. 209.

and first among those, the work of Claude Levi-Strauss in anthropology. For more


Norberg-Schulz, Existence, Space and Architecture , p. 21.

4. Structuralism largely devel- oped out of linguistic stu- dies, the branch of knowledge concerned with

on this see Francois Dosse, Histoire du Structuralisme , Vol. 1, Paris: La Decouverte, 1991; and John Sturrock,


Norberg-Schulz, Existence, Space and Architecture , p. 27.

the study of language itself. Initially, the main source of influence was the Swiss

Structuralism , London: Black- well, 2003.


Norberg-Schulz, Existence, Space and Architecture , p. 31.

linguist Ferdinand de Saus- sure, who left no work of his own, other than the

5. Christian Norberg-Schulz, Intentions in Architecture , Cambridge, MA: MIT Press,


Norberg-Schulz, Existence, Space and Architecture , p. 96.

collected notes published

1965, pp. 21–22.


Norberg-Schulz, Existence,

by his students after his



Architecture ,

death, as the General Course on Linguistics , a work that

6. Norberg-Schulz, Intentions in Architecture , pp. 101–102.



was first translated to Eng-


Christian Norberg-Schulz,

lish in 1959. Saussure in- itiated a major change in the study of language, in- sisting on a synchronic ap- proach rather than the usual diachronic approach by looking at the structure of the language and its rules of operation. He also pos- ited that language is a ‘con-

7. Peter Collins wrote a sharp critique of this early work of Norberg-Schulz, warning against the dangers of assimilating architecture within overwhelming ‘‘the- ories’’ of philosophical or linguistic nature. See his book review of Intentions in Architecture in the Journal

Genius Loci: Towards a Phe- nomenology of Architecture , New York: Rizzoli, 1980. The book was first pub- lished in Italian as Genius Loci-paesaggio, ambiente, ar- chitettura by Electa in 1979. It is interesting to note here that the Italian subtitle dif- fers from the one chosen


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for the English edition and does not include the refer- ence to Phenomenology.

17. Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought , New York: Harper & Row, 1971.

18. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci ,

p. 17.

19. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci ,

p. 18.

20. For a critique of Norberg- Schulz’s visual approach, see Jorge Otero-Pailos, ‘‘Photo[historio]graphy: Chri- stian Norberg-Schulz’s Demotion of Textual His- tory’’, Journal of Society of Architectural Historians, 66, 2, 2007: 220–241. Otero- Pailos argues that the author created a new type of history book, one

which relies on images as an ‘‘alternate narrative’’ which was paradoxically anti- historical, in that it avoided critical reflection by conceal- ing its own historical con-


21. In this text, Heidegger re- ferred to the Greek temple as a major example of the significance and role of a work of art. Norberg- Schulz dedicated one of his essays to discuss this text by Heidegger, pub- lished as Christian Norber- Schulz, ‘‘Heidegger’s Think- ing on Architecture’’, Per- specta , 20, 1983: 61–80.

22. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci ,

p. 37.

23. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci ,

p. 40.

24. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci ,

p. 46.


25. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci , p. 47.

26. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci ,

pp. 68–69.

27. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci , pp. 71–73.

28. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci , pp. 191–192.

29. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci , pp. 194–195.

30. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci , pp. 195–198.

31. Norberg-Schulz, Genius Loci , pp. 198–200.

32. This work did not conclude the series on this topic, as the author published an- other work, titled Architec- ture : Presence, Language and Place , which reiterated the same themes discussed in the previous books.

33. Christian Norberg-Schulz, The Concept of Dwelling: On

the Way to Figurative Archi- tecture , New York: Rizzoli,

1985. Again, the original publication came out first in Italian, under Electa, one year prior.

34. In another essay titled ‘‘On the Way to Figurative Archi- tecture’’, Norberg-Schulz sheds further light on his interpretation of the ‘‘figura- tive’’, using this concept to support recent post-moder- nist projects by Venturi,

Graves and Botta, among

others. See Christian Norberg-Schulz, ‘‘On the

Way to Figurative Architec-

ture’’, in Norberg-Schulz, Architecture: Meaning and

Place , New York: Electa/

Rizzoli, 1988, pp. 233–245.

35. Norberg-Schulz, Concept of Dwelling , pp. 9–12.

36. Norberg-Schulz, Concept of Dwelling , p. 29.

37. Norberg-Schulz, Concept of Dwelling , p. 30.

38. Norberg-Schulz, Concept of Dwelling , p. 89.

39. Norberg-Schulz, Concept of Dwelling , p. 110. Two draw- ings were used to illustrate

the ‘‘figural quality’’: the first a drawing by Louis Kahn, the second by Michael

Graves, titled ‘‘On the Way to Figurative Architec- ture’’, pp. 132, 134.

40. Norberg-Schulz, Concept of Dwelling , p. 135.

41. See for instance: Harris Forusz, ‘‘Review of Genius Loci’’, Journal of Architectural Education , 34, 3, 1981: 32; one of the critical reviews

of Norberg-Schulz is by Linda Krause, ‘‘Review of Architecture: Meaning and Place’’, The Journal of the Society of Architectural Histor- ians , 50, 2, 1991: 197–199. Also, a critical yet cursory discussion of Norberg- Schulz’s concept of dwelling

can be found in David Leatherbarrow, Roots of Architectural Invention , Cam- bridge: Cambridge Univer- sity Press, 1993.

42. Massimo Cacciari, ‘‘Eupali- nos or Architecture’’, Oppositions , 21, 1980: 106– 116. This article was writ- ten as a review of Tafuri & Dal Co’s Architettura con- temporanea , for the journal Oppositions . Architettura con- temporanea appeared in 1976, and was translated

ATR 15:1-10


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as Modern Architecture in 1979. Cacciari’s essay in Oppositions coincided with Norberg-Schulz’s original publication of Genius Loci in Italian.

43. Cacciari, ‘‘Eupalinos or Ar- chitecture’’, p. 107.

44. Hilde Heynen, Architecture and Modernity, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

45. Christian Norberg-Schulz, Architecture: Presence,

Language, Place , Milan: Skira,


46. This appears to be the case for instance of Steven Holl who, despite the stimulating experiences that his archi- tecture creates, can not claim

to resolve the contradictions

born out of operating within

a certain economic mode

that determines a priori the

conditions for experiencing

and using these buildings. This reduction of phenom- enology to a ‘‘sensory’’ or ‘‘embodied’’ experience of

space is advocated for in- stance by Fred Rush in his book On Architecture, New

York: Routledge, 2009.

47. Botond Bognar articulated

a similar position in his

essay ‘‘Toward an Architec- ture of Critical Inquiry’’,

Journal of Architectural Edu-

cation , 43, 1, 1989: 13–34

in which he came to the

conclusion that the recent phenomenological appro- aches in architecture are legitimate in insisting on a meaningful dimension, yet they lack the strategies for critically evaluating the given social reality which determines the realms of intentionality and intersub- jectivity (p. 22).