Architecture as Identity, I: The Essence of Architecture

  • Chris Abel


Throughout the writings of Norberg-Schulz (1980) there runs the unquestioned assumption that architecture has an identifiable “essence,” the understanding of which is essential both to the discourse and practice of architecture. For Norberg-Schulz, this “essence” of architecture is equivalent to Heidegger’s concept of “dwelling” (Heidegger 1971), which may be understood as an active process of human engagement with the earthly landscape. The relation of man to place is not simply that of being able to orientate oneself in one’s surroundings, as Lynch (1960) implies, but has to do with a much deeper process of identification, by which Norberg-Schulz means “to become ‘friends’ with a particular environment” (Norgerg-Schulz 1980). In turn, human identification with a place presupposes that places have “character,” that is, attributes which distinguish each place from any other and lend to it its unique “presence” or “genius loci.” The loss of such character, as evidenced in contemporary forms of architecture and urban developmant “has disastrous consequences for man and for society, and we are now beginning to be aware of these effects.” Following Heidegger’s train of thought, Norberg-Schulz thus links the very idea of what it is to be a human being to the act of dwelling, or “resting in a place”: “Human identity presupposes the identity of place.” The “essence” of architecture is defined accordingly:

The basic act of architecture is therefore to understand the “vocation” of the place. In this way we protect the earth and become ourselves part of comprehensive totality. What is here advocated is not some kind of environmental determinism. We only recognize that man is an integral part of the environment, and that it can only lead to human alienation and environmental disruption if he forgets that, to belong to a place means to have an existential foothold in a concrete everyday sense.” (Norberg-Schulz 1980)


Human Language Steiner Point Human Identity Relativity Principle Psychological Individual 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Chris Abel
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Housing, Building and PlanningUniversiti Sains MalaysiaMinden PenangMalaysia

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