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A Story of Place

The concept of ‘place’ plays an integral role in a project's design. When applied well, it can also positively influence our perception of our environment. 

In this newsletter we explore ‘place’ through Olivia’s story, investigating the meta concept of Genius Loci - the spirit of place.

Place provides the roots of a project, and with the Material Sheet we take a look at the literal roots of a building - its foundations. Or in this case, how an innovative and sustainable foundation system mimics the roots of a tree.

We hope you enjoy the read and find the content useful.
Feel free to let us know your thoughts and above all, take care of each other and stay healthy!

September 2021

Duncan Sinclair - 027 487 7766
In this Issue:
A Story of Place
Olivia’s story of learning to ‘know where she stands’ – how a place’s‘ distinctive atmosphere’ can ring true deep inside us.
Low-Carbon Foundation System
General overview with a link to the article on our website

A Story of Place
Olivia was fulfilling her dreams of traveling abroad - living and working in a strange country where everything is new and exciting. She had never been overseas, didn’t know what to expect, and the unknown world was exhilarating.

Upon her arrival, everything was different – as expected – but something felt off. She could never truly feel settled and never feel at one with her surroundings. The strangeness made her miss her home, and an unexpected new-found understanding of place was discovered. She had always known what the concept meant and how to apply it, but never had she had such a profound first-hand experience of it.

After floating in space for a year, she finally returned home. Home wasn’t glamourous – it was rugged and arguably worse off than the pristine country she found across the ocean. That didn’t matter, and only when she had returned had she realised that it didn’t matter. The familiar sounds, sights and smells; the energies of the people; the crassness of the architecture – it was never perfect, but it was home – that made it perfect.

What Olivia had missed, was the spirit of place – Genius Loci – a term from Roman mythology that refers to the protective spirit of a place. In contemporary usage, it can refer to a place’s distinctive atmosphere.

It is the intangible quality of a material place, perceived both physically and spiritually. It reveals itself through visible tangible and perceivable non-material features. It is also made known by underlying processes, because genius loci is a signifier of a process that is happening and cannot intentionally be created. It is significant in terms of being both the mediator and medium of social interactions.

When Olivia had returned home, she had for the first time recognised its unique spirit.

That spirit gets described in the Latin meaning of genius loci - ‘the genius of the place’ - referring to the presiding spirit. Every place has its own unique qualities in terms of its physical makeup.

It is the role of the architect to be sensitive to those unique qualities, to enhance them rather than to destroy them.

Christian Norberg-Schulz’s book, Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture 1980, is regarded as the foundation book in the study of place.

In it, it is suggested that the spaces where life occurs are places, and a place is a space which has a distinct character. Since ancient times the spirit of place has been recognized as the concrete reality humans have to face and come to terms with in their daily life.

Architecture means to visualize the genius loci and the task of the architect is to create meaningful places, whereby they help humans to dwell.
(Simpson-Lee House, Glenn Murcutt)
A key part of this is reflecting its context, considering the cultural, climatic, geographical, political, topographical, and situational aspects of each project and developing the architecture specifically.

If this is done well, not only will the architecture be in harmony with its place - it will contribute to it, be part of it – be the place.
The structure of a place is not a fixed, eternal state, but this does not mean that the genius loci changes or gets lost, because identity can be conserved. It has remained a living realty throughout the course of history. Norberg-Schulz argues that it is not enough for architects to make practical towns and buildings.

Architecture should enhance genius loci, creating spaces which gather the properties of the place and help people to dwell poetically and know how they belong. 

Black Pine's Carbon Measure
To hold ourselves accountable and inspire you, we include our office's monthly carbon reading with every newsletter! 

The month of August is
0.04 tCO2e

These graphs below indicate the office's cumulative carbon emissions and monthly usage respectively.

Low-Carbon Foundation System
Place-based architecture requires the site to be assessed, considered and respected. 
Traditional foundation systems require substantial disturbance of the site's natural topography, this costs time, budget and site waste. Not only that, they're often not sustainable.

Thankfully, an innovative foundation system mitigates these issues and provides a multitude of benefits (and planet-friendly benefits). 

This foundation system allows you to, as legendary architect Glenn Murcutt would appreciate, touch the earth lightly.

For more on this topic, read further in our dedicated article below.

Imagine a building that is as efficient as a flower; a simple symbol for the ideal built environment.
The Living Building Challenge is organized into seven performance areas, or Petals.
In our newsletters, different items are identified with the relevant Petal, helping to place it in context.

From Tara, Duncan, Akshaya and Emma
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Black Pine Architects · PO Box 7204 · Whanganui, 4541 · New Zealand

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