Spirt of Place / by Kristian Reay

A term often bandied around within the profession, but what does it mean? Derived from Classical Roman religion the genius loci was a protective spirit or guardian of a place. These spirits would have been considered very literal entities; unlike the abstract concepts of modern religions, and were believed to observe, protect and influence all that happened within the borders of their domain.

In contemporary language the term refers to a location’s distinctive atmosphere or ‘sense of place’ a purely human, emotive response, and one that may vary from person to person. As a Designer of spaces it is important to consider how this abstract concept of place informs and directs design decisions and how it can be measured. There are many factors that might influence the way in which we interpret a given place; the sights aspect and light levels, flora and fauna, signs of human activity, shelter and refuge, noise pollution, or its personal, cultural or historic importance. How we influence these and many other of the sites features will accumulate in a change to its genius loci, and hopefully one we intended.

Whilst it is important to try to decipher the magic of ‘place’ to help inform good design, It is key that we do not disregard or move away from the abstract, emotive connection we all have with our environment. Only by embracing this intuitive response can we truly create a sense of place.

As Designers have we become the modern expression of the genius loci observing, protecting and influencing that which happens within the places we live?