Spirit of Place (Genius Loci) and the Appreciation of Its Manifestations

Author Vytautas Petrušonis


The article, published in Made in Vilnius, indicates that after the UNESCO Advisory Mission to Vilnius in early 2013 Lithuania has finally received favourable official conclusions from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization regarding the first part of the Park of Architecture – the conversion of the former Skaiteks factory. The territory falls under the outskirts of Vilnius Old Town and its protection zones, included into the list of World Heritage. Margareta Ehrstrom, Finnish expert of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), advising and consulting UNESCO on the issues of cultural heritage protection, has made a thorough acquaintance with the approved detailed plan of Paupys district, to be built in the location of the former Skaiteks factory[1]. Further on it says: ‘According to ICOMA mission, the approved detailed plan considers the national and local requirements, raised by the local community. The local urban structure will be preserved by reconstructing the buildings, planned to be demolished near the main street. There is also a plan for green areas and walkways along the river, which will be used by pedestrians. The detailed plan gives a good basis for the development of the territory.’ The conclusions also highlight the fact that further development of the project and picking of the architectural means of expression must involve a continuous dialogue with heritage protection agencies and assessment of the future buildings on the protected historical old town of Vilnius.

The same source provides euphoric comments of the project architect Mindaugas Pakalnis, heritage protection expert Gražina Drėmaitė and Artūras Blotnys, Senior Architect of Vilnius City. M. Pakalnis said: ‘Paupys falls under the old town protection zone, thus the new district must be contextual. We do not aim to imitate the old town, but to create an appropriate background for the historical heritage of Vilnius and to reflect our time. We’ve been keeping to the policy of discussing, making arrangements and searching for the most efficient solutions since the very beginning. This will continue further.’ G. Drėmaitė stated: ‘I haven’t seen any other project, which would be subject to such careful improvement, as well as advice-and-feedback-based adjustments in last 20 years. This place will be very important to all of us and everything we do there, must come from our hearts. There are no limits for perfection, but what’s being done there now is done with great care and responsibility.’ A. Blotnys has noted that the project’s course and adjustment procedure has created an unprecedented situation of developing urban conversion projects in Vilnius Old Town under smooth combination of the opinions of all interested parties and without violating any agreements with UNESCO. Especially considering the fact that the former Skaiteks territory is the first part of the Park of Architecture residential project – the conversion of industrial territory in Vilnius old town, initiated by Vilnius Municipality Administration.

We can only be glad about a situation, when a project is admired by everyone – Lithuanian designers, heritage protection experts, officials, as well as foreign experts. Unfortunately, the development of that project ignores specific manifestations of the genius loci. The fact that this project is completely unrelated with this location and the buildings designed could be built in any place of any city, was discussed in the presentation on ‘(Ne)matomi pramonės architektūros ženklai konvertuojant buvusios pramonės teritorijas’ [The (In)visible Signs of Industrial Architecture in the Process of Converting Former Industrial Territories] by Aida Štelbienė[2]. She pointed out that the solutions do not indicate that this location had been used for industrial purposes for a long time. One of the project’s visualisations features a universal generic architecture (Fig. 1).

1 pav

Fig. 1 Paupys 4 project. Territory of the former Skaiteks factory. PST Investicijos visualisation (

What is the face of genius loci?

There are numerous works on the phenomena of the spirit of place, but these texts feature many general ‘impressionistic’ statements. Everyone says that it’s important to feel and protect that spirit. Yet these elevated comments feature little instrumentalism. It remains unclear, what to do to appreciate the genius loci in the city. What information could help that? Is it an institutional action or is it rather related with deeply individual work of the creator, working on city development?

Robert Josef Kozljanic relates genius loci with the concept archaic. He says that the meanings of the Greek arche refer to the ‘beginning’, ‘origin’, ’cause’, ‘principle’, ‘main’, ‘command’, ‘reign’, and ‘regime’[3]. According to Kozljanic, Hermann Hesse explains that ‘antiquated’ and ‘archaic’ origin refers to a special beginning. That is the beginning, which holds the particular magic, encouraging and helping us live and grow. This magic is characterised by inner power. That is the power to change, configure and create. Kozljanic discusses pre-philosophical, i.e. mythological concept of archaic as the beginning, interpreting the ancient Roman idea of genius as spirit, which constantly follows and guards its object[4].

According to Kozljanic, genius is much more than a person’s spirit. It also refers to the character or even fate both in positive and negative terms. First of all, this spirit is responsible for the human development, what he becomes and what he dies for, when he does. Thus, genius is a spirit of fate or, according to the classic philosopher Theodor Birt (1852-1933), the ‘spirit of becoming’.

Most well-known Roman mentions of the genius loci are mostly related to rural areas or mountain pastures. However, genius loci may also guard cities and city houses. There are also many testimonies of local genius cults, related to places like a village, a region, a meeting place, granaries, customs, a theatre, a marketplace, a school or a bathhouse.

Kozljanic provides a characteristic example of a place, ruled by genius loci – the Spring of the Nymph Juturna, located in Romanum Forum – the main square of the ancient Rome. Juturna is the daughter of the river god Volturnus, wife of Janus and mother of Fontus. Juturna also used to be referred to as the spirit of a water body. The Spring of Juturna used to supply the city with drinking water for a long time. The reservoir was ornamented with a group of figures. With time, its shape changed together with that of the small chapel with an altar nearby.

The example of Juturna illustrates yet another aspect of the ‘spirit of becoming’, which can be most obviously noticed in locations in the city. That is the maintenance and development of the city life from social-historical perspective. Thus, genius loci is responsible not only for the ‘biological’ side, but manifests in developing identity and preserving memory in social dimension.

The spirit of place as the ‘spirit of becoming’ may testify of a situation in a specific location not only from ‘biological’ and ‘social-historical’ aspect, but also from ‘geological’. That is illustrated by a fragment of Ovidius’ Metamorphoses, telling of the perfect cave (grotto), created by the natural spirit[5].

Thus, genius loci is not only a protecting spirit and guardian, but, as we we’ve witnessed, the ‘spirit of becoming’ and even the ‘spirit of fate’. It shows the place’s potential and power, which not only contributes to the development of the material shape of the location, but continues to act there, protecting and shaping it into the future[6].

The sense of the spirit of place arises from a complex of symptoms, observed locally. The symptoms are defined by functional zones – ‘places’, their objects and related associations, connotations that the observer knows. These symptoms identify the determinants, embodied in the place and fostering the sense of recognising the genius loci. The observer usually notices these symptoms moving on a certain route. The route may be pre-planned. For full experience of the spirit of place the observer must have certain cultural competence. This refers to the competence, which enables to accept the other subject emphatically.

Ways of the manifestation of the genius loci include the ways of the manifestation of the symptoms that determine its perception and their grouping according to the physical nature. The ancient idea of the spirit of place actually refers not to a single spirit, but their collection. Different genius loci manifest on various scales – a building, a yard, a neighbourhood, a city district, a region, a state or even a continent or its part. The identity of a European city, region, or a specific city lives in different virtual realities as embodiments of genius loci. The symptoms of genius loci may testify not only about certain places, but also certain times. In living environment we also notice the differences between various types of activity and cultural ideas, as well as religious cults. Genius loci is both tangible and intangible. Being able to grasp intangible characteristics requires certain cultural competence. In each case it is possible to notice symptoms, related to the world-cosmos of the nature, social environment and individual. It is important to get to know as many manifestations of various kind as possible in various places and on a variety of scales.

Various cultures related each of the archaic elements (earth, fire, water and air) with certain spirits or their groups. The four elements mentioned, are related to the process of creation of the world, or the process of becoming and thus they must be constantly ‘on the watch’ in order to enable changes that improve the world. These changes must involve not only the participation and creative contribution of all the members of the social environment, but also the participation of the dead ancestors and favourable spirits.

The development of the said world-cosmos also involves representatives of all of the elements: water ponds, flowing water, landscape elements, plants and minerals.

The treatise of Julian of Ascalon ‘On the Law and Customs of Palestine’ is a document of ancient law on building, written in the 4th c. It regulates the necessity to guarantee a visual connection to the major elements of the landscape, indirectly indicating the possibility of visual contact with favourable spirits (i.e. the zones of the cosmos), when building. The four chapters of the treatise were even titled after the four above-mentioned elements: earth, fire, water and air. The treatise states that the construction should be done taking into account the law of apopsia. This law defines objects and locations that these objects should be visible from[7]. According to this law, any citizen could stop the construction in a neighbouring plot, if the newly-constructed building would interfere the visual connections of the residential buildings with significant surrounding objects: the sea, the gardens, also significant constructions and monuments, built for the gods or famous people[8].

According to G. Alferova, the requirements of apopsia reflected on Russian urban law. The ‘Law of the City’ featured requirements on views that open from certain places, streets, squares and public stairs in the city and Constantinople has been indicated as an example, where such requirements have actually been applied[9]. Lithuanian urban historian Kazimieras Šešelgis also offered interesting thoughts on the likely influence of the Russian city development traditions to the cities of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania[10]. Šešelgis noted that these connections have not been studied yet. According to the author of this article, that influence can mostly be felt in Vilnius’ Užupis neighbourhood, which had undergone the least reorganisations.

Keeping in mind the reflections of Evgeny Kirichenko on the the examples of ancient Greek architectural volume and spatial composition principles in the visual structure of Western European cities (aside from the examples of Roman principles[11]), we could say that apopsia – a requirement of objects and locations that these objects should be visible from – had been present in Western European cities as well, even if not as verbally.

What makes the above-mentioned legal documents for civil engineering interesting today?  First of all, their holistic approach, emphasizing cooperation and organic development of the environment. They illustrate how negotiations, mutual conditions and adjustment of interests can bring to a solution, which fits all parties. These documents very clearly emphasize the importance of local factual circumstances, determined according to specific possibilities of the negotiating parties. Besim Hakim highlights the relevance of such documents today, relating their provisions with the idea of sustainable development: ‘That is crucial to achieve successful sustainable development in our cities and built environment.’[12]

Thus, the manifestations of genius loci are related to the greatest variety of fields. These include historical or mythological characters, an important and often intangible aura, characteristic to a specific place and manifesting in certain symptoms – traces of previous epochs, especially those that we still find important today.

In many cases today talking about the appreciation of genius loci, such as requirements, suggestions and wishes, refers to factors, characteristics, signs and symptoms that are common to the majority of cities. Creative innovations usually don’t fit these, because the description of such factors is limited to categories that don’t have any relation with the fields of collective memory, experience and change. It is necessary to clarify the manifestations of the genius loci of specific places, which could be acceptable in terms of psychology of creativity, in order to allow the characteristics of the city’s spirit (which identify the uniqueness of the location in all kinds of aspects) to manifest as catalysts of the creative process, which takes place in the mind of the architect or urban developer, and promoters of creative abduction that is crucial for innovation. This would enable to ensure that after the implementation of a project the genius loci factors, conceptually accepted at the stage of creative search, would be ‘implanted’ into the city’s material fabric and help to feel the spirit of the place in reality.

Current issues and opportunities of urban regulations

Today the studies of genius loci are closed in a circle of theorists. Their effort does not reach the practical field of city development issues. That is also prevented by lack of legal documents, regulating the supply of information for projects. It is necessary to seek for possibilities of operating data on factors that contribute to the location’s development, study them and define them in a way to be suitable for the implementation of practical discussions.

The issue of appreciating genius loci is becoming increasingly relevant in the large city centres due to the increasing scale of investments. There are claims that cities can hardly have a global compositional idea due to market conditions. We believe that everything depends on the ‘optics’ – the way we look at the global compositional idea of the city. We also offer an idea of an encoded transcription of such a compositional idea, which would not hinder development and investments. Any regulatory coding for activity is based on the metalanguage of the description. That is an auxiliary technical language, which is used to define social standards and procedure of their observance (in general case the metalanguage is a language, used to talk about another language). Being the basis of coding, it promotes action based on that code. When a metalanguage is closed, seeking to maintain the identity of the formal structure described, it will ignore the future conjuncture – a dialogue with unknown impulses will be impossible, thus resulting in de facto destruction of the structure on the action plane. The essence of such closed metalanguage is that the act of message is interpreted as independent from the act of perception (observation). In a different metalanguage – a metalanguage that is contextually open to circumstances – the act of message supposes a close relation with the act of perception (observation), the message appeals to the situation as a joint experience of the producer and recipient of the message. Therefore, the transfer of the message is based not only on a detailed relation between the content and reality, but the mechanics of consideration, enabling the sender of the message to define a connection with the recipient, which is needed in a specific situation. An example of an inflexible, closed metalanguage is a direct regulatory requirement to build something on a certain location, without giving basis for the demand. Our claim is that an appropriate choice of the metalanguage to ensure consideration and restructuring would enable modification of conjunctural impulses in a form, corresponding to the interests of all subjects (including the spirit of the place). By convention we will refer to one of these as the metalanguage of consideration and the other – as directive metalanguage.

The metalanguage of consideration describes the relation of subjects, capable of potential interaction, in categories of ‘external’ subject model, i.e. categories, which do not belong to the cognitive field of individual subjects or their groups. This metalanguage operates on the plane of potential – possibilities and conditions. The possibilities of the fact of interaction and reconsideration of the issue after receiving additional unexpected information alone are very important. However, that is possible only, when the regulation is based on the language of consideration. Directive metalanguage, which features dissociated schemes, does not consider or plan any possibilities of social interaction, it also doesn’t consider or plan for any adjustments of such schemes, they are regulated ‘directly’. That is a clear (‘ontologically inflexible’) directive on what must be done or preserved. Additional information (both available now, but unconsidered yet, and the one that will be available in the future) on the essential qualities of the object is undesirable.

Thus, what type of metalanguage predominates the documents that regulate urban planning? An analysis of various legal documents has shown that directive metalanguage plays the major role. The machinery of the preparation of territorial regulations using directive metalanguage prevents flexibility and appreciation of the cultural identity of the location. Identity and ‘visual identity’ are currently defined directly and in cognitive categories of a certain audience (for example, as in the Regulations for the Special Plans of the Arrangement of High-Rise Building: ‘Identity is an entirety of characteristics, which enable to determine an object’s individuality and recognize its unique features’, ‘Visual identity – an entirety of the city’s historically-developed natural and anthropogenic elements, which are not present anywhere else and contribute to the location’s individual image’) pose a threat for these concepts to lose their outlines, as well as a threat to the appreciation itself. Why do we say that this refers to ‘direct’ coding? Because the above-mentioned ‘characteristics’, which help to define the identity, and the above-mentioned ‘entirety of elements, creating a mental image of the location’, are concepts that act in their direct form. It seems that both our contemporaries and future generations should know what identity is. Yet there is no possible reference – appreciation of values, compositional idea, which is the main organising factor.

According to M. Mamardashvili, a direct determination of a though in the relation between consciousness and being. It is possible only through intermediary chains [13]. These intermediary chains is what Mamardashvili refers to the intelligent bodies[14] (in essence, certain ‘units’, ‘means’ of understanding that help us think and make up our minds).

The fact that a description of a location’s cultural identity must be done indirectly – by defining the conditions in terms of becoming rather than being – and that it requires ‘external’ process models and templates, which could be interpreted equally by all participants of the process (living in any period of time), has already been discussed[15]. The essence of an ‘external’ model is that it contains an indirect description of the situation using the language of consideration. It contains auxiliary codes, the system of which remains unchanged in all possible cases. These auxiliary codes (similar to a system of notes in music) should better be organised by using spatial, temporary and concept units that are easy to identify.

How should we express a building construction code, which fits the cultural identity of the location and appreciates the manifestations of genius loci in a specific place? While preparing a project it is necessary to make sure that the planned solutions fit the code of the location’s identity – the set of determinants of genius loci. Because a failure to consider the identity code results in a risk of losing the formed identity. In this case, the identity code refers to a conceptual construct, which introduces the ‘location’s memory’, organising and guiding the activity on the operational dimension (in essence, that is a system of determinants to ensure the continuation of genius loci, which represents the cultural memory of the location in a reduced form). If the project preparation process does not consider the location’s memory, the location may lose its cultural identity. Appreciation of the manifestations of genius loci also relates to the compositional idea of the city or its individual locations.

On project level (‘law enforcement’ level; ‘the issue of a law’ would refer to the vision of ‘cosmic harmony’, based on the ‘city’s compositional idea’) the visual effect of various buildings could be checked by making an assessment of what they can do in the compositional idea. The way the buildings and other ‘characters’ of the city’s vision, which could influence the manifestations of the local genius loci, participate in the project of the ‘city stage’ (according to the chosen structure of roles – vision) could be recursively secured by adjusting the fact of their presence in certain situations, as well as the degree of their visibility.  The fact and degree of presence must be clearly defined, indicating the types of locations (without relation to specific views) that could be exposed to certain characters and their groups in any ‘visual frame’ (perhaps even measuring the percentage of the visual frame). This could contribute to the preservation of the manifestations of genius loci.

We could define locations, which could more or less be exposed to buildings and other elements of the environment. Such regulation would be based on indirect argumentation. The basis of such argumentation is an indirectly laid out compositional idea of the city, introducing the ‘eternal’ values of the social community and status in positional codes, which, as it was mentioned, operates spatial (where, what location, position, distance), temporal (in what period of time) and conceptual (what denotations and connotations) parameters. The codes of the first two types are easily recognisable, but the third type of information that is based on conceptual parameters, requires a defined cultural-ecological competency. That is related to the above-mentioned possibilities of recognising ‘intelligent bodies’ (according to M. Mamardashvili).

We should not confuse the concepts of ‘competence’ and ‘competency’. According to educologists, qualifications and competence may be acquired, while competency may be developed[16]. In the second case, the initiative of the person undergoing the process plays the key role.

Architecture is developed based on a premise that the user has mastered certain knowledge. D. Likhachov, following J. Schreider, who started the use of the term of thesaurus to define the model of the world, refers to the database of knowledge and its entirety, pre-stored in the mind of the audience as the ‘thesaurus of ideas’[17]. Higher cultural competence and multivariate thesaurus of the audience ensures deeper aesthetic experience. An educated person will have a completely different view from someone, who merely sees 40 cubic metres of wood (‘One of the paintings features an excellent dry birch grove – about 40 cubic metres of dry birch wood, while the other – merely water.’[18]). By the way, the second painting with ‘water’ is actually a marinist masterpiece by Ivan Aivazovsky.

The fact how we see our environment depends on our inner model of the world – the thesaurus. Namely that model enables us to see unexpected meanings in architectural pieces, surrounding us. Knowledge on an object of cultural heritage, manifestations of genius loci, i.e. a certain thesaurus (the ‘model of the world’ of an object or a certain location in a city) could be expressed implicitly (the case, mentioned by D. Likhachov refers to how the model of the world operates in the mind of the audience) and explicitly (as a piece of legislation, a manual, a glossary or an intellectual computer system).

The symptoms that refer to manifestations of genius loci include combinations of denotative and connotative semantic units. Denotative and connotative characteristics of locations and related objects must also be provided in an explicit form. Both denotative and connotative characteristics must be provided with a legal status. Competent planners with appropriate skills, solving creative tasks, would be capable of creative interpretation of the normative requirements using their inner thesaurus. Unfortunately, since our consciousness is predominated by classical rationality, pushing connotations into descriptions of valuable objects, territorial planning regulations and, at the same time, the field of promotion of the manifestations of genius loci, is quite impossible. According to M. Mamardashvili, classical rationalism is characterised by the principle of spatiality, i.e. the requirement of external articulation of an object (available from external viewing) as a condition of our knowledge about it; the act of observation, purportedly does not change the essence[19]. Thus, we are unconsciously forced to use directive metalanguage for object descriptions. Such requirement for full external articulation and manifestation of the principle of spatiality in architecture can be witnessed, when discussions on object value, benefit and possible purpose do not include the cultural context.

Ch. Jencks states that the object, which, based on our understanding, should fully embody the functionalist doctrine of ‘form follows function’, often can be suitable for purposes that we don’t even imagine. For example, some citizens in southern Italy used to use a toilet bowl for washing grapes, while villagers in northern Greece – as a fireplace[20]. Thus, the idea that a form inevitably dictates the function, was also strongly supported by theorists of contemporary architecture like John Simonds and Kevin lynch. Accoring to Simonds, you will recognize the function of a building as soon as you look at it[21]. Lynch[22] has been recently criticized for using exceptionally denotative communication level for city image description (the five, in his opinion, significant types of environmental elements, used for creating an image include paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks), completely ignoring connotative meanings, related to the city’s forms. According to critics, city structures are often recognized namely because besides their functional meanings, they also carry symbolic meanings[23]. We should note that the statement of the form inevitably reflecting the function is related to the syndrome of being ‘open externally’ and the form being ‘taken for granted’ without understanding that perception and recognition are based on the data of cultural context, which is common to the above-mentioned classic rationalism.

Such manifestation of the principle of spatiality in the architectural mentality shows the following: 1) the concept of urban context often refers to the nearest buildings; 2) the idea of valuable qualities of an urban heritage object refers to physical elements of the building; 3) they say that the comparative analysis of the landscape is unnecessary, because everything is clearly visible on the map.

This means that the data in legislation should be formulated in a way to enable the understanding of the relevant context during the preparation of the project; namely that data on the context can be very useful during analytic analysis and the preparation of the project. Such statements should not be absolute (which is common to directive metalanguage), but flexible and dynamic, using the language of consideration. This is the only way we can identify the factors that determine genius loci.

Directive metalanguage often operates classification schemes that are not oriented to specific issues. They are merely a theory, which cannot help understand the opportunities that are significant to planning. Orthodox psychologists believe that objects are constituted of their properties. James Gibson states that ‘we look at objects and see the opportunities they provide, rather than qualities’[24]. ‘An opportunity is an invariant combination of variables … An opportunity-related meaning will be noticed first than we perceive the material, surface, colour or form. According to Gibson, perception of opportunities does not presuppose object classification.’[25]

We must bring together the form and content in descriptions of architectural objects, because studies, examining the nuances of the form, style or author personality alone, constitute only a part – a preparatory part of cultural study; that is culture in a narrow sense. Culture in the wide sense manifests only with the revelation of the peculiarities of becoming That is a reflection of the work in cultural ideas.

Upon getting to know the recent methodological tendencies of cultural heritage assessment[26], we could state that subjectivity is not yet present in the environment of the actants, participating in the observation and assessment process, or the objects within, also that cultural ideas are perceived not on the instrumental plane of becoming (which can naturally be related to archetypes and other constructs of collective psychology), but on the plane of a specific ‘being’, enclosed in time (see another article of the author on the way it hinders the appreciation of the cultural identity of a location[27]). In order to define genius loci, the authors of the collection use the categories of individual psychology, which presuppose a very narrow cognitive field, making the data about it impossible to be communicated to a community of planners or defined in legislation. All this refers to possible manifestations of objectivism, directly related to the criticized classic world-view.

Aesthetic experiences are another important aspect. Those, who know the cultural ideas, embodied in a piece of architecture (i.e. someone with a more developed competence and thesaurus), will have more material for aesthetic experience. That is related to the openness of the aesthetic experience, when connotations invoke pre-reflective – multivariate understanding of the object-related images, promoting the catharsis (purification), known in aesthetics. This takes a natural course, when the subject, observing the object, already has previous knowledge, which modifies his value model. Those, who do not have such knowledge, but can influence the survival or transformation of the elements of the object managed and, at the same time, the modification of the spectre of cultural ideas that the object embodies, can access the said knowledge explicitly – in the form of external text (description).

Relations are defined by legislation. Relations may refer not only as relations, marked with social-cultural memory between subjects as usual, but also relations with specific subjects, such as historically developed subjectivity, embodied in a location or an architectural piece.

The so-called principle of apopsia (what should or should not be visible and where) and other principles for environmental formation, formulated in the ancient Mediterranean sea region, defining planning by considering local peculiarities and the structure of subject relations, which should be taken over on the basis of sociocultural factors that have emerged in the location (how subjects use the location, the objects in it, gods that patron locations and objects, symbols, related to those gods), was present in the ancient urban law[28].

Thus, the legislation analysis shows that the methods for the assessment of objects of heritage is dissociated from the dynamic, recursive assessment of the object value and contradict contemporary methodological principles[29].

Statements in regulations would better be replaced with simpler non-psychological logic – by simply defining significant object types and defining the appreciation of their role on all relevant structural scales (i.e. by considering the variety of spaces and the differences in their size), making a positional assessment of the working boundaries of the categories of each scale. In all times people did their best to demonstrate what they held most significant – the public and guests used to be demonstrated the most significant objects; they had the best possibilities of visibility in the environment of visual effect (they were visible for larger number of people for a longer period of time). Thus, a regulation must indicate types of objects, which, in certain situations, need to be ensured a defined degree of visibility. Any people from any culture of any time understand that logic. This is a common way of indirectly encoding information on values, this is also a way to introduce a compositional idea. This should be the way of demonstrating the symptoms that establish genius loci.

Historical past suggests that values in the city (for ourselves and, metaphorically, they could be related to the promotion of any existentially important manifestations of genius loci; where the relevance of these manifestations is determined by a semantic and phenomenological study of the location) as components of the city’s compositional idea could be expressed indirectly through physically accepted values according to a situation, defined based on notifications that ‘do not belong anywhere’. The emphasis here is not on the ‘visual’, because the visual basis in this case is superstructural. If the project does not include a certain situation, which creates a positional opportunity (through spatial, temporal, thematically-defined conceptual aspects) for the manifestation of the major values that introduce the compositional idea, then it will not be possible to observe this visually, experiencing all positive and negative aspects that unexpectedly reveal during the contemplation.

Operating with unverified theoretical models, where morphological qualities are represented as categories, which belong in a cognitive field of a certain group of observers, breed dogmatic solutions. The process of city development should include as many points of social consideration as possible, which, upon receiving new relevant information, would enable flexible recursive restructuring of the idea (when the process involves a review of not only the measures, but goals as well, should it turn out that these goals do not meet the direct compositional idea). So far such points of comprehensive reconsidering of the consideration in our practices of territorial planning are scarce. And these opportunities are often not properly utilized due to inflexibility of information supply. It is likely that as Lithuania becomes a legal state, the field of territorial planning will acquire more and more points of consideration and mechanisms to support them.

This context breeds a question – what should be included into territorial planning documents? They should include only facts (in order to see if they meet the codes – rules to define ownership subjects) and the potential of a different taxonomic radius that is relevant to the location. It is necessary to use the entire information on the location using the approach of ‘multi-purpose cadastre’. Plans should serve to ‘introduce the potential’ and, in case of a need, the ‘visualisation’ of possible solutions, while in general – the recursive checking of compliance with the codes. The construction areas of the defined type of objects could also be represented as possible options. The multi-purpose digital cadastre enables the implementation of efficient monitoring (but not only from the economic perspective, which is relevant to clients, but also the outcome, which is important to the society). The spectre of codes, expressed in potentials, should be wide, ranging from sometimes relevant protection and other zones to the requirements of cosmic harmony, relevant to the community and indirectly introducing the city’s compositional idea, based on certain values. Currently territorial planning is often based on generalisation of potential, when certain significant potential leaves the picture and cannot be operated recursively.

The current urban regulation is based on internal psychological theoretical models that are based on directive metalanguage and cannot be verified procedurally. A compositional vision, expressed in directive metalanguage, cannot ensure a degree of appropriate consideration (neither with newly-established circumstances nor with the historical memory of the location), is characterised by dogmatism, since it’s inflexible on the plane of becoming, unable to react to the changes of the circumstances of the planning process. Such metalanguage interprets the identity of a location (and, at the same time, manifestations of genius loci) only on the basis of the vision of the current subjects.

Because of such insularity, the knowledge, which should lead the activity, cannot be used as guidelines on the plane of acknowledging a location’s cultural identity and it cannot act as a determiner – symptoms – of identity and manifestations of genius loci. It would be useful to focus on systems, representing knowledge, required for project preparation (legal documents), which are based on external description models, related to the context of the entire development process of the location, rather than its individual segment, and which thus remain open to cases of unexpected consideration.

This creates a need not so much for direct regulation measures and relevant models – project visions, demonstrated on current plans, but rather models of the territory’s potential and developed principles, i.e. the situation is regulated not by ontologized visions with a narrow consensus base, but indirect conditions, which enable to focus on the idea of value-based cosmic harmony, relevant to the community – an indirect expression of the city’s compositional idea, introducing the city’s structural plan (archetype).

The focusing compositional idea (the idea of cosmic harmony) must be defined beyond the space of the project and it is a strategic vision, defined in the space of the competence of the community and its representatives, rather than the designers and their clients (being the space that is not merely ‘law enforcement’ and manifestation of the code, but rather a plane of introducing legislation and the code itself).

So what about Paupys project?

I already wrote about the issues of the reconstruction plan for Skaiteks factory territory in Paupys district, Vilnius, in early 2013[30]. I wrote that the works of contemporary architects often illustrate the fact that we don’t understand the past of cities as a subjectivity. These architects cannot see the location through the eyes of those, who built this place and lived here. Looking through others’ eyes requires an emphatic person, who can step into others’ shoes and appreciate what they say. Historical environment as specific subjectivity speaks to us in the cultural ideas and cultural archetypes embodied there. I’ve provided an assessment of the ‘Detailed Plan Project for the T-4 Block in the Territory between Maironio, Aukštaičių, Paupio, Zarasų and Polocko Streets’ in Vilnius (Vilniaus Planas company, 2012, project manager A. Alūzienė, architect M. Pakalnis). I emphasized that this detailed plan is symptomatic, featuring the theory and practice prevailing in the urban renovation, currently implemented in our cities.

I also highlighted the fact that the designers of the solutions for the detailed plan operate in general, universal statements, which do not include any connections with the proper cultural codes and contexts, relevant to a certain location. After going deeper into the manifestations of the local genius loci, I indicated that certain concepts, related to this location, are clear even without an in-depth analysis. The location features distinct relations with ‘transformation’ and ‘creation’. This location is a boundary and as if a gate between two worlds (Vilnius city and the ‘suburb’). The aspect of transformation–production is very distinct: ‘rapid river’ and related concepts of ‘fishing’ and ‘fish processing’. Transformations are also related to ‘education’ (20th c. craft school and craftsmen-‘transformers’, whose workshops were equipped with machinery, turned by water mills, powered by the flowing water). The transformation theme is also related with the horticultural holding (growing seedlings).

Thus, we can state that this location is an intermediate-mediational locus of Vilnius. Transformational and mediational aspects follow this location throughout the entire history. First of all, the transformation aspect is related to Vilnelė river, or its role in the establishment of Vilnius city. According to Vladimir Toporov, Vilnelė could be related to the mythologeme of a snake. Vilnelė is a snake (danger, threat) that is cleansed by Perkūnas’ – the thunder god’s – lightning and then is transformed from a chthonic origin into a cultural element and a guarantee for the community’s prosperity[31]. This meaning of Vilnelė river used to be very important for the establishment of Vilnius as the capital. Another meaning is the way beyond – into the other world. This is also characterised by a transformation.

A river flow is also related to the semantics of an electric current. Vilnius Electronic Calculator Factory operated here in 1949-2003. Calculators are devices for measuring the change of transformational processes.

The list of these images could also be supplemented by many others, emerging upon a more detailed analysis and assessment of the cultural-mythological potential of the entire territory to be converted, not to mention the entire Vilnius Old Town or even the entire Vilnius. The images as connotations, which act as the symptoms of genius loci manifestations, defined during the analysis could be indicated in the regulations for the planned territory and attributed to a specific location.

The characteristics of the block, listed in the detailed plan (‘structures, similar to circumferential buildings’, ‘smaller constructions at the embankment’, ‘clearly expressed public spaces – the street area, embankment, square’, ‘closed and semi-closed yard spaces’, ‘closed and semi-closed inner courts’, ‘yard structure, characteristic of the old-town’, ‘circumferential and city villa construction principles’) are trivial and fit nearly all European cities. There is no way this could be related to the genius loci of Skaiteks factory territory.

When urban renovation plans are predominated by general universal statements, they establish direct regulation, which eliminates the opportunity of using the advantage of personal existential understanding for their creative act, which could result in pieces that both fit the local genius loci and are original from the artistic-aesthetic point of view.

Ignoring local genius loci manifestations (in Skaiteks case, it would be appreciating the mediational, production and transformation aspects) does not comply with the principles of sustainable development. In essence, sustainable development refers to adjustment of various interests of subjectivity. Meanwhile the subjectivity of the previous generations – what people did, created and how they lived – is embodied in manifestations of genius loci.

The fact that the project for Skaiteks territory (‘Project Paupys 4’) as a part of the long-term Park of Architecture project, received the approval, mentioned at the beginning of this article, is no wonder. The expert community is currently undergoing serious issues of understanding cultural heritage.

Using the criteria of productive thinking culture, where flexibility of mind is defined as one of the major components of reasonable activity, we could conclude that the Criteria for the assessment, selection and determination of the level of significance of immovable cultural property are unreasonable. It cannot be otherwise, since they operate absolute, indisputable statements without considering the cultural context or appreciating the sociocultural memory (object-related cultural ideas, connotations),  acting only in the field of current interests. Upon going deeper into the degree of competence of the experts, who aided in the preparation of the regulatory documents, we can see that these documents have been prepared by incompetent experts, who apply superficial description categories, do not consider the network-based knowledge, the description schemes that they suggest are too theoretical and superficial, they operate classifications that are unsuitable for solving practical issues, and they are too susceptible to ‘inert’ rather than ‘condition-sensitive’ knowledge[32].

The plane of education is one of the particularly painful issues. Architectural education should refuse the principles of classic rationalism, teaching new experts to work with ‘condition-sensitive’ rather than ‘inert’ knowledge. In the educational process it is also important to strengthen the competency to act according to productive activity criteria, where an important role is given to reflection, which helps to understand the meaning of data in various (both historical and current) sociocultural contexts. This would enable the expert community to understand that regulatory legislation should be prepared using the metalanguage of consideration and also reduce the need for expertise. In turn, all that would enable more creative work, where architects could use their existential experience.

Going back to the visions of Paupys district, I believe that the thought of the ‘growing desert’, offered by M. Heidegger and F. Nietzsche, that I’ve quoted in 2013, still remains relevant today…




  1. Алферова Гали В., ‘Кормчая книга как ценнейший источник древнерусского градостроительного законодательства’, in: Византийский временник 35, 1973, p. 195–220.
  2. Gibson James, The ecological aproach to visual perception, New York: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 1986.
  3. Gottdiener Mark, Lagopoulos Alexandros, The city and the sign: An introduction to urban semiotics, New York: Columbia university press, 1986.
  4. Hakim Besim S., ‘Mediterranean urban and building codes: origins, content, impact, and lessons’, in: Urban design 13, 2008, p. 21–40.
  5. Jencks Charles, ‘The Architectural Sign’, in: Signs, Symbols, and Architecture, Chichester, New York, Brisbane, Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, 1980, p. 94–95.
  6. Кириченко Евгения И., ‘Пространственно-временные характеристики в русской архитектуре середины и второй половины XIX в.’, in: Типология русского реализма второй половины XIX века. Москва: Наука, 1979, p. 286–351.
  7. Kozljanic Robert Josef, ‘Genius loci and the numen of a place. A mytho-phenomenological approach to the archaic’, in: Archaic: the past in the present, Edited by Paul Bishop. New York: Routledge, 2011, p. 69–92.
  8. Лихачев Дмитрий, К семантике садово-парковых стилей: Сад как текст, Москва: «Согласие», ОАО Типография «Новости», 1998.
  9. Lynch Kevin, The image of the city, Cambridge: The Technology Press & Harward University Press, 1960.
  10. Мамардашвили Мераб, Классический и неклассический идеалы рациональности, Москва: Логос, 2004.
  11. Мераб Мардашвили, Лекции по античной философии, Санкт-Петербург: Азбука, Азбука-Аттикус, 2012.
  12. Paupio projektas Vilniuje – palaimintas, in: Made in Vilnius Vilniaus naujienų dienoraštis, gyvenimas, stilius, žmonės, renginiai [interactive], [published on 11/07/2013], [seen on 05/10/2018],
  13. Petrušonis Vytautas, ‘Harmoningos architektūrinės aplinkos kūrimo teisinės prielaidos’, in: Architektūros kokybės kriterijai (ser. Architecture: Objektai ir kontekstai, 1). Vilnius: Technika, 2015, p. 78-96.
  14. Petrušonis Vytautas, ‘Kultūros paveldo vertinimo metodologinės perspektyvos bendrųjų mokslinių paradigmų kaitos kontekste’, in: Urbanistika ir architektūra 36(1), 2012, p. 1–8.
  15. Petrušonis Vytautas, ‘Reglamentavimas ir (ar) ekspertavimas’, in: Architektūros kokybės užtikrinimo priemonės, Vilnius: Technika, 2017, p. 9-24.
  16. Petrušonis Vytautas, ‘Urbanistinė renovacija ir kultūriniai archetipai’, in:, [interactive], [04/01/2013], [seen on 05/10/2018],
  17. Petrušonis Vytautas, ‘Vietovės kultūrinio tapatumo semantinio modelio struktūra’, in: Urbanistika ir architektūra, t. XXVII, Nr. 3. Vilnius: Technika, 2003, p. 99–110.
  18. Simonds John O., Landscape and architecture, Columbus: McGraw-Hill Education, 1961.
  19. Сюзюмов Михаил Я., „О трактате Юлиана Аскалонита“, in: Сюзюмов, М. Я. Византийские этюды. Екатеринбург: Изд-во Уральского университета, 2002, p. 38–54.
  20. Šešelgis Kazimieras, Lietuvos urbanistikos istorijos bruožai, Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidykla, 1996.
  21. Szmygin Bogusław (ed.), How to assess built heritage? Assumptions, methodologies, examples of heritage assessment systems, Florence – Lublin: International Scientific Committee for Theory and Philosophy of Conservation and Restoration ICOMOS, Romualdo Del Bianco Foundatione, Lublin University of Technology, 2015.
  22. Toporovas Vladimiras, ‘Vilnius, Wilno, Вильна: miestas ir mitas’, in: Baltų mitologijos ir ritualo tyrimai, Vilnius: Aidai, 2000, p. 35–98.
  23. Tūtlys Vidmantas, Kaminskienė Lina, Paleičikas Gintaras, Kompetencijų vertinimo užduočių sudarymo metodika, Vilnius: Kvalifikacijų ir profesinio mokymo plėtros centras. 89 p. [interactive], 2015, [seen on 12/07/2017]. Access on the internet: < >.
  24. Зощенко Михаил, Преступление и наказание, комедия в одном действии, 1940.


[1]  Paupio projektas Vilniuje – palaimintas, in: Made in Vilnius Vilniaus naujienų dienoraštis, gyvenimas, stilius, žmonės, renginiai [interactive], [published on 11/07/2013], [seen on 05/10/2018],

[2] Conference ‘Architektūros kokybė: konteksto svarba’, 1 October 2018

[3] Robert Josef Kozljanic, ‘Genius loci and the numen of a place. A mytho-phenomenological approach to the archaic’, in: Archaic: the past in the present, Edited by Paul Bishop. New York: Routledge, 2011, p. 69–92 (čia p. 69).

[4] Ibid., p. 70.

[5] Ibid., p. 77.

[6] Ibid., p. 79.

[7]  Михаил Я. Сюзюмов, „О трактате Юлиана Аскалонита“, in: Сюзюмов, М. Я. Византийские этюды. Екатеринбург: Изд-во Уральского университета, 2002, с. 38–54.

[8]  Гали В. Алферова, „Кормчая книга как ценнейший источник древнерусского градостроительного законодательства“, in: Византийский временник 35, 1973, с. 195-220.

[9] Ibid., с. 197.

[10] Kazimieras Šešelgis, Lietuvos urbanistikos istorijos bruožai, Vilnius: Mokslo ir enciklopedijų leidykla, 1996, p. 31 (note – the primary source is indicated on p. 157, as Кириченко 1979).

[11] Евгения И. Кириченко, „Пространственно-временные характеристики в русской архитектуре середины и второй половины XIX в.“, in: Типология русского реализма второй половины XIX века. Москва: Наука, 1979, c. 286-351.

[12] Besim S. Hakim, ‘Mediterranean urban and building codes: origins, content, impact, and lessons’, in: Urban design 13, 2008, p. 21–40.

[13]  Мераб Мамардашвили, Классический и неклассический идеалы рациональности, Москва: Логос, 2004, 238 с.

[14] Мераб Мардашвили, Лекции по античной философии, Санкт-Петербург: Азбука, Азбука-Аттикус, 2012, 317 с.

[15] Vytautas Petrušonis, ‘Vietovės kultūrinio tapatumo semantinio modelio struktūra’, in: Urbanistika ir architektūra, t. XXVII, Nr. 3. Vilnius: Technika, 2003, p. 99–110.

[16] Vidmantas Tūtlys, Lina Kaminskienė, Gintaras Pileičikas, Kompetencijų vertinimo užduočių sudarymo metodika, Vilnius: Kvalifikacijų ir profesinio mokymo plėtros centras. 89 p. [interactive], 2015, [seen on 12/07/2017]. Access on the internet: < >.

[17]  Дмитрий Лихачев, К семантике садово-парковых стилей: Сад как текст, Москва: «Согласие», ОАО Типография «Новости», 1998, 356 с.

[18]  Михаил Зощенко, Преступление и наказание, комедия в одном действии, 1940.

[19]  Мераб Мамардашвили, Классический и неклассический идеалы рациональности, Москва: Логос, 2004, 238 с.

[20] Charles Jencks, ‘The Architectural Sign’, in: Signs, Symbols, and Architecture, Chichester, New York, Brisbane, Toronto: John Wiley & Sons, 1980, p. 94–95 (here p. 93).

[21] John O. Simonds, Landscape and architecture, Columbus: McGraw-Hill Education, 1961, p. 384.

[22] Kevin Lynch, The image of the city, Cambridge: The Technology Press & Harward University Press, 1960, p. 194.

[23]  Mark Gottdiener, Alexandros Lagopoulos, The city and the sign: An introduction to urban semiotics, New York: Columbia university press, 1986, p. 344.

[24] James Gibson, The ecological approach to visual perception, New York: Psychology Press, Taylor & Francis Group, 1986, 332 p. (here 34 p.).

[25] Ibid., p. 35.

[26] Bogusław Szmygin (ed.), How to assess built heritage? Assumptions, methodologies, examples of heritage assessment systems, Florence – Lublin: International Scientific Committee for Theory and Philosophy of Conservation and Restoration ICOMOS, Romualdo Del Bianco Foundatione, Lublin University of Technology, 2015, p. 265.

[27] Vytautas Petrušonis, ‘Vietovės kultūrinio tapatumo subjektinis substratas’, in: Urbanistika ir architektūra 26(1), 2002, p. 18-36.

[28] Vytautas Petrušonis, ‘Harmoningos architektūrinės aplinkos kūrimo teisinės prielaidos’, in: Architektūros kokybės kriterijai (ser. Architektūra: Objektai ir kontekstai, 1). Vilnius: Technika, 2015, p. 78-96.

[29] Vytautas Petrušonis, ‘Kultūros paveldo vertinimo metodologinės perspektyvos bendrųjų mokslinių paradigmų kaitos kontekste’, in: Urbanistika ir architektūra 36(1), 2012, p. 1–8.

[30] Vytautas Petrušonis, ‘Urbanistinė renovacija ir kultūriniai archetipai’, in:, [interactive], [04/01/2013], [seen on 05/10/2018],

[31] Vladimiras Toporovas, ‘Vilnius, Wilno, Вильна: miestas ir mitas’, in: Baltų mitologijos ir ritualo tyrimai, Vilnius: Aidai, 2000, p. 35–98.

[32] Vytautas Petrušonis, ‘Reglamentavimas ir (ar) ekspertavimas’, in: Architektūros kokybės užtikrinimo priemonės, Vilnius: Technika, 2017, p. 9-24.