Original Research

An exploration of place: Towards an understanding of spatial character

Sunica de Klerk
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 11, No 2 | a80 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v11i2.80 | © 2015 Sunica de Klerk | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 February 2016 | Published: 01 November 2015

About the author(s)

Sunica de Klerk, Department of Architecture, University of Pretoria. She is currently employed as an Interior Architect at Boogertman + Partners Architects, Pretoria, South Africa

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Architecture and its influences on our daily life form the premise of the study. Every space has a character which is defined by the type of human engagement it solicits. Spaces have varying characters and the suitability of their use depends on whether they are experienced as enchanting or disenchanting. Hermeneutic phenomenology, which emphasise the importance of context when the experience of a phenomenon is considered, guides the investigation. Since the 1970’s various architects have absorbed the hermeneutic phenomenology into their writings and work. Those referred to during the course of this paper include Christian Norberg-Schultz, Steven Holl, Peter Zumthor, Ziona Strelitz, Nabeel Hamdi and Juhani Pallasmaa.

Christian Norberg-Schultz translated hermeneutic phenomenology into architecture in his theory defining the Sense of Place. This theory delineates that there are two spatial qualities influencing the experience of an environment, namely, ‘space’ and ‘character’. These qualities are interdependent and are therefore explored independently prior to their exploration as a singular whole.


An interdependent eco-system defining the relationship between the Context, User and Built Fabric is proposed within this paper. Observation and in-depth knowledge in all three areas is required for the creation of enchanted environments. If this system falls out of equilibrium, disenchanted environments develop. Enchanting environments engage their users and benefit the community and individuals alike. Disenchanted environments do not support their users, rendering their experience of architecture sombre and austere. The necessity of experiencing the world as a place, and not as a space, is a central theme throughout the paper.


Hermeneutic phenomenology; understanding; architecture; place; spatiality; sense of place; context; user; built-fabric


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