- continued -

Fixed points

Particularly important is Bollnow's statement that there are zero or fixed points in his humane concept of space. He extensively describes the polarity of departing and returning to hereditary places (home) or temporary zero points (hotel room in foreign city) and postulates them as essential references within a subjective system of orientation. This he calls the "centre" of space. 4 "If we move out of our apartment to a new one, our whole world is newly reorganized from the new one." (:58)

The social and spatial hierarchy of centre-markers

This fundamental concept is then extended in triangular relations between individual, social, and the hierarchical systems of markers for such central points (dwelling, church/market, centre of city and state). In this system, Bollnow describes ancient ideas which interpreted such fixed points marking "the centre of the world" or the "axis mundi". He also enumerates many concrete symbols related to such central fixed points (pillars, palaces, sanctuaries, sacred mountains) in many cultures. Following Haberland ('Space Concepts of Natural Societies'; 1957) and Brunner ('Regarding the Notion of Space in Ancient Egypt'; 1957), he explains phenomena of this type dualistically on the basis of the tensions between inhabited space and surrounding chaos, and he classifies them - in sharp contrast to Eliade - as delimited space. This part, which refers to many examples of symbolic markers of such fixed points, is extremely important because it contains the seed of an ethnology of space.

River and compass as systems of orientation

Other directional systems are the four directions of the compass, which appear to be interpreted in very different ways among various cultures (Frobenius:golden pillars supporting heaven). Referring to Jensen (1947), he mentions the river as the central system of orientation which, on a horizontal level, provides important criteria like upwards and downwards, left and right, with regard to the water flowing from the mountains towards lakes or the sea. Such directional systems may be absolutely puzzling to a modern mind (contradictory directions and lack of absolute compass). They make sense, however, if, in the context of evolutionary expansion of space perception, it is assumed that such river systems were of primary importance with regard to later systems related to solar movements. Thus, with these descriptions too, Bollnow gives many indications for a programme of research into the ethnology of space concepts.


Thus the first main chapter essentially deals with primitive space concepts rooted in the human environment and, in particular, related to the anthropology of dwelling and settlement. The overall conclusion:space is not at all homogeneous in its primary structure. Bollnow's arguments for the environmental origins of space conceptions are absolutely convincing. This becomes very important with regard to the second main chapter.


The second main chapter contrasts strongly with the first. The first part essentially deals with localized, more or less permanent places. In the second part three sections ('the vast, the foreign, and the distant', 'the path and the street', 'the hiking-path') deal with spatial extension and movement.

This leads us to an important structural characteristic within Bollnow's work. He presents his spatial concept in complementary oppositions. Evidently this has to do with his subject. On whatever level, experienced space is structured according to complementary principles. Bollnow describes the dynamics of "back and forth", the "fundamental double movement of going away and coming back" which articulate human space. This leads him to the description of all kinds of paths, ways, and roads and how space along such movements is experienced. 5 Later we hear about the "hodological" space. This is a type of space which differs absolutely from mathematical space. Path-space or hodological space, corresponds to the factual human experience during movement between two different points on a map. It is absolutely different from the geometrical line which connects two points.

There is an additional revolutionary concept in Bollnow's work. Space was not there from the beginning, as we assume with the Euclidian concept. Space in the human sense has evolved. As a concept related to human perception and culture, it was originally closely related to dwelling and settlement and subsequently developed by extension of the spatial perception of man.

Bollnow demonstrates this with convincing arguments. Tremendous changes occurred at the beginning of our modern times. These changes are characterized by an historical key event:The poet Petrarch, climbing to the top of Mont Ventoux in 1336, describes his grandiose experience of the endless skies. It was remarkable for the times that the description was not devoted to the outer extensions, but reflected in his soul instead, that is to say, within his delimited physical interior. Bollnow relates this decisive change to what follows later:the discovery of planetary mechanics, the move away from conventional coastal navigation, the sudden courage to cross the oceans, the discovery of America and the strange traces of thought it left (West Indies), the discovery of many faraway and exotic cultures, in short, the age of discovery.

In this context, Bollnow hints at Sedlmayr's notion of the loss of the centre ('Verlust der Mitte'). Man's psyche lost its naive roots in his native place, in what formerly was believed to be the centre of the world. The position of man in this world was seriously questioned, annihilated in the face of the new spatial dimensions now suddenly perceived. Copernicus, postulating the spherical form of the earth, disproved the earlier Ptolemaic system which conceived of the world on a disc surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. The antique identification with the local world became obsolete. The sun was now the centre of our planetary system and the skies dissolved into infinity. The famous woodcut print showing the celestial dome pierced by an arm stretched out towards the infinite clearly depicts this revolutionary change of paradigms.

Most educated persons are more or less familiar with this great change of ideas, which in general appears naturally integrated into our concept of progress. But hardly anybody reflects upon its implications:that space concepts were originally limited to very restricted environmental conditions. We have already indicated the consequences:it would not only mean a total revision of architectural theory. More than that. Anyone familiar with the cultural implications of space can easily understand that this approach hurls many a famous philosopher from his high pedestal. It will question our idealistic metaphysics and our theology with its primary cosmological concepts of creation.

Baroque architecture and the ecstasy of infinity

Bollnow also describes this change as it is reflected in Baroque architecture. There is an ecstasy of infinity. Enclosures of architectural space are disguised with all kinds of means (plastic decorations, mirrors, etc.). Perspectives leading through endless series of halls and rooms abolish clearly defined limits. Ceilings are opened at the top towards the skies. And, as in the case of Petrarch, the perception of infinite space happens by interlinking opposites, that is to say, of closed and open spaces.

Vastness and narrowness

Vastness is the opposite of narrowness. Bollnow uses polar opposites to define his terms, showing that both can be used at quite different spatial levels. Clothes can be narrow, but so too an apartment, a town, landscapes, a valley; and all can be contrasted with their spacious opposites. Distant foreign space also makes sense only if contrasted with what is close at hand and familiar. Bollnow quotes Rilke, Hesse, and particularly Nietzsche, who all favoured a balance between the distant and the near at hand, between the unknown and the known with regard to the formation of human personality and character.

Typology of movement outside the house

A long discussion is then devoted to various types of paths, streets, ways, which at any level imply the movement of man. Animals too have paths on which they move outwards and return to their "fixed point" (Hediger). Streets often develop from simple footpaths, sometimes over very short, sometimes over long periods of time. Streets attract traffic; they develop with technology. Originally they were strictly bound to landscape. Modern technology allows a higher degree of independence.

Bollnow's typology of movement outside the house is very complex and gives many valuable insights, particularly if compared with the poor stereotypes of architectural literature (Alexander:community and privacy!). But the fundamental insight that Bollnow presents to us here is the following:he describes how networks for mobility influence our experience of space. The streets of a city acquire a certain autonomy, create their own spatial conditions, engender a homogeneous landscape of their own. Linschoten also characterized the space of pathway as "non-cultivated space", or, more drastically, as a kind of desert. The system of streets is no longer directly related to this or that house, it forms a supraindividual type of space. It is neutral, but has its own objectivity in so far as it forms the communal system of spatial communication. The individual loses his domestic imprints, becomes anonymous. Similarly, the landscape loses its individuality, e.g., if perceived from the window of a moving car. New principles prevail:efficiency, conditions of the roads. Signs and place names are needed for orientation of the traveller unfamiliar with the local environment.

"All roads lead to the end of the world." According to Linschoten, the street is ex–centrically related to dwelling space. It is the expression of a world in which man is no longer quite at home. On the other hand, many symbolic and philosophical concepts are related to the path, the road, as a human condition (Tao, China, man as an eternal wanderer who never finds a permanent resting place). Throughout the book, Bollnow emphasizes these two aspects:man as dweller and wanderer, as a centric and ex–centric being. And he elaborates the idea in several of the following paragraphs, using either phenomenological reflections or discussing literary sources. But here, we want to avoid too much detail and will turn to the third main chapter.


The first main chapter, which deals with the evolution of man's close spatial environment, is rather theoretical. Now Bollnow regains his grip on the same theme in a very concrete sense:the house is discussed; architecture comes in. The titles of the main section are:'The Meaning of the House' / 'The Sacred Space' / 'Cosiness' / 'Door and Window' / 'The Bed' / 'Waking Up and Falling Asleep'.

The house has preserved archetypal values

Bollnow quotes several authors who characterized the house as the centre of the world. This mythical concept of an axis mundi had to be abandoned in exchange for the larger dimensions of space in the sense discussed above, but it was widely preserved on the level of the house. Today modern society will have to realize once more that dwelling is a basic condition of man. It provides much more than mere existence. Bollnow critically refers to the existentialist, who thinks of himself as an eternal foreigner, thrown at random into the world. But dwelling, according to Bollnow, means to be at home, that is to say, in a particular place, and this implies special conditions. Many notions related to the house express a feeling of security and protection.

The anthropological function of the house

Bollnow goes even further, postulating an "anthropological function of the house" within the whole context of human life:a feeling of security is essential for the self-identification of humans. Only as a dweller can he/she find his/her own essence and be fully human. Without his/her dwelling, "the inner destruction of man is unavoidable." (:136) He refers to Goethe, who, in his 'Faust', considered a man deprived of a dwelling to be a "nonhuman being, without purpose or rest." Bollnow indicates that the "anthropological function of the house" has to be rediscovered. After the breakdown of many conventional systems, any allusion to security has become suspicious. Contrary to Schiller, who neglects the house and thinks that man must confront his hostile outside world, Bollnow postulates the polar balance of ex–centric tension in the outside world and centric tranquillity in the protected house. According to him, this balance is the prerequisite for human health.

Sacred space

The following paragraphs deal with the close relationship between sacred space and the protected space of the house. Even the profane concept of Le Corbusier's "dwelling machine" could not destroy this sacred meaning, which finds expression in individual and social control with regard to the private sphere. Nobody is allowed to enter a dwelling without the dweller's consent. Private space is legally protected. "House and temple are essentially one" (Van der Leeuv).

Filters for protection

Extremely enriching are Bollnow's descriptions of the objective elements which guarantee the privacy of the house. Any dwelling space requires openings towards the outside, otherwise interior rooms become prison cells. The "semipermeability" of the door allows opening and closing. The one who occupies or owns the dwelling decides when and to whom he opens his door. This provides the personal freedom to retire into one's own domain. The dweller differentiates between friends, who have access, and strangers who are kept out. Essential for this social mechanism are the lock and the key. Further, for such reasons, traditional belief has endowed the threshold with a very high value. Today these values are lost because security is guaranteed at higher social levels (city, state).

The window is not just a device to let in daylight; it is also "the eye of the house", which permits us to observe the outer world. Often this mutual relation is filtered. Curtains allow a view to the outside without the observer being seen. Bollnow also points out the meaning of the window in romanticism and in some writings of Rilke:a frame which gives the outside section a particular meaning.

The bed

An extremely important element in Bollnow's anthropological consideration of the house is the bed. The hearth has lost its meaning as the centre of the house. Later it was partly replaced by the table as the scene of family meals. But even today, the most important centre is the bed. In the morning, it is the starting point for going to work outside and, in the evening, the returning point after a busy day. Further, it is the most intimate domain of the house or of an apartment; in general, it is not accessible to visitors. This daily cycle of going and coming is reproduced at the level of the life cycle:man is usually born in a bed and usually dies in bed.

There is an interesting cultural history of the bed, starting with such simple devices as the primitive hole filled with straw as a place for sleeping to more stable arrangements, e.g., the fourposter bed, a fully fledged house within the house.

The phenomenology of waking up and falling asleep

These furnishings relate to a physical polarity of man which Bollnow describes in great detail and in terms of its complex relations:standing and lying, physical activity and rest, muscular tension and muscular relaxation, conscious perception of the environment and cessation of all sensual relations during sleep. Bollnow attaches great importance to these polar relations and carefully describes transitional stages:waking up and falling asleep. He makes very interesting observations with regard to the daily reconstruction of the personal spatial world and its dissolution in favour of the unconscious state while sleeping at night. Having read all these very plausible descriptions of basic human conditions, the reader will be horrified by the artificiality of modern principles of design and by architecture devoid of all these elementary relations of man and space.


This main chapter gives a kind of typology of spaces related to particular forms of human behaviour ('hodological space', 'action space', 'present or momentary space', 'human space for living together') or more related to environmental conditions ('day space' and 'night space') or between both ('space of good or bad moods').

Hodological space

The term 'hodological space' is derived from the Greek word 'hodos' , path, way. In contrast to the mathematical concept of space as presented on maps, plans, etc. 'hodological space' is based on the factual topological, physical, social, and psychological conditions a person is faced with on the way from point A to point B, whether in an open landscape or within urban or architectural conditions. Bollnow gives many interesting observations on the cultural implications of hodological distances as compared and contrasted with geometrical distances (language and culture in mountain valleys; traditional traffic conditions in mountainous regions; the structure of war landscape with its absolute focus on the front). But of particular importance is his description of an apartment and, e.g. its "cave-like character". In the architect's plan of a housing project, two points in two different apartments located side by side may be just some 30 or 40 centimetres apart (separated by a wall). But, what somebody goes through in term of physical and psychological stress, to go from one of these points to the other, this is described very impressively by Bollnow. The vital condition of the hodological relation might be tremendously different from that of the architect! In short, Bollnow presents an important lesson for architects and designers, which should teach them to think a little bit more while drawing with their pencils.

To part 3