- continued -

The space of action

In extension of the hodological concept, Bollnow distinguishes and describes 'the space of action' which is a three-dimensional ergological concept of space, structured and organized according to any type of human work (stockroom, warehouse, craft, place of study, library, etc.; see Heidegger's notion of "Zuhandenheit").

Bollnow's genetic observations on this type of space are remarkable:spatial environments are organized by individuals to only a limited extent. We all are born into them, learn to understand the intrinsic values that govern them and adapt to them in terms of 'orderly behaviour'. We all know to some extent the requirements of "good upbringing" (in German:'gute Kinderstube', 'sie ist aus gutem Hause'). Dilthey's suggestion of interpreting such orderly space as an 'objectified mind' in the sense of Hegel is of great significance for architecture, but, - if architecture is taken as a continuum of anthropological dimensions, - it cannot be discussed merely on a philosophical level.

Day space and night space

'Day space' is sight space. 'Night space' is basically touch and hearing space (Sight is ineffective). Within these extremes, Bollnow marvellously describes the very differentiated spectrum of twilight, dusk, and semi-dark spaces:the paradoxical character of the woods, free for walking anywhere but closely limited with regard to sight, like a shade the narrow space accompanies the wanderer. Similarly fog, heavy snowfall, and dusk entirely change the conditions of space. "The night created a thousand monsters" says Goethe.

The space of good and bad moods

The 'space of good or bad moods' relates to various external conditions ('narrowness and expanse', 'the sensual and moral effects of colour', 'interior spaces') and internal conditions ('the stifling space of the fearful heart', 'euphoric space'). Bollnow richly fills these concepts with quotations from literature, scientific discussions (e.g. Binswanger) and his own reflections.

Present space

The section of 'momentary or present space' deals mainly with the phenomenon of dancing and how it relates to spatial experiences.

The space–producing force of love

Very striking is Bollnow's description of 'the space of humans living together'. On one hand, there is the merciless 'fight for living space' which produces clear spatial barriers and creates rivalries among humans. On the other hand, there is the 'creation of space through the force of love' and the strange phenomenon that this 'living together of lovers' does not increase space in terms of quantity:lovers share the same space; they create a home for themselves.


This fifth main chapter gives a theoretical synthesis of what was found during the preceding chapters. There are three sections ('to be in space and to have space', 'types of individual space', 'summary and prospect'). Initially, Bollnow questions the concept of perceptional psychology (intentional space) and gives his own definition of space as an ambivalent "medium" which is dialectically constructed between subject and environment, between human (physical and psychological) dispositions and environmental conditions.

Against existentialism

The main discussion questions the existentialists' position (Heidegger, Sartre) of being "thrown" into the world. Bollnow summarizes his own findings, maintains that dwelling implies having roots somewhere, means to be at home and protected at a particular place, and that the spatiality of man in general can be interpreted as "dwelling". He then presents his own typology of 'individual space' (Eigenraum) consisting of 'three domains of dwelling' ('body', 'house,' and 'open space') and finds his standpoint supported by behavioural studies of zoology and animal psychology (Uexküll, Hediger, Peters, Portmann; animals do not live freely in a homogeneous space, but have fixed points within defined territories from which they depart and to which they return for rest and protection).

Four modified stages of human spatiality

The summary indicates four modified stages of human spatiality:a primary naive spatial confidence, the feeling of security like that of a child. This is contrasted with the fear of homelessness, which gives the feeling of being lost. This again is countered by the institution of the house to provide protection, but since no protection is absolute, the consciousness of a higher level of security in larger spatial dimensions is of importance.

Obviously, Bollnow's philosophical standpoint opposes ex- istentialism's giving priority to "protecting space". Together with Bachelard he considers the "conscious metaphysics" of the existentialists to be secondary:"The house ... is the primary world of human existence. Before he is 'thrown into the world', .... man is laid into the cradle of the house."


We have followed the essential lines of Bollnow's study on 'Man and Space', trying to give an impression of his large and profound study as far as this is possible with a book of more than 300 pages. It has been clearly shown that Bollnow's home is philosophy, in particular phenomenology with its admirable curiosity for the many aspects of this important theme. On the other hand, Bollnow does not give the impression that studies of human experience of space is merely a philosophical problem. On the contrary, he extends his research into psychology, into human behaviour and the conventional domains of architecture:dwelling in a building, in an apartment, in a house.

At the beginning of the present paper, we hinted at the fact that, together with the studies of Mircea Eliade and Dagobert Frey, O.F. Bollnow's study on man and space had entered the realm of architectural theory, Norberg-Schulz being the mediator. Consequently, we want to emphasize here the achievements of Bollnow for architectural research in seven points as follows.

It is in this line close to architectural theory that Bollnow perhaps contributed most by presenting a wide research programme directed towards an 'anthropology of space', towards an 'anthropology of dwelling', an 'anthropology of building'. In the following we try to list his seven main achievements:

1 The archaic concept of space is related to the foundation of dwellings and settlements:based on the German etymology of "Raum" (space) and other related terms, Bollnow plausibly shows that the notion of space was originally closely related to the narrow environment of the foundation of settlements. The conventional use of such terms too, is closely related to dwelling, to constructed objects, to building.

2 Global and cosmological space concepts are a secondary development:The global and cosmologically infinite concept of space is a very late idea in European history:it begins in the 14th century and develops with the modern history of discovery and science. Historically, large spatial origins become fictions. Early ideologies have to be reconstructed in their local environment. Metaphysically founded theories of creation become highly questionable. The study of archaic settlements may thus become extremely important in reconstructing a new non-Eurocentric anthropology.

3 Space in the anthropological sense is not homogenous:Bollnow presents space as a perceptional development between man and environment. Anthropologically, the conventional (deductively postulated) concept of homogenous space becomes a fiction:there are numerous spaces. Bollnow describes a large spectrum of spaces related to resting and dwelling and moving along paths, deals extensively with day and night spaces, euphoric space, momentary space, etc. Thus, Bollnow presents not only an overall system of general reference, but also a rich catalogue of descriptions, problems, assumptions, and hypotheses for research in spatial concepts of man.

4 Space is basically related to dwelling:space shows existential poles. The house or the dwelling is the most important centre of man's daily life, as opposed to the mobile and anonymous exterior. Humans absolutely need this protection provided by their dwelling; they particularly need the place to sleep provided by their dwelling. The place where they dwell forms the fixed point in their more or less stationary existence and is the point of daily return after their daily activities outside the house. Here too, Bollnow presents a whole catalogue of convincing hypotheses about multispatiality of living and dwelling in and around the house.

5 Anthropological space is expressed in polar relations:Bollnow uses a quite surprising new type of thinking, namely relational. He does not clearly define space as this or that, but shows how various domains are related in human existence, that human existence is a kind of rhythm between contrasting poles. He thus constructs a highly complex 'theory of relativity' of polar or complementary relations of spatial activities and experiences. Environmental and human conditions structure space in polar relations. It seems that Bollnow has discovered a very ancient and deeply rooted truth of our spatial existence.

6 Closely related to Mircea Eliade, but in opposition to his religious interpretation, Bollnow maintains that archaic space was centred and that such 'centres of the world' were marked:the historian of religion Mircea Eliade has analyzed structural principles in the world concepts of many archaic religions but interpreted them as based on "revelation" (hierophania) and thus remained in the conventional domains of metaphysics and theology. In sharp contrast to Eliade, Bollnow, following his main thesis of the environmental origins of space concepts, emphasizes the spatial aspects of such religious phenomena and focuses on a wide spectrum of objective and architectural elements related to such "centres of the world" or "axis mundi". He thus provides the fundament for objective or inductive topographical or architectural studies in religion.

7 Space (including dwelling and building) is an important subject of philosophical and anthropological research:Bollnow's rich and detailed study exercises a strong fascination. Absolutely fundamental philosophical and anthropological insights are developed on the basis of observations in our own close environment. And his arguments are absolutely convincing. We realize that the quasi-religious zeal of the historian has prevented us from experiencing and reflecting on one of the most important human conditions:space and dwelling as a worldwide human and cultural reality.

If, in the near future, many will realize the spatially and consequently spiritually 'exploded' fictions of the European humanities, and Bollnow will be honoured as one of the essential founders of a spatially 'imploded' anthropology. Those who realized what richness this book had when it was first published in 1963 will doubtless agree that Bollnow can be considered the father of spatial and architectural anthropology.


1 This paper, entitled 'Otto Friedrich Bollnow's Anthropological Concept of Space', was first presented at the 5th International Congress of the 'International Association for the Semiotics of Space', Hochschule der Künste Berlin, June 29 - 31, 1992, and, shortly afterwards, was given in a slightly modified version at the symposium on 'The Ancient Home and the Modern Internationalized Home:Dwelling in Scandinavia', University of Trondheim, Norway, August 20-23, 1992. This modified version bore the title:'Otto Friedrich Bollnow and the Ontology of Home and Movement Outside. Euclidian Space, Human Behavioural Space and the Harmonious or Polar Space Concept. Suggestions for the Revival of Fundamental Discussion of Concepts of Space'.

2 The author is convinced of the anthropological significance of Bollnow's concept of space. He arrived at similar conclusions in his own research, particularly in his studies on architectural ethnography (semantic and symbolic architecture in the framework of Japanese village Shinto rites), ethnology (concepts of dwelling, territory, and space among a traditional population of hunters and gatherers, the Ainu) and primatology (research into fundamental phenomena of architectural theory:the nest–building behaviour of the higher apes).

3 See R. Meringer:Etymologien zum geflochtenen Haus ('Etymologies Regarding the Woven House'). In: Abhandlungen zur germanischen Philologie. Festgabe für Richard Henzel. Halle a. S., 1898.

4 Unlike the English term 'centre', the German word 'Mitte' does not necessarily denote the centricity of a circle. 'Mitte' can also mean halfway on a linear extension, or 'Mitte' in the sense of 'threshold', e.g., between two fields or two rooms.

5 Methodologically this is very important too. Bollnow's method is definitely inductive. He fundamentally questions the conventional deductive concept of homogeneous space by analyzing the full range of possible human experiences related to space. This method provides him with an enormous variety of spatial conditions, which, however, show some general traits.

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