Sense of place (genius loci) is a beautiful idea, an interesting concept. Some cities, buildings and spaces provide a memorable quality of experience (think Venice, New York, that old farmhouse, the piazza del campo in Sienes, Le Corbusier’s church in Ronchamps). They bring an atmosphere that is deeply related to the essence of the place. Such places share also a sense of mystique. Their qualities can be felt, but at the same time it is difficult to exactly pinpoint what exactly makes them so special.
For sure it is something that can not be copied or moved.
In organisation design it is a common practise to copy. Managers look for the golden standard and the known attributes of excellent organisation and try to apply them to their own organisation. This is certainly a clever way to operate. But with copy paste the chances people involved become engaged in a genius loci are very slim. So wanting to reap the benefits of deeply felt awe needs another approach, if any.
When it comes to sense of place, you might argue, it occurs over time and it can’t be designed. It is some kind of fate and managing fate is not a very sensible thing to do. Manage what you can manage and do not try to manage what is not manageable.
There are for sure many things that can be designed in an organisations. The way responsibilties are assigned in terms of functions, customers, products, money and people. Or the practices of meetings, coordinating, interaction, creating and decision making. The way people are rewarded, hired, trained etc, etc. The palet is endless. It is much bigger that most managers think.
But can you design the wonders of genius loci?
After visiting the Leviathan of Anish Kapoor in the Grand Palais in Paris, I believe we can.
It might be very difficult and require genius, but yes, it can be done. Thank you, Mr Kapoor!