Architecture Is Made For People
A Phenomenological Approach To Architecture

The purpose of architecture, as I see it, is first and foremost to create a human environment for human beings. Buildings affect our lives and the fate of the physical environment in which we live over the course of many years, and therefore their real test is the test of time. The fine old buildings and places we always want to return to – those with timeless relevance–are the ones that touch our hearts, and have the power to create a deep and direct emotional experience . The planning process proposed, is a process striving towards phenomenological architecture that generates this spiritual experience that is common to all people, no matter where or from what culture they come from .

There are different ways to describe buildings that have this timeless quality, buildings that convey an inherent spiritual experience. Frank Lloyd Wright called them “the ones which take you beyond words”. Quoted by Stephen Grabow, Christopher Alexander says: “The buildings that have spiritual value are a diagram of the inner universe, or the picture of the inner soul.”

The basic argument presented here is that in order to change the feeling of the environment and create places and buildings that we really feel part of and want to live in, what is needed is not a change of style, but a transformation of the worldview underlying current thought and approaches.

The Concept Behind the Process
A Holistic Approach to Architecture

The dissociation created in our time between man and his environment is a clear expression of the change that occurred in the concept that man is part of nature and not superior to it . Comparing planning processes, which resulted in dissociating man from his environment to planning processes that make him feel part of the physical world he lives in, emphasizes the difference between the mechanistic-fragmentary worldview and the holistic-organic one.

The holistic-organic worldview a worldview which stands in recent years at the forefront of the scientific discourse as a whole and is tightly related to the fundamentals of Buddhist teachings, guiding me in both theory and in practice, regards the socio-physical environment as a system or a dynamic whole, the existence of which depends on the proper, ever-changing interrelations among the parts. Moreover, the creation and existence of each part depend on the interrelations between that part and the whole

His Holiness the Dalai Lama claims that understanding these expressions of dependent arising, cause and effect is condition for the realization of emptiness, being the foundation of all Buddhist teaching.

In any organic system, each element has its own uniqueness and power, but always acts as part of a larger entity to which it belongs and which it complements. Having adopted this concept, I do not regard urban design, architecture, interior design and landscape design as independent disciplines removed from each other, but as one continuous and dynamic system. Thus the building is not perceived as a collection of designed fragments, but as one hierarchical language, in which every design detail, on any level of scale, is derived from the larger whole to which it belongs, which it seeks to enhance, and for whose existence it is responsible.

Essence of harmony

Based on the assumption that beauty and harmony are objective properties related to the geometrical properties inherent in the structure itself, and that feelings have to do with facts, Alexander states that all places of organic order that seem unplanned and order less are a clear expression of order on a deep and complex level.

This order is based on absolute rules that have always determined the quality and beauty of a place, and is the source of the good feeling in it. In other words, there is a direct connection between the pattern of events that occur in a place and the patterns of space that constitute it .

Since we all share the same comfortable feeling in that environment which produces it, the explanation for that was, that as in the various spoken languages there is,’ the language of languages’ a common structural underlying patterns that are innate in human beings and therefore common to us all, so in the physical space there are patterns that reflect an innate pattern structured in our brain .

Film about the Patterns of a Place (in Hebrew 13.4 Mb)

The Planning Process

My contention is that the nature of the actual design process which creates an environment is one of the crucial factors in determining whether the environment will be of natural order and a pleasant place to live in.

The unique planning process presented here is fundamentally different from common ones.

It allows the physical structure of the building to develop gradually from the living reality of the site itself, and provides the growth of an integral organic environment.

As opposed to the common design process where the actual work start on the drawing board or the computer screen at the office and than superimposed on the site, here every planning decision grows out on the site itself, stemming from the direct experience of all the forces acting on the site. That whole which is experienced intuitively contains the climatic conditions, the angels of the view, the structure of the land and the features at the surrounding environment.




The decisions are marked on the ground by stakes, surveyed, and form the basic plan of the building and its outdoors.

The planning process is a transformational process from which the building and its outdoors are gradually unfolded. Each decision taken on the site is produced from the whole that exists at that moment on the site. In every step along the process a new structure-reality emerges, forming the base for the next decision. The design process on the site starts with decisions that are connected to the larger whole which exists at any certain moment, and continues with smaller decisions which spring from them and help to enhance them.

For example: One of the first decisions is the location of the main gate to the site. That decision deals with the relationship between the site as a whole and it’s immediate surrounding, being the larger whole at that first moment of the procees. The following decision would deal with the position of the main entrance door to the building. That decision will be in direct relationship to

the new reality created after having the entrance gate already located.

The actual final building is a structure of balance between the patterns of the space and the environmental forces existing on the site.

A Dialog Between The Qualities Of Tradition
And Modern Technology

The quality and uniqueness of the buildings I design follow an ongoing research the aim of which is to integrate modern technology with timeless architectural values which always gave and will give buildings their true meaning and significance.

The potential inherent in a modern scientific technological society should honestly be used not as an aim by itself but as a tool for attaining human qualities and friendly environment.

The similarity and the association created between the buildings I design and those we know from the past, and the similar experience and feeling they create, originate in my use of the same fundamental patterns and planning codes that guided in the past, and will continue to guide in the future, in any culture and tradition, those who aspire to give a building spirit and soul.

Film about the Design Approach & working process (The Director of the first 1.30 min is Sigal Weiss) (40Mb)

video clip

Nili Portugali is a Israeli architect, whose work is tightly connected to the holistic-phenomenological school of thought, which she argues
is much beyond the given definition of Sustainable Architecture, a humanistic worldview she implements in urban design,
architecture, landscape design and interior design in designing public buildings, residential and private houses.