Lamu Island: Genius Loci and Sense of Place.

Every city has an identity, an unmistakable specificity of character and quality of place. This
quality or "aura" about the place is what we remember of such places; either with nostalgia or
indifference, depending on our experiences at the place. We therefore recognise Nairobi as
being a different place from Mombasa, Cairo or London. The same is valid for entire
geographic regions, countries, towns and even individual places within towns. When we as
human beings recognise such place distinctions (figures 1.01 to 1.03), we acknowledge a common
underlying sense of orientation and identification with places.
02
1.1 INTRODUCTION
Architectural theorists also recognise this fact. Christopher Alexander posits that, "There is a
central quality which is the root criterion of life and spirit in a man, a town, a building, or a
wilderness." (Alexander, 1979). Architecture means to visualize this spirit by creating places
that are meaningful; places that help man to dwell or exist in his lived-world. In order to
define this quality in buildings and in towns, we must begin by understanding that every place
is given its character by certain "things" gathered by the place and patterns of events that keep
on happening there (Schulz, 1980).
Along the East African Coast, we find a Swahili settlement north of Mombasa that has been
the subject of many architectural, environmental and anthropological studies. It is known as
Lamu town. Unlike other Swahili settlements along the coast that have been modified or
abandoned over time, it has been in continuous habitation for over 700 years. It has a strong
cultural identity and is inscribed as a world heritage centre.
It has seen transformations as any other urban dwelling and is therefore facing threats to its
imageability and sense of place.

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