Contingency and experiential solicitation: From atmospheric awareness to immersive field of experience

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According to Mark Wigley, constructing a building also means constructing an atmosphere (Wigley 1998: 18). Nevertheless, in the words of Gernot Böhme, the knowledge about the production of atmospheres is very seldom explicit (1993: 123). Taking as an example the Theorie der Gartenkunst of Christian Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld, which Böhme uses to illustrate the self-conscious pursuit of atmosphere and which could be understood as its instrumental taxonomy, we might ask then what determines an atmospheric physiognomy in architecture? What tools and design methodologies do we have as architects to approach atmosphere consciously?
Böhme sees in the creation of atmospheres a magical materialisation (1995: 42). Similarly, Alison and Peter Smithson (1979) stress their magical qualities and effects, explaining how architecture can invite affection and stimulate activities. This might entail an insight into the affective qualities of atmosphere – bearing in mind that atmosphere evokes not only feelings and emotions, but also responses – action – and is manifested in bodily impulses. Since sensing atmosphere is related to the sense of “whereness”, referring to the character of space in which we find ourselves (Böhme 2005: 402), to design considering an atmospheric approach means to focus on how space is going to appear, to be experienced or to be felt. Hermann Schmitz defines atmosphere as a sum of ephemeral occurrences that leads to an integral and synesthetic perception of our surroundings, where environmental qualities are implicit and conditions and phenomena are bound together in a reciprocal dependence (1995/1980). These assumptions imply shifting attention away from expression towards effects and intensities, enlarging the domain in which architecture manifests itself and revealing that the relation between the material and the immaterial is not accidental and extrinsic, but internal and meaningful already in the design process. In this context, architectural space is conceived as a contingent construction – a space of engagement that appears to us as a result of continuous and complex interferences revealed through our perception. This approach has nourished a wide range of design protocols that identify the inherent conditions of the materials and constantly changing environmental parameters as a datum upon which projects develop.
Although the use of the word ‘atmosphere’ is not at a nascent stage in architectural discourse, it is mainly contemporary examples that define the atmospheric constellation. Hence, there is a need to read back into previous architectural conceptualisations, our contemporary understanding and concern with atmospheres. In this context, Bruno Taut’s belief in the affective capacity of the materials, Gio Ponti’s concern for their performative qualities, Arne Jacobsen’s obsession with ambivalent interiors, Aldo van Eyck’s modes of involving phenomena, or Werner Ruhnau’s notion of ‘scenic qualities’, are to be used – among others – to illustrate this particular projective genealogy, one that builds upon ‘atmospheric awareness’ where seeking an effect and affect is implicit, and foregrounding perceptual and emotional engagement is conscious – i.e. a projective genealogy that defines the immersive field of experience.

Böhme, G. (1993): "Atmosphere as the fundamental concept of a new aesthetics". Thesis Eleven 33, 113-126.
Böhme, G. (1995): "Staged materiality". Daidalos, 56, 36-43.
Böhme, G. (2005): "Atmosphere as the subject matter of architecture". In P. Ursprung (Ed.), Herzog & de Meuron. Natural History. Zurich: Lars Müller Publishers.
Schmitz, H. (1995 [1980]). Nowa Fenomenologia, (Andrzejewski, B. trans.), Wydawnictwo Naukowe IF UAM, Poznań, (original edition: Neue Phänomenologie. Bonn: Bouvier Ver- lag Herbert Grundmann.
Smithson, A. and P. (1979): Signs of occupancy. Retrieved from:
Wigley, M. (1998): "The architecture of atmosphere". Daidalos, 68, 18-27.
Antal sider1
StatusUdgivet - 2013
BegivenhedInterstices Under Construction Symposium : Moved: On Atmospheres and Affects - The University of Auckland and AUT University, Auckland, New Zealand
Varighed: 22 nov. 201324 nov. 2013


KonferenceInterstices Under Construction Symposium
LokationThe University of Auckland and AUT University
LandNew Zealand

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