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In architecture and spatial design, atmosphere refers to the sensorial qualities that a space emits. Atmosphere is an immediate form of physical perception, and is recognised through emotional sensibility. Architects and designers use the notion of atmosphere to argue that architecture and space is designed and built for people to use and experience. Peter Zumthor in his book Atmospheres constitutes architectural atmospheres as "this singular density and mood, this feeling of presence, well-being, harmony, beauty...under whose spell I experience what I otherwise would not experience in precisely this way".
Spaces of atmosphere are shaped through a bodily interaction with architecture. The atmosphere is therefore closely linked to a philosophy of phenomenology and the analysis of topography. Vitruvius noted that since the human body is the measure of architecture, it is also that which determines atmospheric qualities. It is the human body that emanates the structural qualities of architecture.
Drawing from Vitruvius’ discussion of architecture, a number of twentieth-century architects have adopted a phenomenological interpretation of their work, to understand architecture’s primary concern as the body in space. Among these architects include; Peter Zumthor, Steven Holl and Juhani Pallasmaa. Their architectural works draw from the philosophical tradition of Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Martin Heidegger, the correlation of the body and its sensory-motor functions. Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception asserts that, “the body and mind cannot be separated as subject and object”. The perception of the body influences what is perceived by the mind.
German philosopher Gernot Böhme has also expanded on the architectural atmosphere, in his essay "Atmosphere as the Subject Matter of Architecture". He addresses the nature of space as the physicality of an actual space and the atmospheric qualities that are embedded within a space. Böhme states that “we must be physically present” (p. 402) to experience space in its complete entirety. By inhabiting space individuals can sense the character that surrounds them. Inhabitants sense its atmosphere. Photography, written articles and the interpretation of other viewers of a space cannot compare to individual experience and interaction in interior spaces. Spaces begin as voids, tangible and undefined structures, its atmospheres are articulated through cognitive subjects (memory, perception, judgement, emotion) and physical presence. Recently an italian philosopher Tonino Griffero addresses the theory of atmospheres in a thorough and systematic way, examining the role of atmospheres (underestimated in traditional aesthetics) in daily life and their main ontological and phenomenological characteristics, and aims to consider atmospherical feelings and moods (including pain, shame, twilight, gaze, felt-bodily isles, etc.) as protypes of the new ontological category of quasi-things.
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