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Archiprint6Creating & Experiencing Identity 29

Atmosphere and Identity Paul Kersten


During the preparation of this issue of Archiprint, we ed: Architecture always has produced atmosphere, for
attended the conversation between Gernot Bhme, Pe- instance atmosphere of holiness and power. But archi-
ter Zumthor and Juhani Pallasmaa organized by OASE tecture beyond modernity rediscovers the perspective of
Journal for Architecture, on 29 April 2014 in Amster- the user. It is not only about the building as such, but it
dam. OASE organized this evening on the occasion is dealing with felt space, mindful bodily presence. This
of their 91st publication called Building Atmosphere. A might become an explicit topic in architecture1. In line
topic of which we think is strongly related to the sub- with Bhme, Juhani Pallasmaa seems to derive his inter-
ject identity. We attended to this evening to get a hint est in the concept of atmosphere from the users point
about the relation between atmosphere and identity. of view. He is mainly interested in the relation between
The evening, introduced and led by Klaske Havik, con- man and place and the tactile and haptic experiences in
sisted of short introductions from Bhme, Zumthor and buildings in an existential sense. Pallasmaa states: It is
Pallasmaa on the theme Building Atmosphere followed
by a conversation between the speakers. place and moment, the actuality of existence, that is the
essence of atmosphere.2
Giving voice to the user perspective
In his introduction, Gernot Bhme argued that atmo- Starting point for atmospheric experiences
sphere as meant in Building Atmospheres departs from a In OASE 91, according to the editors, also Christophe
critical stance to modernism of which the style is overly -
dependent of the visual. After having shown his personal tionship between building and man3. In line with these
contribution to misty photography, Gernot Bhme stat-
in the work of Zumthor can be explained in this way as
atmosphere has to do with scale, with things happening
close to people. Moreover, this relationship between
building and man has a deeper meaning if we are to
believe Zumthor. In response to the question raised by
Michiel Riedijk about tendencies towards nostalgia of
the farmer life in the mountains and how one ever can
convey these notions based on ones own intuition
and feelings in communal knowledge or practice, Pe-
ter Zumthor answered: We all come from houses and
landscapes. Thats where we start, it is our basis. These

Gernot Bhme at the presentation of OASE 91, 29
April 2014, Amsterdam.
Juhani Pallasmaas reaction to: Gernot Bhme,
Encounerting Atmospheres, OASE 91 (2013), 99.
Klaske Havik, Hans Teerds, Gus Tielens, Editorial,
OASE 91 (2013), 11.
Gernot Bhmes misty photographs, OASE 91 presentation, 29 April 2014, Amsterdam
[photo: Michael Maminski]
Atmosphere and Identity 30 Paul Kersten

are starting points for atmospheric experiences. If you other. Could we imagine Building Identity as a topic in
want to create atmospheres, this is where you should
start. It has nothing to do with nostalgia4. A wellknown counter-balance to come to an architecture that redis-

understanding of what certain spaces mean comes from -

Peter Zumthors book Thinking Architecture where he bergSchulz argues that we need existential foothold to
describes his aunts kitchen. He states that the atmo- orientate ourselves in and identify with places. Moreover,
sphere of that room is insoluble linked5 states that Human identity is to a high extent a function
of a kitchen. of places and things8. To identify with a place has to do

Linking Building Atmosphere to identity via the Building Identity would be a very challenging and at the
concept of engagement same time risky task. On the one hand it would insist
The explanation by Zumthor of how the past contributes that a certain situation or context is taken seriously
to the practice of building atmospheres strongly relates and that one makes efforts to build sustainable, on the
to the work of Christian NorbergSchulz regarding the other hand, identity is a concept subjected to personal
identity of places. In The Phenomenon of Place, Nor- perception and therefore one risks to build on quick-
bergSchulz argues that future experiences are prede- sand: the identity of the place might change through the
perception of people or through contextual changes in a
concrete environmental properties and that mans rela- physical sense.
tionship to these is usually developed during childhood
and the child gets acquainted with the environment, A hidden agenda in Building Atmosphere
and develops perceptual schemata which determine all Throughout the evening organized by OASE increasingly
future experiences6. So as Zumthor states that atmo-
sphere is based on the places we come from, Norberg sort of atmosphere in itself, characterized by vagueness,
Schulz states that human identity depends on schemata slowness and rootedness. It seems that atmosphere is a
developed in the places where our roots lay. What very subjected concept here; subjected to misty photog-
atmosphere and identity of a place have in common is raphy and mountain life, tradition and ageing of building
that both involve engagement with a certain place. The materials. In this sense atmosphere seems to have a
hidden agenda: propaganda for certain aesthetics.

Afterwards we asked Juhani Pallasmaa about his ideas quently, as future architects, how can we take the user
on the relation between atmosphere and identity and he perspective seriously, including its indeterminateness,
referred to tune management as a method to hold the and take the inherent dynamics of human life for granted

the mood of people. While the quality of a space is there

for everyone to be experienced, it is there in an objec-

with this space can take shape through the perception

of people. Moreover, Pallasmaa argued that atmosphere
is the accumulation of ingredients of the identity of a
place. This relates to what he stated earlier that evening: 4 of Architectural Theory 1965-1995 (New
Peter Zumthor at the presentation of OASE York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996),
why do some spaces make us feel like outsiders, while 91, 29 April 2014, Amsterdam. 424.
. 5 7
Peter Zumthor, Thinking Architecture (Basel: Juhani Pallasmaa at the presentation of OASE
Birkhuser, 1998), 9. 91, 29 April 2014, Amsterdam.
Building identity: challenging and risky 6 8
Christian NorbergSchulz, The Phenomenon Christian NorbergSchulz, Genius Loci: To-
As the essence of atmosphere is the actuality of exis- of Place in: Kate Nesbitt (ed.), Theorizing a wards a Phenomenology of Architecture (New
tence, identity and atmosphere come very close to each New Agenda for Architecture. An Anthology York: Rizzoli, 1991), 21.