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atmosphere and spatial sense

south park house 01


I have posted in the past about a sense of atmosphere that is embedded within a room.  For architects, we are engaged in making the imagined world into the real world.  The imagined world may exist in the models, drawings and in the mind of the architect, but at the end of the construction process, we interact with the physical qualities of a structure, not just its representations.  The atmosphere of a space refers to the sensorial qualities by which we come to understand the spaces we make and inhabit.  It is the light (or lack), sound, materials and smell of the place that combine to craft our knowledge of a space.  That is the phenomenology of architecture - its physical qualities as perceived by the body.

Of the many physical qualities that we can perceive in a room - its temperature, sound, smell, size, etc. - I can't help but feel that there is another sense, a spatial sense, that is often overlooked.  It may be that we develop a spatial sense of a room by a combination of all the other physical senses, but I think that still does not reveal the whole picture of how a room feels to us as we move through it or inhabit it.  It is also the proportion of that room, its sense of tension and repose, its geometry and scale, its direction and flow, that is evidence in a room that we recognize and feel with our spatial sense.



As a working architect, I am as much or maybe more interested in this atmospheric "feel" of a room as I am its function or utility.  We have all sat in plenty of restaurants that have adequately made a sufficient place to eat but that fail miserably at making a place that is comfortable and engaging, a place that you are eager to return to. A merely functional design for a house will satisfy the everyday needs of eating, cooking, sleeping, etc. but will hardly engender the dreaming, playing, relaxing and invigorating places that should make up a home.  It is the unique feel of those spaces that engages our spatial sense and that we work so hard to craft.

notebook sketch 01

spatial sense

So, what are the things that make up that feel of a space?  What are the qualities that bring it forth and how can you identify it?  Well, it may be like pornography or art - I don't know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.  And when you have spent time with folks and have listened to them and wrestled with the structure and budget for a project, it is incredibly satsifying when as an architect you see that you have found it and made it manifest in the world.  That is likely why I love to design houses - more than any other type of building, a house insists on crafting just the right kind of atmosphere for it to be successful.

SD master hall

We all have a spatial sense, likely more acute in some than others.  It may be an oversensitivity to this sense that drives some of us to become architects.  It certainly is a fundamental aspect to our perception of buildings, and an awareness and knowledge of that spatial sense is essential to making spaces and rooms that we desire and that linger in our memories.