Peter Zumthor, Atmosphere // Reading Response

Ah, it was a joy to read what I describe as a very dedicated and personal piece of article, full of passion.

In the beginning, I was wondering why I was reading something about architecture. But slowly, as I continued reading on, I noticed how Peter Zumthor’s ideas about architecture could be assimilated into creating Interactive Spaces.

Essentially, architecture is a space, right?

With all spaces, there is an atmosphere. The atmosphere affects the emotions being felt by those passing by. The removal of an atmosphere essentially changes the emotions felt.

Now, how do we make a space have an atmosphere?

Here are his thoughts on ways to generate a certain atmosphere:

(1) Body of Architecture

(2) Material Compatibility

(3) The Sound of Space

(4) The Temperature of Space

(5) Surrounding Objects

(6) Between Composure and Seduction

(7) Tension between Interior and Exterior

(8) Levels of Intimacy

(9) The Light of Things

Out of these 9 ways, I highlighted 3 that resonates with me the most; the sound of the space, surrounding objects and the light of things. Nonetheless, I’ll briefly go through each way followed by my opinions.

(1) Body of Architecture

“The material presence of things in a piece of architecture”.

Essentially, the materials used in the creation of a space, can have a “sensual effect” on people.

In my opinion, this is one of the most important ways to establish an atmosphere. The material of a space will change how people perceive a space. For example, if we want a space to be warm and homely, the material, I would think is suited for the space would probably be wood. Concrete or steel will not be able to instil that same homely feeling as wood.

Nonetheless, materials can be perceived differently in the different cultural context based on history, existing or past architecture, etc. Hence, we should look into the culture of the city or country that we are building the space in.

(2) Material compatibility

The possibilities of the use of materials are endless. However, using different materials requires some form of compatibility where it is enough to react to one another without killing the other.

In a way, I kinda get what he is trying to say. The usage of the two materials should work together and they should not be in dissonance.

(3) The Sound of Space

I did not realise this, but I was subconsciously pretty particular about the sound of a space. I cannot stand libraries or quiet lecture theatres, it gets suffocating being in that kind of space. It feels like everyone can hear my movements or my breathing. I had always thought that it was attributed to the silence in the room. However, could the “silence” be considered the sound of that space?

(4) The Temperature of the space

What comes to my mind? ADM

One joy that comes out from entering ADM’s building is the air-con. After walking in the heat, it feels super refreshing to open the Gallery entrance door into a cold building.

(5) Surrounding Objects

I believe what he is trying to say here is that the objects in the space should be for the audience. The purpose of these objects should serve the audience and it should exist without the designer; “a future that happens without me” as what he would describe it.

As a space designer, I think understanding our audience is important. Hence, in an interactive space, the objects in that space should bring some meaning or narrative to the participants. They can look around in a space, and understand the correlation between the objects and the space.

(6) Between Composure and Seduction

The movement of visitors through a space should not appear to look directed, but instead seemingly natural. Creating spaces that allows visitors to let go is the form of seduction he is referring to.

As much as we can paste directional arrows on the floor, I think a space is more encapsulating when you “don’t know” where you are going.

Why is “don’t know” in quotation marks? Thats because an effective space should be designed to have a natural direction without any signals. In a sense, the space should have a directional flow that visitors naturally gravitate towards.

(7) Tension between Interior and Exterior

Place someone between 4 walls, and what do you get? An inside and outside.

This chapter reminded me of the phrase “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. The exterior of a building/space has their own personality that can have a different outlook or impression from the interior. In a way, the exterior can act as a mask to what is actually inside.

Interesting to think about how we can “decorate” the exterior of the space to attract visitors to venture in to find out what’s lurking behind the door.

(8) Levels of Intimacy

“proximity and distance” – I believe it refers to the sheer size or scale of any objects in the space in relation to a human.

Naturally, when we are faced with objects that are on a much larger scale than us, we feel intimidated and vice versa.

Objects should not only be in relation to a human, but it should also be in relation between one human to another.

(9) The Light on Things

He shares two ideas on how to work with light:

  • “to plan the building as a pure mass of shadow then afterwards to put in light as if you were hollowing out the darkness.”
  • “to go about lighting materials and surfaces systematically and to look at the way they reflect the light.”

Quite straightforward to me. The usage of material can greatly impact the atmosphere of a space, according to how reflective it is.

And there is just something about natural light that is so captivating. That’s why we see so many architectures incorporating daylight into their spaces.


These factors in determining the atmosphere, should not only apply to architecture but can be incorporated into a space. In designing an interactive space, the message of the interactive piece is important, however, the atmosphere sets the mood. Also, the atmosphere can also have an effect on the message being delivered.

There must be a reason why that piece of artwork is placed into that space. The atmosphere of the space should provide a meaning to the artwork. Hence, I believe the atmosphere and context of the space should work together to deliver the message an artist wants. This reading definitely opened my eyes on how to manipulate a space.




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Norafizah Normin

Leap of Faith

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