“There are many ways that architecture can stimulate us. We can be enthralled by theoretical concepts that intend to revolutionize how we interact with our buildings. We can be overcome by the metaphors underlying a project’s design. And, at times, we are able to separate ourselves from these more cerebral desires and draw intrigue based solely on our reactions to space and form. Personally, I’m interested in this last type. Reactions are what tie us back to our purely human instincts, to the universal senses which connect us all. Responding to space and material in an almost reptilian way, we absorb our surroundings from the beginning of our existence, internalizing our sensibility. Our past experiences shape our perception and, in turn, each new experience reshapes the next. Hence, it is that which makes us most human that ties us so intimately to architecture. Perhaps that’s what I’m most interested in – what makes us human.
Our perception defines our reality, and within our perceptions of space we’ve developed this idea of atmosphere. Though even the word itself seems mysterious and ephemeral, I believe it exists as much as anything else exists. Atmosphere is something felt, not thought, something taken in through emotional sensibility. It’s not always something we can define through words alone; rather it’s something that must be absorbed through the experience of the human body existing within it. Undoubtedly, this kind of perceptive ability has come through evolution – the ability to quickly interpret our surroundings and determine if it is hospitable or hazardous. In this way, our body is an instrument for measuring a specific architectural quality that no other device can determine.
What is atmosphere in this sense though? If I were to put it into words, I would say it’s the impression created by nothing more than our immediate, personal mental reaction to a specific space. To paraphrase Peter Zumthor it’s when the physical presence of architecture manages to move us.”
Introduction from Shawn Swisher’s text ‘What makes us human – Reactions to the Shelters for Roman Archaeological Site‘, read more