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What is atmosphere? Architectural students’ conversational, collaged & diptychal definitions

Burch, James

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James Burch
Associate Professor of Architecture


A predominant strand of contemporary criticism identifies the creation of atmosphere as the way in which an architectural space is distinguished from the 3-dimensions of physical buildings. This idea that, in essence, there is an experiential and associative aspect to the creation of architectural meaning is therefore a foundational aspect of architectural teaching; and most first year courses in architecture include design exercises that require the student to respond creatively to some form of charged atmospheric stimulus. This paper reflects upon a version of this project, delivered yearly to students in their first term of architectural studies. Students are asked to capture the atmosphere they find on visits to more eccentric, less accessible space in central Bristol and to bring this atmosphere back to the school of architecture in drawn-form. This brief poses questions for all involved. The learners confront an open-ended, experimental investigation in design requiring interpretative skills they may not have encountered previously. The teachers are asked to answer the question: What is atmosphere? The answer has been a 5-year collaboration between Fine Art and architectural educators that has evolved into a sequenced series of short workshops that lead students towards the abstract representation of atmospheres they discover in Bristol. Central to this pedagogy has been the students’ development of diptychs and a reflection on the nature of atmosphere as something found between elements. This paper will use the project’s pedagogy to define atmosphere as such a dyptichal combination of associations and images, visitor and extant space, participant and observer.


Burch, J. (2015, July). What is atmosphere? Architectural students’ conversational, collaged & diptychal definitions. Paper presented at Atmospheres: Morgan Centre Interdisciplinary Conference, Manchester University, UK

Presentation Conference Type Conference Paper (unpublished)
Conference Name Atmospheres: Morgan Centre Interdisciplinary Conference
Conference Location Manchester University, UK
Start Date Jul 1, 2015
End Date Jul 2, 2015
Acceptance Date Jul 2, 2015
Publication Date Jan 1, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jun 6, 2019
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Keywords architecture, drawing, pedagogy
Public URL
Additional Information Title of Conference or Conference Proceedings : Atmospheres: Morgan Centre Interdisciplinary Conference


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