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Title: Materiality in Space – Atmosphere

Materiality in Space – Atmosphere

Literature Review

There has been much scholarly interest in the work of the architect. Peter Zumthor in his book Atmosphere1 describes architectural atmospheres as “the singular density and mood, the feeling of presence, well-being, harmony, beauty…under whose spell people experience what they would otherwise would not experience in a precise way.” It is from this statement and much more that resulted to the linkage of atmosphere to the philosophy of phenomenology and the analysis of topography. According to Vitruvius, the human body determines the atmospheric qualities since it is the measure of architecture. In fact, it is the humankind that emanates the structural qualities of architecture. In his book Atmosphere as the Subject Matter of Architecture, Gernot Bohme2 argues that the space is a physicality of an actual space and the atmospheric qualities within a space. Gernot gives a detailed explanation of the architectural atmosphere and how it has changed with time. Gernot argues that; in order to experience space to its full capacity people must be physically present. The first-hand experience an individual gain from visiting the space is different from written articles, photography and the interpretation of other viewers of a space.

Architecture as a profession has witnessed tremendous growth since 18th C. specifically; the current atmosphere has been changed for the better thanks to the architectural inventions and innovations. The architectural approach to spacecraft design consists of the total built environment, which arises from different disciplines such as sociology, psychology, and physiology as well as technical fields3. In an effort to realize success in space architecture, much effort has been made towards designing concepts for orbital space stations and lunar and Martian exploration ships. In addition, surfaces bases for the world’s space agencies and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) has been established.

Essential to universe architecture is designing for psychological and physical wellness in space. However, more vigorous exercise routines must be applied to alleviate muscular atrophy and other effects of space on the body. It is worth noting the physical shapes of the space architecture may be a barrier to getting anything at all to the space. To date, most space habitats have used modular architectural design to help them achieve their goals. But the most important thing is to apply the architectural principle that advocate for most appropriate materials and leaving them at their uncompromised state. The principle is called truth to materials4. Therefore, it is undeniable fact that architecture is part of today’s space and it has helped define the current nature of the space. Every modification that has taken place in the space has direct link with architecture.

Environmental discussions in architecture tend to focus on the practical or the poetic nature of the architecture. In his book Weather Architecture5, Jonathan Hill states that architectural relations to the weather is integrated into a wider discussion of cultural and social influences on architecture. He argue that weather effects on design and experience of specific buildings are as a result of historical survey of changing attitudes to the weather arts, science and society, resulting to a vital re-evaluation of modern responses to climate change6. Jonathan questions the idea that considers the technocratic conception of the architect as problem solver and moderator of climate performance. According to Jonathan, weather architecture is a source of alternative model of architectural authorship that recognizes the creative influences of the weather together with the architect and user7. Therefore, creativity can be influenced by clear understanding of the past.


The atmosphere, in relation to architecture and spatial design-refers to the sensorial qualities that a space emits. Atmosphere is considered to be a form of physical perception that is recognized through emotional sensibility. It is the creation of surface less space and the felt body experienced in a non-physical way. The concept of atmosphere is applied by every designer and architects to argue the case that architecture and space is designed and built mainly to be used and experienced by people. The atmosphere has resulted to culmination of relationship spheres which subsequently has changed the perception about the current environment. Spaces of atmosphere have been shaped via a bodily interaction with architecture. The objective of this paper is based in its consideration of atmosphere as an architectural concept. The paper therefore becomes an exploration into the intensification of the concept suggesting that architecture can increase the perception of atmosphere hence creating a greater awareness of the contextual environment. Specifically, this paper tries to understand the effects of architectural developments in the space.


Fig. 1 – Layers of the Atmosphere. (Environmental Literacy and Inquiry Working Group (2013)9

Importance of studying the Atmosphere

It is a fact that the atmosphere is filled with pollutants such as noxious gases, smoke and water vapor that have a diverse impact on architectural constructions and are responsible for its degradation and discoloration. ‘Atmospheric Pollution’ refers to the elements of atmosphere that are altered over time by human activities. (Robert Inkpen10, 2013) Atmosphere that has been changed from its natural existence or polluted become highly variable across time and space and this is one of the reasons why a lot of attention has to be paid to the atmosphere of a particular area before constructing a piece of architecture.

Pollutants in the Atmosphere

The primary argument presented in this paper is how a building is damaged by pollution in the atmosphere. Some of the primary pollutants in the atmosphere are carbon –di-oxide, nitrogen oxides, sulphur — di-oxides and other particulates of water- vapor and smoke has an adverse impact on stone work architecture. Carbon- di- oxide, known as the ‘greenhouse gas’ is not only a major contributor to Global warming, but in addition it combines with the water- vapor in the atmosphere forming carbonic acid which impacts adversely on a building. It becomes even more harmful when it reacts with other major atmospheric pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and sulphur –di- oxides because it becomes more acidic in nature and this acid rain corrodes the building over time and leads to weathering.

Architectural influence on the space has been splendid. A lot of innovations and inventions have been realized because of the architectural features developed in the space. However, there is much more in the space apart from the common things such as setalights and many others. The exploration of the space has seen the earth experience Space weather-which can be defined as the changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space. This is as a result of changes in the magnetic fields, ambient plasma, radiation and other matter in the space. The fact is, the space weather originates from two points: scientific research and applications. Space weather has several effects on the earth and space. First of all, space weather can result to spacecraft anomalies in terms of radiation damage and spacecraft charging. Secondly, space weather will result to emissions of harmful radiations such as X-ray, infrared and much more. These expose human body to ionizing radiation hence harmful effects. Thirdly, the space weather modifies the Earth’s weather system through eroding the ozone layer. This exposes the Earth’s physical features to pollution and ultimately defects. It is important to understand the architecture has contributed to the space weather in one way or the other. Therefore, when talking about effects of space weather we are definitely talking about the disadvantage of architectural development in space. In trying to understand the disadvantages of architectural developments in space, we will focus on the pollution in the atmosphere. Specifically, the focus is on The Coliseum. This is a demonstration of how architectural developments have resulted to deterioration of physical features through space weather.

Case Study – The Coliseum

There has been great speculation in recent times over the damage caused to architectural and historical monuments and there has been wide research carried out in this area. One such magnificent building that was prone to damage is the world famous Roman Coliseum.

The Coliseum in Rome, Italy

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Fig. 2 — The Coliseum11 exterior in Rome, Italy between ca.1890 and ca. 1900

The Coliseum damaged by Atmosphere and Climate

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Fig. 3 – The Roman

The Roman Coliseum in Italy is a UNESCO World Heritage13 site, was an architectural wonder built by the great architect Vespasian, in approximately 8 years. (Roman Coliseum, Italy, 360 degrees) This gigantic Coliseum was an ellipse shaped amphitheater that could house approximately 50,000 people. It had a sprawling arena where games and fights between brave gladiators and animals took place. In 2007 it had an honorable place of being one of the ‘Seven Wonders of the World’ and though so majestically built, it has not escaped the ravages of time.

Area of Atmosphere around the Coliseum in Rome, Italy.

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Fig. 4 — The Coliseum

However, the beauty of the Coliseum has deteriorated over the last two centuries due to huge fires and the invasions by the barbarians. Besides this, heavy pollution from the daily traffic is a constant threat to this magnificent piece of architecture. I will argue that a lot of damage to the Coliseum is from the heavy traffic that surrounds it on all sides. Constant attack to this structure is from the polluted atmosphere that it is exposed to. Smoke, dust, carbon-di-oxide and acid rain have robbed it of its magnificent beauty. Further, plundering and an overgrowth of vegetation threatened to damage the building and attempts for its restoration were very slow and gradual.


The bad effects of pollution in the atmosphere and the rapid deterioration of this world wonder finally prompted a restoration process of great magnitude between 1993 and 2000. It has taken approximately 40 billion Italian Lira to restore this beautiful piece of architecture to its former glory. Today, the Coliseum stands as one of Rome’s iconic symbols and is flourishing as one of Rome’s major tourist attractions in the heart of a modern Roman metropolis. My research suggests that if this magnificent structure had to be initially checked for the kind of atmosphere that surrounded it, it would definitely have been safeguarded against such a massive damage and restoration. It is not fair to conclude that architecture has contributed solely to the pollution. There are many factors that affect the physical status of our society. However, unplanned architectural developments in the space can be harmful if no proper measures are taken.


Böhme, Gernot (2005). “Atmosphere As The Subject Matter of Architecture” in Natural Histories. Switzerland, Herzog and de Meuron

Coliseum Photos. – Picture Galleries (Fig.4) Assessed on 20th Sept. 2013

Eli Climate Change. Support Materials – Atmosphere (Fig. I) Assessed on 13th Sept. 2013 1.htmatmosphere/

Fleming, William (1995). Arts & Ideas. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company. p. 556. ISBN 0-15- 501104-9.

Jonathan, Hill., (2013). Weather Architecture. London, Routledge.

Images of The Coliseum. (Fig. 2 and 3) Assessed on 20th Sept. 2013

Introduction to The Atmosphere. Background Material

Robert Inkpen. Atmospheric Pollution, Climate Change and Historic Buildings. Assessed on 17th. Sept., 2013 .htmatmospheric/

Roman Coliseum. Italy/ 360 degrees Aerial Panorama. Assessed on 21st Sept. 2013…

Sherwood, Brent., (2006)-. ««Organizing Ourselves: Schema to Build the International Space Architecture Community. Concluding Address. San Jose, CA: AIAA. Retrieved 2009-10-24.

Zumthor, Peter (2006). Atmospheres. Switzerland, Birkhauser.

1 Zumthor, Peter (2006). Atmospheres. Switzerland, Birkhauser.

2 Böhme, Gernot (2005). “Atmosphere As The Subject Matter of Architecture” in Natural Histories. Switzerland, Herzog and de Meuron,

3 Sherwood, Brent., (2006)-. ««Organizing Ourselves: Schema to Build the International Space Architecture Community. Concluding Address. San Jose, CA: AIAA. Retrieved 2009-10-24.

4 Fleming, William., (1995). Arts & Ideas. Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company. p. 556. ISBN 0-15-501104-9.

5 Jonathan, Hill., (2013). Weather Architecture. London, Routledge.

6 Jonathan, Hill., (2013). Weather Architecture. London, Routledge.

7 Jonathan, Hill., (2013). Weather Architecture. London, Routledge.

The area of study chosen for this research is Atmosphere and the manner in which it impacts on the materials in our environment with special focus on architecture. The atmosphere around us is made up of several gases such as Oxygen, (21%) Nitrogen (78%) and smaller amounts of other gases like carbon-di-oxide, argon, helium etc. The atmosphere comprises of different layers and each layer has its own unique characteristics. One of the most fundamental of these characteristics is pressure that increases or decreases according to its altitude. The atmospheric Layers are as follows —

9 There are four layers of atmosphere – 1) Troposphere, 2) Stratosphere, 3) Mesosphere and 4) Thermosphere and the transfer of energy between these layers occurs through conduction, convection and radiation. The transfer of energy in the atmosphere, in addition to the other elements of weather, impacts upon the materials in our environment, bringing about a change to their original state. In architecture, special consideration has to be given to the atmosphere of a particular space in order to bring about the right balance during construction.

10 Robert Inkpen on Atmospheric Pollution, Climate Change and Historic Buildings.

11 The Coliseum exterior in Rome, Italy. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington DC, USA.

12 The Roman Coliseum showing damage by the atmosphere and climate.

13 UNESCO World Heritage — The Coliseum was initiated as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO

14 The Coliseum Environment that shows the exposure to damaging atmosphere.

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