The Atmospheric Sense: Peripheral Perception and the Experience of Space

  • Juhani Pallasmaa


This chapter provides a historical, ecological and evolutionary perspective to the meaning of atmospheric experience. Modern and contemporary architectures have focused on vision and neglected many of the sensory and mental issues in our relationship with physical settings, both natural and man-made. Architecture has turned increasingly into visually aestheticized objects instead of having a relational essence and mediating our relation with the world. Earlier buildings mediated between the cosmos and the human world, the gods and the mortals. Western architecture has also turned increasingly into an artform of the fixated and focused eye, although the experience of space calls for peripheral perception in motion. Atmosphere and mood are a central concern in various artforms: painting, literature, theatre, cinema and music. Our capacity for spatial, situational and atmospheric imagination through reading a fine literary work is quite astonishing. When reading a novel, we create entire buildings, places and cities with their inhabitants, activities and narratives in our imagination.

Architectural theory and education has emphasized the separate functions of the five Aristotelian senses, but our most important sensory experience is the interaction of the senses, which creates the experience of “the flesh of the world”, to use the notion of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. Architectural education has also emphasized elementary thinking, but atmospheres and moods are fused, immediate and unconscious experiences of the entity. We grasp entities before details, singularities before their components, multi-sensory syntheses before individual sensory features and emotive existential meanings before intellectual understanding. Besides, precision needs to be suppressed for the purpose of grasping large entities. I believe that we have developed our capacities of judging entities at the edge of our awareness through the evolutionary process.


Atmosphere Senses Peripheral perception Imagination 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Juhani Pallasmaa
    • 1
  1. 1.Professor EmeritusAalto UniversityHelsinkiFinland

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