A brief explanation of the project on atmosphere, architecture and photography


What is an architectural atmosphere, and how would you transmit it through imagery? The first part of the question has been raised by Peter Zumthor, Gernot Böhme, and Juhani Pallasmaa to name a few. The second part interests me more. In the world of architecture, depiction is primarily achieved through photographs and renders. So photographers need to add their voice to the debate.

The images shown here are the result of lengthy, detailed interviews with JKMM, ALA, K2S, AOA, Henning Larsen, PLH, KHR, Helin & Co and The Finnish Parliament. The visual rhetorics employed in the production of these images seeks to communicate a meeting of two realities: what was it like there at that time and what the architect envisioned when he created the space. I have produced hundreds of images of these places, but the few chosen below should give the reader the idea of what I am after. At this point, the important thing is the research taking place through the images and the possibilities of a dialectical approach with a client. I am not here to celebrate the triumph of a new sort of photography. If that ever happens it will come only partially, in collaboration with others, and much later. But I do offer three ideas for a different way of working: artistic research instead of conventional practices, commissions based on dialogue, and atmosphere as subject matter. I see all of these as an opportunity for architects to extend the reach of their audience, get more from photographers, and communicate more thorough compelling images. That can be achieved through dialogue and a focus on atmosphere as well as objects. Such work might complement standard architectural photography, not replace it.

But just what is an atmosphere? Böhme defines it as the space of moods in one essay and offers the theatre as an example of how they can be predictably created and inter-subjectively shared. Zumthor says they are part of our hot-wiring, and unpacks the idea explaining the integral parts of his toolkit – what lets him make atmospheres? So what are they in a photograph? I believe atmosphere is what connects the person looking at a photo of an architectural work to the thing they see. And this is an important point, because it is true for practitioner and layman alike. The atmosphere is what keeps you listening to the song, regardless of whether or not you can read the sheet music. Atmosphere is as relevant to the specialist reading this journal as to the angry citizen lambasting architecture in the popular press. Atmospheres are important, inter-subjective, understandable. One thing I don't understand about atmospheres at this point, however, is why more photographers and publishers are not talking about them. I look forward to the opportunity to enter into a dialogue about this issue and urge anyone interested to contact me.


Böhme, Gernot.
Frankfurt am Main 1995, S. 96.

Pallasmaa, Juhani.
"Space, Place and Atmosphere – Peripheral Perception in Architectural experience".
ARK 5/2011.

Zumthor, Peter.
Birkhäuser, 2006.