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the influence of atmosphere

Atmosphere and the role of design

What to look for in an atmosphere, the role of design

In the previous blog post “Talking about Atmosphere and why it matters” I talked about Atmosphere and how it refers to the sensorial qualities that are being found in any space: sight, sound, scent, and touch.

In this post I want to take a closer look, on how we can influence these qualities through design.


Atmosphere & Design

I am going to take a closer look, on the sensorial qualities of a space, and how we can Influencing atmosphere trough elements of design.



Sight allows us to influence atmosphere through color, light, size and shape. Especially Light plays a crucial part in understanding the emotional effect that atmosphere can have on us. Light influences our emotion. Light lifts up our spirit or depresses us in times of darkness. It energizes us or tiers us. Light brings colors alive, make us feel cozy, energized or creates a feeling of calm, cleanliness and structure.

Peter Zumthor beautifully talk about the impact light can have on us as humans in his book Atmospheres “…Daylight, the light on things, is so moving to me that I feel almost a spiritual quality. When the sun comes up in the morning – which I always find so marvelous… and casts its light on things, it doesn’t feel as if it quite belongs in this world. I don’t understand light. It gives me the feeling there’s something beyond me, something beyond all understanding”.

As designers, we have to understand light and the influences it has on our bodies when designing a space.



Sound: is being noticed through volume and pitch. We associate sounds with certain rooms, places, and memories. Sound induces emotional and sensual responses. Material, scale, memory and familiarity all create a sense of sound inside a building. Sound shapes a room and it’s very own way. Sound can clarify the pure size and height of a room. Through sound, we get a physical idea on how deep and how high a room is and what his surfaces material is made of.  “Interiors are like large instruments, collecting sound, amplifying it, transmitting it elsewhere. That has to do with the shape peculiar to each room and with the surface of materials they contain, and the way those materials have been applied.” Peter Zumthor (Atmospheres, p. 29).

We all have been in a space where the acoustic was so bad that after a few hours you don’t wanna talk or listen to people anymore. The worst thing that can happen to an interior designer is, that people leave a room we created with the feeling of exhaustion. I personally have places I avoid because I know the acoustic is so bad that being social in that room is exhausting!



Scent is be noticed through scent identification and freshness. Sent creates an apparent atmosphere within architecture. Sent can tell a story about the quality and origin of materials. The smell of leather remind us of high-quality materials, its richness and organic nature leave a smell that creates an identity of long lasting and timelessness. on the opposite, chemically treated plastic materials sting in our noises and we association cheap mass-produced products with these materials.



Touch defines itself through softness, smoothness, and temperature. A big part of touch is the Materials itself. Materials combined with other materials in a building will play with each other’s texture, color, temperature, and tone, all of which creates a unique atmosphere and mood. The feeling of a leather couch is different from an organic cotton couch. One invites us to curl up in, put our feed on its seat, relax and have a cup of coffee. The other is more formal and will provide the right amount of comfort and uncomforted to stay present and be able to engage in a conversation.


The factor of personality

Last, but not least, there is the factor of personality. Putting objects in a space is a way of expressing yourself through the interior. Our personal and cultural background will influence the atmosphere we create. The objects we choose will tell a story and will reflect our emotional state at that time.

The German philosopher Gernot Böhme describes our involvement and the perception and atmospheric qualities we create in a space quite well. Böhme states that: “we must be physically present to experience space in its complete entirety. This involves us as „creators“ as well as the people engaging with our created room.”

This statement confirms that atmosphere is not just the air surrounding us. It is a form of physical engagement from our side as humans. We recognizing atmosphere through our senses and when designed well, understand what the created space is trying to communicate.







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