Architecture as Musical Atmosphere

  • Alberto Pérez-Gómez


Recent architectural theory has increasingly identified the importance of atmosphere as a primary aesthetic concept in architecture. Architectural meaning is indeed dependent on atmospheric qualities, on their compatibility and appropriateness to human situations and habits framed by physical structures, these being far more important than specific styles or formal syntaxes, yet the complexities associated with postulating atmosphere as a central architectural category are considerable. This essay takes clues from the German concept of Stimmung and its philological associations with harmony: αρμονία (armonía Gr.), translated as concentus or consonantia (Lat.), and temperance: κεράννυμι (keránymi) in Greek), which translates as temperare (in Latin), to understand properly the importance of musical analogies in architectural theories throughout Western history. Architectural beauty and meaning was often understood in analogy to the harmonious effects of music. Clarifying how such analogies were not merely an issue of formal transposition of proportions and formal relations, but rather stood for the emotional and aesthetic effect conducive to a good life, the essay clarifies how the concept of atmosphere can transcend its usually negative associations as a merely subjective orchestration of effects and thus become useful in contemporary practices. There is in fact no aporia in the understanding of architectural musical atmospheres as both emotional and intelligible, structured and ephemeral; they are in fact perfectly amenable to an architecture demanding fixity and tectonic coherence in dialogue with a topographic situation and programmatic deployment, one that should at best offer humanity psychosomatic attunement for a wholesome life.


Stimmung Harmony Temperance Attunement 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alberto Pérez-Gómez
    • 1
  1. 1.McGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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