Computable Atmospheres – The Aural Dimension of Space

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Ceiling of Elbphilharmonie designed by Herzog and De Meuron.
Source: Oliver Heissner

Studio Instructor

Jason Lim


The term atmosphere originated in astronomy, denoting the gaseous envelope surrounding a celestial body. In the context of architecture, we use it to describe the quality of a space, one with a “singular density and mood” (Peter Zumthor, 2006). We experience an atmosphere by being immersed in it and sense its presence/weight through our various modalities—visual, aural, haptic etc. The sum of these impressions and sensations may evoke a state of mind, memories and emotional responses in us. This studio will address the topic of atmosphere, which Gernot Böhme considers to be the subject matter of architecture. It will build upon an earlier studio, which focused on light, and extend these investigations into the aural realm.

Our approach will involve the use of spatial audio technology—specifically Steam Audio—that has recently become accessible to end-user developers. Such technology utilises a physics-based underlying sound propagation model and allows users to accurately compute the behaviour of sound in an environment, capturing effects such as occlusion, reverberation and reflection in real-time. Due to its novelty, spatial audio technology is rarely, if at all, used in the domain of architectural design. Yet it gives us a means to understand how form/geometry and materiality (as captured in a model) impacts the acoustics of a space, which in turn affects its atmosphere. This studio will explore the potentials of such technology to reveal this oft neglected, yet no less important, dimension of design.

The studio will be structured in two parts. The first is directed towards empirical based experimentation. Students will begin by rendering an aural landscape of a site through audio sampling. They will subsequently conduct experiments using virtual and/or physical means and learn to modulate phenomenal acoustic affects by manipulating form and materiality. Students will use Unreal Engine—a Virtual Reality platform—in tandem with Steam Audio (virtual) and fabricate scale models for testing in near-anechoic chambers (physical). They will receive additional support in the form of inputs from experts like Dr Chen Jer-Ming (physics of sound), Dr Natalie Agus (auralisation) and Jacob Chen (virtual reality). In the second part, students will apply the methods, knowledge and instruments developed in the experimentation phase to a design task involving the adaptive re-use of Golden Mile Tower. They will be asked to imagine a possible future for this modernist building, which is slated to go on en bloc sale later this year. Students will propose an intervention to the building and transform its existing spatial character by imbuing it with new and distinctive atmospheric qualities.


  1. Böhme, Gernot. Atmospheric Architectures. Edited and translated by Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul. London York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017.
  2. Zumthor, Peter. Atmospheres. Basel: Birkhaüser Architecture, 2006.