Framing Nature

November 29, 2012


“Mountain, stone, water – building in the stone, building with the stone, into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain – how can the implications and the sensuality of the association of these words be interpreted, architecturally?” Peter Zumthor

The Therme Spa in Vals, Switzerland is probably one of the most mentioned examples of an atmospheric architecture. Having had the opportunity to visit myself, I found it very enjoyable indeed. The architect Peter Zumthor creates moments, spaces and circulation systems, to evoke sensuous experiences: the feeling of warm stones and water; the framed views of the surrounding mountains; being partly inside the mountain; the steamy air of the outdoor pool; the slices in the roof and the control of light and darkness.

The relationship between nature and architecture, where chosen elements are brought in and staged to express certain qualities is part of an architect’s practice. Architects are by default used to incorporate aspects of nature into their work; such as the sun, wind and topography. However, as our impact on the environment transforms it and our understanding of it evolves – we are beginning to question what is to be considered as nature. Apart from the more normative forms that are worked into the practices and ideas of architecture, we also have the ‘threatening’ ones to deal with. How do we incorporate dust, gas, storms, or waste water for example?
How can we infuse new concepts of nature into the practice of architecture?




David Gissen, ‘Part One: Atmosphere’, in Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.

Ben Anderson, ‘Affective Atmospheres’, in Emotion, Space and Society 2, 2009, pp. 77-81.


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