The Atmospheres of Urban Environments: Ambiguity and Plausibility in Urban Studies

The Atmospheres of Urban Environments: Ambiguity and Plausibility in Urban Studies

Hisham Abusaada (Housing and Building National Research Center, Egypt)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3856-2.ch001
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This chapter investigates the ambiguity of the word “atmospheres” in the fields of urban studies. It examines the justifications (plausibility) beyond its uses, with the terms that are focusing on the perceptual qualities. The author investigated the uses of the word “atmospheres” from the beginning of the 17th century to the year 2020, a period which he divided into four stages. The investigation covered the work of 27 thinkers in the fields of natural sciences and humanities, including 10 in architecture disciplines, in addition to 28 manuscripts that addressed the relationship between atmospheres in the areas of architecture, particularly urban planning and design and urban landscape architecture between 1998 and 2020. The outcomes were developed through a comprehensive literature review by gaps analysis and a deductive online survey with 58 specialized participants, using SurveyMonkey. This chapter contributes to the rationale that an urban designer can use to study people's changing feelings, emotions, and moods according to the understanding of the terms related to atmospheres.
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Many contemporary researchers believe that the concept of atmospheres is still unclear. It is ambiguous in itself, in the level of its usage or even in the location to which it refers (Adams, Smith, Larkham, & Abidin, 2019; Algeo, 2010; Anderson, 2009; Böhme, 1993; Hasse, 2014). Other experts believe that the expression “atmospheres” gives a feeling of what cannot be easily explicated in words (Hasse, 2014); it is “a cultural and environmental product” (Hsu, 2017, p. 2). Besides, “affective atmosphere” is used as “a form of placed assemblage” (Shaw, 2014, p. 87).

In this research, the author used the term “ambiguity” to explore the extent of appropriateness of the word “atmospheres” in urban studies, particularly when “atmospheres” aims to identify the reasons for people’s changing emotions and moods towards places in the cities. This ambiguity comes for two reasons:

  • 1.

    People’s change of emotions and moods in city design is related to stamped terms, such as the sense of place (Guthey, Whiteman, & Elmes, 2014; Jackson, 1994), place attachments (Jorgensen & Stedman, 2001; Scannell & Gifford, 2010), and place belonging (Kemmis, 1995; Sandercock & Attili, 2009).

  • 2.

    The term “atmospheres” focuses on the impacts of the physical aspects of urban environments on the perceptual quality (Pallasmaa, 2014; Zumthor, 1998). In addition, it has been recently linked to the natural and physical sciences, such as climatic changes, air quality, climatology and meteorology, and biometeorology.

In the fields of urban studies, the main problem is that some architects have used the word “atmospheres” to refer to the product of architecture (Pallasmaa, 2014; Wigley, 1998; Zumthor, 2006, 1998), while others to measure the change of people’s feeling, emotions, and moods in the outdoor spaces of the city (Abusaada, 2019; Abusaada & Elshater, 2020; Adams et al., 2019; Backer, 2019; Bissell, 2010). Urban designers have preferred to use the term “sense of place,” which includes the perceptual dimension (Guthey et al., 2014; Jackson, 1994; Jorgensen & Stedman, 2001). Afterwards, the terms associated with the word “atmosphere” varied into “urban ambiance” (Thibaud, 2002), “urban atmospheres” (Böhme, 2014; Gandy, 2017), and “affective atmospheres” (Anderson, 2009; Buser, 2014; Michels & Steyaert, 2017). This confused use worsened when the experts in the fields of natural and physical sciences applied the word “atmospheres” in aerobiology, atmosphere ecosystems, biometeorology, climatology, ecology, meteorology, and microbiology. These fields include atmospheric chemistry and physics, climatic changes, air quality, bioclimatic well-being, and environmental odour (Beggs, Šikoparija, & Smith, 2017; Reichler, 2009).

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