The Concept of Atmospheres: From Goethe to Bratton – How Atmosphere Is Key to Creating Smart Cities

The Concept of Atmospheres: From Goethe to Bratton – How Atmosphere Is Key to Creating Smart Cities

Diana Soeiro (Centre for Socioeconomic and Territorial Studies (DINÂMIA'CET), ISCTE, University of Lisbon, Portugal)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3856-2.ch002
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Architects and urban planners currently face the challenge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) that quickly permeates urban environments. In an effort to understand this event as one that goes beyond technology use and technological innovation, the authors investigate how the concept of atmosphere is key to envisioning the future of smart cities. In order to clarify the understanding of the concept, this chapter presents an original alignment of three clusters of authors (Goethe and Wittgenstein, Böhme and Schmitz, and Bratton). The goal is to demonstrate that atmospheres and urban ambiances are fundamental urban design elements. They have the ability to positively shape technology use in cities as decisive elements to promote sustainable smart cities.
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The concept of ‘atmosphere’ is a mysterious one with it being hard to define its borders. Though this is fully in tune with the nature of the phenomenon itself, the main motivation in this chapter is to investigate the concept of atmosphere in-depth in order to better clarify why and how it is relevant to our experience of the built environment. It is important to do this in order to demand a more humanising use of technology in urban environments. We, therefore, identify three clusters of reference authors in order to trace how the concept has been developing. To present a genealogy of the concept of atmosphere is, therefore, our main goal and less attention will be given to smart cities literature – a rapidly increasing research area with an extensive body of literature. The goal is to identify the concept of ‘atmosphere’ as a foundational concept of smart cities. Becoming aware of this will allow us to determine how to better orient technology design and use towards smart cities where the human element prevails over technology.

We start by analysing the work of three pioneers. In Theory of Colours (1810) by Johann W. von Goethe (1749-1832), we can find a key contribution to the concept of ‘atmosphere’. Which elements can we find in Goethe’s proposal that is relevant to a better understanding of what is at stake in the concept of ‘atmosphere’ and, more importantly, how is his method of investigation on colour relevant to the inquiry into the concept’s qualities? In order to answer these questions, we claim that Goethe anticipated the phenomenological method as a primary form of examination and that this method is vital to grasp the concept of ‘atmosphere’. To show this, we link his method to the definition of phenomenology given by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), who originally coined and defined the approach (1913; Escoubas, 2003). Later on, around 1950, Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote about Goethe’s work on colours (1979) giving his own contribution to the theme. He worked on it during the last eighteen months of his life. These authors make us aware that in order to understand colour, it is necessary to study ‘atmosphere’ and due to the nature of the phenomenon, the methodology that is used to grasp the concept is crucial.

The second cluster of authors makes the connection between ‘atmosphere’ and architecture. We will first consider the work of philosopher Gernot Böhme (b.1937) who, considering Goethe’s work, is one of the most relevant thinkers on the concept in the world today. We will specifically address four of his works (1995, 2006, 2017, 2017a) tackling the concept of ‘atmosphere’, the relation between architecture and ‘atmosphere’ and one of a broader scope denoting the built environment. Secondly, we will evaluate the work of philosopher Hermann Schmitz (b.1928), also deeply influenced by Goethe, who is better known as the founder of the movement New Phenomenology (Neuen Phänomenologie). Schmitz has written about the relation between space, body and feeling, which is a combination that simultaneously broadens and deepens the scope of the concept of ‘atmosphere’. Through Schmitz’s perspective, we become aware that the concept goes beyond sight, beyond our five senses, and this is what the philosopher aims to convey in his work (2004, 2009, 2014).

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