03 Research.


The Ingredients of Atmosphere

Instead of designing to erase the impact of the contingent, architecture should accommodate it. Architects must consider not just the built form but also how it might be touched by its inhabitants and surroundings. The construction of atmosphere may be thoughtfully guided, but its ongoing generation is ultimately beyond the control of humanity. The challenge is to design architecture with the slack to change and grow as its atmosphere develops.

Architecture in its original form is the design of shelter. Spaces that discourage human interaction, which set themselves above the touch of their inhabitants, are fighting a losing battle against practicality. At their best, they manage to stave off the inevitable for a time, and even this is often at the cost of function. Rather than competing with the elements, with occupants, and with time, architecture can and should adapt to work with these factors. 


research, sacred, spiritual, masterplan, materiality, history, architecture


Spring 2020


Justin Miller


Auburn University

In Word and Image

Essay on Peter Zumthor’s attitude towards light and graphite rendering of Therme Vals. Both drafted on arches 140 hot press, 22.5”x 30”.

Intersect of Light and Material 


Conscientious material selection, lighting strategies, building orientation, and awareness of the surrounding atmosphere and site conditions are opportunities that all architects have at their disposal. Materials that have the potential to evolve with time and transcend their original intent can be intentionally selected. Their tactful inclusion and integration into a project, considering their proximity with other surfaces, can enable a structure to age gracefully and develop a rich atmosphere. The above drawings were produced in my first year of architecture school. They consist of an essay on Peter Zumthor's attitude towards light and a graphite rendering of Therme Vals in Switzerland. The built work of Zumthor and Alvar Aalto and writings of Steven Holl and Juhani Pallasmaa informed my initial thesis ideas.

Lighting Studies


The following research attempts to analyze some of the ingredients of atmosphere over which designers have influence; namely, light and material. A series of studies were conducted exploring each. The first study examines the objectification of light. A series of basswood models were constructed, loosely based on the renderings for lighting conditions in Barozzi Veiga’s unbuilt Neanderthal Museum in Piloña, Spain. The goal of these models was to analyze the manner in which light enters a space and explore its tremendous and immediately recognizable impact on atmosphere.

Light Volume

These studies explored how light could be perceived as a three-dimensional object, and its impact on atmosphere.

“ I hold spaces, materials, textures, colors, surfaces, and shapes up to the light of the sun; I capture this light, reflect it, screen it off; I thin it out to create a luster in the right spot. But when I really start thinking about it, I understand hardly anything. ”    — Peter Zumthor⁴

Conscientious Materiality


Many forms of contemporary architecture, considered or not, are at war with the forces of time and nature. These structures are considered at their best when they are at their most pristine, untouched by the forces of primitive atmosphere. From the white-washed Villa Savoye to the glass skyscrapers which dominate the modern downtown, these buildings demand constant maintenance in order to retain their iconic presence. Left to the forces of nature, they wither into smudged, broken shadows of their former selves. The mark of inhabitants, the touch of a foreign hand, the addition of anything beyond the scope of their original design must be quickly wiped away to preserve their integrity.

Wooden Canvas

The wooden volumes were composed of basswood sticks, joined with wood glue.

Weathering Studies


In addition to the lighting analysis, a series of studies were conducted that analyzed patina and the marks materials leave on each other over time. The material palette was limited to wood, steel, and concrete. This selection would translate over into the final project. The palette was kept simple in order to more thoroughly and carefully compare conditions. Similarly, the manner in which each material was weather remained consistent throughout the experiments. These studies sought to identify materials that would increase in beauty and richness over time, and could both receive and leave marks on their surroundings. The effect of time on architecture presents an opportunity for designers to guide forces beyond their control. Some aspects of material weathering can be predicted. Steel will eventually rust, applied colors will run and drip, surfaces that touch each other will stain. However, the degree, direction, quantity, and quality of these inevitable effects are unknowable.

Shou Sugi Ban

As water dripped down the wooden volume, it left unpredictable dusty trails behind it.

Matter Transfer


Several bases were cast from concrete and plaster. Each base differed slightly in its details, in order to test the manner in which matter would pass over or adhere to their surfaces. An additional set of volumes were constructed from steel and basswood. Each of these was placed atop a base volume and projected beyond them slightly. In order to see what the effects of time would be on each pairing, the steel and wood forms were subject to accelerated weathering processes.


The wood volumes were composed of basswood sticks that were laminated together. These were carefully and evenly charred using a small blowtorch, which was passed over them from side to side repeatedly for a period of ten minutes. The initial ash and residue were wiped away, and the surface was charred again following the same procedure. Variables in the grain of the basswood sticks resulted in warping and variety in the ultimate depth of the burns.

" When I start, my first idea for a building is the material. "    — Peter Zumthor⁴

Steel Study


The steel volumes were sprayed with vinegar, left for five minutes, and then sprayed with a solution composed of hydrogen peroxide, salt, and white vinegar. The result was the near-instantaneous generation of rust, which pooled and spread across the surface of the steel. This process was repeated three times until the entire volume was encased in a thick layer of rust. Following this process, the upper volumes were mounted to the lower. Using a pipet, water was added onto the top of each volume, which ran down its surface and dripped onto the base. In both cases, the granular residue of either the charcoal or rusted patinas was deposited on the volume below. The pattern of each deposit was unpredictable. As rivulets of patina formed, they pulled color and residue from other drip points, resulting in rivers that ran across the surface of the bases. Initially, there was an expectation that the volumes would be striped evenly with deposits. Instead, unpredictable gradients formed, contrasted against completely untouched portions.



Together, light and material can work in conjunction to produce a sublime environment. The manner in which material receives light is one of the most universally recognizable components of atmosphere. A set of unpredictable variables both small and large, ranging from minute surface imperfections to large-scale weather phenomena, will act on every material, and these materials will in turn act on each other. Over time, surfaces will develop a patina and quality which defies anticipation. Patterns and colors will emerge which transcend the most informed predictions.


Concept Review

Midterm presentation which describes both the research project and design proposal, March 2020.

Crafted Sensation


As time moves forward, and material decays, it can physically change the experience of a space. The temperature of the light entering a room changes as it is reflected off of a surface. This in turn alters the eye’s interpretation of the true color of surfaces and objects. Cool tones may become warm, colors heightened, muted, or overwhelmed. Light and material come together to create new colors and new readings, which make every visitor's experience unique. In the end, there is no dominant ingredient in atmosphere. Atmosphere is a mixture whose recipe is unique to every place and space. Architects cannot design atmosphere. Ultimately, architecture must surrender to the passage of time and the will of the people who inhabit it. However, the manner in which a building ages may be considered, through its material selection, light quality, and attitude towards its inhabitants. Rather than building a wall to hold back the inevitable, architects can take the opportunity to design a canvas for it to act upon. Inviting the future and designing spaces that can adapt to it encourages the creation of a beautiful atmosphere.