Unit 14 [2023-2024] Atmosphere

Szczepaniak Teh

Unit 14 will explore themes around atmosphere and human sensory perception. We are an experimental studio who work at the intersection between architecture, art and science. We invite curious individuals to come interrogate, invent and discover with us.


The Earth’s atmosphere, a delicate blend of gases, air, water, and light, serves as the essential cocoon enveloping our planet. It plays a multifaceted role in supporting life on Earth, quite literally being the air we breathe. Beyond that, it exerts its influence by governing weather patterns, acting as a shield against harmful UV rays, purging pollutants and maintaining habitable temperatures through the protective embrace of the ozone layer. Moreover, it exerts the necessary pressure without which liquid water couldn’t exist on our planet’s surface. Scientifically, we can dissect the atmosphere into distinct layers, akin to a layered cake, each possessing unique properties.

From the earth, the atmosphere exists both as an ever-present companion and an elusive enigma. It is everywhere around us yet remains invisible, defying our attempts to distinguish where it ends and the boundless space begins. Throughout history, atmospheric marvels like the Northern Lights and surreal inverted cloud formations have captivated the human imagination from the dawn of civilisation.

It’s only when we shift our perspective to the vantage point of outer space that we truly grasp the Earth’s atmosphere in its entirety. From this cosmic viewpoint, it takes on the appearance of a radiant layer cake, gradually fading into the vastness of the cosmos. Suddenly, the expanse of the atmosphere, as seen from Earth, appears shockingly thin and fragile—a reminder of the preciousness we must safeguard.

Awakening the Senses

Kenya Hara in 2004 curated an exhibition ‘Haptic’ which asked us to consider how do we perceive things with our senses. Whilst dealing with shape, colour, texture and material are important aspects of design, he asked the question – How do you design for the senses? How do you make someone sense something? How do we sense atmosphere?

We ask students to consider beyond the typical 5 senses. Kenya Hara gives the examples of the feeling of licking an ice cream with the tip of your tongue is a different feeling of packing a whole piece of bread into your mouth. Or grasping a door handle to open a door is a different sensation to brushing your hands against a material softly. He describes humans as unlimited series of tentacles that are actively seeking tantalisation to explore the world.

We invite you to tickle the human senses through architecture and expand our understanding of how humans interface with atmosphere.

The Boundary Layer

We would like students to consider architecture as a Boundary Layer.

The boundary layer is defined scientifically as the point at which atmosphere meets with the earth. Life forms have developed special relationships with this interface. For example Moss slows down turbulent air to create an insulating layer whereby humidity and temperature can be regulated, essential for its survival. Ants and earthworms turn to aerate soil which allows air and water to percolate through to plant roots.

Some examples include how a NASA spaceship is designed to withstand incredible temperatures and pressures experienced when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. Whereas a vernacular house in a tropical climate embraces the climate, encouraging air to move freely through spaces to help cool inhabitants.

The first task will ask students to undertake experiments that uncovers their own Boundary Layer. How do you want to interact with atmosphere?

Do you want to explore water and hydrophobic surfaces?
Do you want to tell a story about the water cycle through a model?
Do you want to split light wavelengths using soap bubbles?
Do you want to create air turbulence through change of temperature across a surface?
Do you want to watch a material degrade under different conditions?
Do you want to measure light/ sound/ air pollution?

Lands End, Lizard Point and The Observatory

Building proposals will be sited along the extremities of the Cornish coastline, the intersection between land, water and air. The windiest place in the UK with its own special climate. Known in Greek times as the ‘The Shining Land’. We will ask you to propose an observatory that looks at a subject matter of your choice, driven by both your research into the site and findings through your experiments.

Students will be expected to take a position on the appropriateness of medium, and or mechanism of engaging with your topic. Works on paper, photography, cut-ups, experimental models, films, moving, static images, written or spoken word, or combinations of all the above.