Architectures of affect: formulae for a psychoanalytic approach to atmosphere

As last term, the seminar is online only and will be available to view online from 8.15 pm on Monday February 8th, for 7 days.The link will be sent by email on the day. To receive the link please email Please note that there will not be an online discussion with viewers, but comments may be posted on

How does space enter us when we enter it? This presentation will offer a series of numbered propositions concerning how our affective sensibilities are shaped and unshaped by architectural space. We will plumb the connections between our pre-reflective sense of atmospheres and other kinds of apprehension, including the psychoanalytic. Our conceptual framework will center on the question of how felt space can give rise to thought and, more controversially, action.

We will try to organize and build upon, among other ideas, Heidegger’s phenomenology of moods in his lecture course Parmenides, psychoanalyst Anton Ehrenzweig’s theory of the perception of art, contemporary neurobiology, architectural theory, and the consonant theories of two philosophers sharing the last name Böhme – Jakob (1575–1624) and the leading contemporary philosopher of atmosphere, Gernot – both of whom put forward notions of attunement, crucial to defining the possibilities of subjectivity. For the mystical philosopher, the body functions as a sounding board, and its form and materiality as tuning or character (Stimmung, called signatura); for the modern philosopher, atmosphere is best defined as tuned space.

Several references to film noir (especially Fritz Lang’s psychoanalytic thriller Secret beyond the Door [1948]), the paradigmatic genre of atmosphere, will frame the contention that our disposition to the world comes first, before any cognitive assessment, and, as such, possesses the force to inspire affective states. Part of what I will argue is that the ways we test and evaluate atmospheres through the imagination are potentially the inspiration for violence. Certainly, architects such Bernard Tschumi and psychoanalytic thinkers such as Marcuse thought so. The goal of the talk is to present multiple entry points for a rich discussion concerning if, or the extent to which, notions of atmosphere and Stimmung admit psychoanalytic interrogation, and how or whether analytic assumptions shift as a result of such an investigation.

Chaired by Louise Braddock. The paper is followed by short comments and discussion from four other contributors: Elisa Galgut, Keir Martin, Chris Newfield and D. Vance Smith.