Accepted paper:

Befriending ambiguity: anthropology, architecture and the creation of atmospheres


Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

An anthropological exploration of the atmospheric in architecture and design highlights the centrality of ambiguity to creative endeavour. By 'befriending ambiguity' (Sennett 2008) makers can potentially generate conditions for environmental and human flourishing.

Paper long abstract:

Exploring the value of the concept of atmosphere for anthropological enquiry, this paper considers the atmospheric from the angle of art, architecture and design. Drawing from both anthropological and art/architectural works - including ethnographic insights from eco-homes in New Mexico and travels in Venice - the argument weaves around the centrality of ambiguity to that which is atmospheric. This ambiguity is what might also be called the richly indeterminate, in-between character of the atmospheric, which creates conditions of possibility. Following Richard Sennett's contention that the success of works of craft relies upon the maker being able to 'befriend ambiguity' (2008), it is suggested that this is one way in which architectural makers and thinkers can generate or 'establish the conditions for' human and environmental flourishing (Böhme, 2013). The paper closes by exploring what the consequences of befriending ambiguity might be for anthropological practice: how might the ways that we work and the works that we make be shaped differently with such a valuing of the open, evocative and non-deterministic?

panel P03
Exploring 'atmospheres': an anthropological approach?