Architectural Atmospheres: The impact of digital technologies on architectural design practice

Oct 2011 - Sep 2013

The production of architecture and urban design has become increasingly concerned with creating recognizable, 'branded' products in the form of buildings and public spaces. Whereas new buildings in the past conformed to strict urban and civic hierarchies and stylistic conventions, architects today view their buildings as, for example, 'canvases for expression', or 'self-confident visual statements' (Squire & Partners brochure) in a competitive global market.

These types of buildings and associated public spaces are now produced through digital visualization technologies which are specifically intended to generate certain types of atmosphere and mood, or affect, around a particular project. Moreover, these new technologies are key to the imagining, or 'scripting', of specific forms of social occupation and use onto proposed buildings and urban environments, within a regulatory planning framework which specifies certain criteria for new development.

This project is examining how digital visualization processes and technologies are affecting architects' working practices and production of buildings and urban designs. It's interested in how new digital technologies are working as part of architecture and urban design, shaping new kinds of architectural work practices, as well as envisioning social life.

The project's method is to carry out a comparative ethnographic study in two architects' offices, which will involve the detailed observation of working practices and of the production and circulation of visual materials amongst the different parties involved in the design process of two significant projects.

The project is led by Prof Gillian Rose at The Open University and Dr Monica Degen at Brunel University; the research assistant is Dr Clare Melhuish.

The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, grant reference RES-062-23-3305. It started in October 2011 and will run for two years.


The project is planning three events:

  • a workshop for invited participants in mid-2012, to explore the data gathered at that point;
  • an end-of-project conference in 2013 to explore the relevance of the project's findings to architects, planners, visualisation specialists and others;
  • an end-of-project exhibition in 2013, to showcase how digital visualsing technologies are being used by architects now.

Further details about these events will appear here in due course.


Gillian Rose is Professor of Cultural Geography at The Open University. She is particularly interested in the uses of visualising technologies.

Gillian Rose's Open University profile

Dr Monica Degen is Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Brunel University. Her research focuses on urban design and urban regeneration.

Monica Degen's Brunel University profile

Dr Clare Melhuish is Research Associate in the OpenSpace Research Centre at The Open University. She is interested in architectural practice, and has also worked as an architectural critic and exhibition curator.

Image courtesy of russian for fish