Atmospheric Architecture: Virtual Possibility of the Picturesque

Document Type

Thesis, Senior




Spring 2019


picturesque, virtuality, Chicago, Millennium Park, Cloud Gate, architecture, atmospheric traits






In the 18th century theory of the “picturesque,” imagination substitutes reason. That strategy was profoundly captured in artists’ use of the Claude Glass as a device to distort natural scenes and reproduce reality. A later and more “unreal” variation of this imaginary occurs in picturesque landscape drawings. The result was a recasting of the perfection of nature as an aesthetic of nature. The picturesque thus enacted a transition from reality to virtuality, and that alteration was then reflected back onto reality.

Today’s “atmospheric” architecture pursues similar objectives by taking elements of nature, such as light and air, to produce a feeling or affect that evades rational explanation. Like the picturesque, the atmospheric is a space of imagination. Both the picturesque and the atmospheric aim to collapse subject and object, and to oscillate between reality and virtuality. Both practices offer the same solution: the power of representation is that virtuality can evoke imagination and stimulate the creation of reality.

Might we assume that, within the context of today’s media and aesthetics, atmospheric practices are another form of the picturesque? Or at least, after researching on the affinities between picturesque and atmospheric aesthetics, tools and concepts, can we utilize the18th-century theories of the picturesque to inform research on today’s atmospheric architecture and its imaging practices?

This project pursues research into that question by designing a new landscape for Cloud Gate, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture in Millennium Park in Chicago. By incorporating distorted scenery reflected on the Cloud Gate into the design of the new landscape and further guide the design by picturesque theories, the project will create around Cloud Gate an atmospheric space informed by picturesque practices.

Additional Information

Thesis Advisors:

Mark Linder

Brian Lonsway


Local Input

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

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