Making atmospheres of the “Ganz Andere”

Author: Dirk Bahmann


Rudolf Otto, the philosopher of religion, describes the psychological experience of the sacred as being something entirely different - “Ganz Andere” (Otto, 1958). This experience is described as non- rational, ineffable, and as a liminal experience where the normative is momentarily disrupted (Stenner, 2018). I propose that sacral spaces establish spatial atmospheres that create embodied experiences that echo the “Ganz Andere”. The experience of these atmospheres evoke a distinct feeling tone that is sensed through the “felt body” (Griffero 2016). These are felt to be acutely intimate with a resounding psychological charge. Because the architectural canon is dominated by edifices that contain spaces of this nature and since there is a persistent and pervasive pattern of these spaces throughout history, it suggests that these experience are understood psychologically, to be powerful and meaningful.

Even though the atmospheres play a prominent role in sacral space and the experience of the “Ganz Andere”, as a non-rational and emotive experience, we struggle to effectively communicate, articulate and represent the nature of this experience within ar- chitectural practice and pedagogy.

This research primarily explores other ways of knowing that is required to come to terms with the experience of the “Ganz Andere”. It is concerned with how spatial and architectural atmospheres, as mediums, manage to replicate this experience. There are four thematic areas of exploration in this investigation: It aims to characterise the qualities of the experience of the “Ganz Andere” through atmospheres. It seeks to explore tacit ways of knowing that bring these qualities to light. It explores forms of communication and representation that facilitates articulation of these qualities to oneself and others. Finally, it examines the potential of the above in architectural pedagogy, as a tool to make explicit the nature and qualities of atmospheres in architecture.

To do this, I propose to interrogate the spatial atmospheric qualities of the “Ganz Andere” as it is expressed in the French Gothic cathedrals of Chartres and Amiens. As a juxtaposition, I also explore the landscape atmosphere of the awe-inspiring Meiringspoort pass in the Swartberg, Western Cape, South Africa. Through these case studies the affective qualities are isolated and identified. A creative practice that utilises making, sculpture, installation, performativity, embodiment and display seeks to represent, articulate and communicate them in a fashion that palpably re-presences the auratic (Benjamin, 2008) These individual qualities are then, assembled into an installation that is intended to “atmospherically gesture” (Albertsen, 2012) the “Ganz Andere”.

Object Orientated Ontology is used as a lens through which to comprehend the creative research and a non-rational episteme. It provides an all-encompassing theoretical framework that facilitates thinking about diverse “things” in which atmospheres, human and non-human worlds, artificial objects, conceptual and imaginary ideas are considered within a flat ontology. (Harman, 2013). This framework is useful as it resist finite conclusions and aims to hint at more complex realities that lie below the perceivable surface (Gage 2015).

Keywords: Sacral Atmospheres, Embodiment, Architectural Pedagogy, “Ganz Andere”, Object Oriented Ontology.