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AAU supervisor:


Stine Louring Nielsen

Paolo Rota

Phenomenology Seminar Focus Area Report LiD 9, 2017-2018, Aalborg University Copenhagen


“The key is, as indicated, atmosphere” - Gernot Böhme

Table of content

Introduction 6 Experiencing Light 8 The Concept of Atmosphere 9 Snoezelen Room 10 Conclusion 13 References 15


During the course of “Seeing the Light” of the Master of Science in Lighting Design a seminar about phenomenology and light was organised. The seminar was hosted by PhD student Stine Louring Nielsen with the intervention of presenters with different backgrounds ranging from philosophy to lighting design going through architecture. All together the presenters talked about different aspects of phenomenology within lighting design, how it can be applied as a method and theoretical tool. The two most relevant presentations for this report are the one from Carsten Friberg and the one from Stine Louring. Friberg went through the concepts of aesthetics, atmosphere and perception. All these concepts were described in philosophical point of view. The most relevant example that was presented was one of the last lighting set up where an anthropologist travelling to Cairo, during some religious ceremonies there are neon lights which are not setting the right mood in his opinion. But, after time of observation he notices that the neon light are not simple ones but they are actually green which represent Islam and he doesn’t see the objects anymore but it is more about the greenness of the atmosphere that the lights create. Louring’s presentation was mostly about her thesis about “Atmospheric effects of light at a hospice”, this gave the author a good motivation to be curious about the effects that light can have on ill people. Moreover, the presentation highlighted how, without even asking about that, interviewees were talking about the fireplace in the entrance of the building or the lamps that helped making everything more with a home feeling and not like they are in an hospital.


In relation to the seminar, a curriculum was made available for the participants. The literature within the curriculum together addressed phenomenology as philosophical science and the concept of atmosphere in both a general sense and in mores specific relation to lighting design. From Böhme’s papers it is possible to understand how the presence of light and sound is dominant when it is a matter of creating an atmosphere. For example, in “Seeing the Light”9, he talks about how lightness is the fundamental experience of seeing because without light we wouldn’t be able to see anything. Drawing from knowledge gained during the reading of the curriculum and the participation in the Phenomenology seminar, this report aims to be a support to the master thesis’ project of the author with an analytical framework for analysis and design development. The topic of the report will have the emphasis on experiencing light and how it can affect people, in particular focusing on sensory rooms, which will be the topic of the master thesis. The use of sensory rooms or snoezelen in psychiatric patients’ care has become more and more common in treatments. In this report, it will be briefly explained what the snoezelen concept is and its characteristics. This will later serve as the opening of the master thesis, which will be further based on the design of a sensory room situated in a retirement house in Vallensbæk called Højstruphave, where the room will be used to treat elderly people affected by dementia.


Experiencing Light

“Light is an element of environmental design. Colour and revelation of form are the two most important elements used to integrate people in an environmental design with light. Soft glow, highlight and shadow create selective visibility, dimension, composition and mood”1 “Therefore it is appropriate to say that illuminations are perceived as atmospheres”2 It is possible to experience light in different ways, in sensory rooms light is a layer which helps inpatients to perceive the environment in a very singular experience. Colour and intensity of the light source can make the people sensing the room in a unique style variating levels. When it comes to sensory rooms, light is used to create the space and make people connect to it making them feel the space. This makes users relax and feel their presence in the space. It is also possible to experience think about the snoezelen room as a stage where people are immersed into the space, as Böhme says in “The Art of The Stage”: “The reason is primarily that atmospheres are totalities: atmospheres imbue everything, they tinge the whole of the world or a view, they bathe everything in a certain light, unify a diversity of impressions in a single emotive state” When patients use sensory rooms, they are completely imbued in an atmosphere and they have the opportunity to experience it with their whole bodies.


The Concept of Atmosphere

“The atmosphere is the space of mindful physical presence into which one enters or finds oneself, owing to the type of experience involved. This experience is mindful physical sensation”3 Atmosphere relates to what we feel, sense and experience at places and in situations. It is possible to relate atmosphere and light by using colour temperature, intensity, and the intimacy principle by Descottés, warm low light which is positioned nearer to us, as a floor lamp, makes possible to create a more intimate ambient where people can get comfortable and relax. Moreover, ambient luminescence principle, which is stated by Richard Kelly, allows us to understand how light can create a restful atmosphere and quite the nerves, giving a feeling of infinity and freedom of space because “it minimizes form and bulk. It minimizes the importance of all things and people”4.

Descottés, 2011


Snoezelen Room

Treatment rooms, such as snoezelen room, have been initially experimented in the eighties in the Netherlands, United Kingdom, and Germany. From 2002, it has been established the International Snoezelen Association. Snoezelen are designed and used as a therapeutic medium to treat people with psychological and physiological problems, attention deficit, lack in concentration and motivation5. The term Snoezelen is fictional and derives from the two English expressions “to snooze” and “to doze”. It was developed in facilities for severely disabled people in the Netherlands. In the rooms, the use of light and sound elements scents and music initiate sensual sensations. These elements have both relaxing and activating effects on the different perception areas. The room and its characteristics, such as light and sound effects, choice of seating, possible use of scents and the duration of the Snoezelen session have to be adapted based on the needs of the users. Different experiments ran by Sumartojo, Pink, Spong, and Vaughan,6 which were trying to figure out which is the best approach to have the best outcome from snoezelen for patients, showed that improvisation is the key element. Inpatients should be free of choosing which objects to use because every person is different from the other and this very much influences the personal definition of comfort.


This all together shows, how snoezelen rooms lay a significant emphasis on creating an environment, where people are supported to connect with the space and their inner selves, and should be designed with an emphasis on improvisation. Overall, this supports the choice of a phenomenological framework for analysis and design development in a snoezelen room context. However, it could be relevant to further address what lighting designers could gain from applying a phenomenological approach to lighting design in these environments, from a greater phenomenological discussion and understanding of the interaction between human body and light. Drawing from the presentations and curriculum of the Phenomenology seminar and the “Seeing the Light� course, I attempt to do so in the text below. In the end, this will also inform the analytical framework for my master thesis.




This report is being written in order to introduce the concept of atmosphere which will be analysed more within the thesis of the author. The project will focus on the design of a sensory room with the research heart on the atmosphere and the feelings that the users are going to experience. Moreover, the purpose of the research will be about helping people affected by dementia feeling better. The design and research will take into consideration all the theories shown in the previous sections and they are going to be used as part of the process helping to develop the design and testing them. So, it will be possible to prove them or to have new starting points for theories and a redesign.

Rota, 2016




1. Brandston H. M., Learning to See: A Matter of Light, Illuminating Engineering, Limited Edition, 2008. 2. Böhme G., The Phenomenology of Light, in The Aesthetics of Atmosphere, 2017, pp. 205–211. 3. Böhme G., Atmosphere as Mindful Physical Presence in Space, Oase, vol. 91, no. Sfeerbouwen / Building Atmosphere, 2013, pp. 21–31. 4. Descottés H., Architectural Lighting: Designing with Light and Space, Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. 5. 6. Sumartojo S., Pink S., Spong L., Vaughan L., Feeling better: sensory rooms in an inpatient psychiatric unit. In N. Mathiasen, & A. K. Frandsen (Eds.), ARCH17: The 3rd International Conference on Architecture, Research, Care and Health (1 ed., Vol. 1, Chapter 120, pp. 121). København: Polyteknisk Forlag 7. 8. 9. Böhme G., Seeing Light, in The Aesthetics of Atmosphere, 2017, pp. 193–204. 10. Böhme, The art of the stage set as a paradigm for an aesthetics of atmospheres, Ambiances [Online], Rediscovering, Online since 10 February 2013. 11. Kelly R., Lighting as an Integral Part of Architecture, College Art Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1, (Autumn, 1952), pp. 24-30, College Art Association



AAU supervisor:


Stine Louring Nielsen

Paolo Rota

Phenomenology Seminar - Focus Area Report  
Phenomenology Seminar - Focus Area Report