Skip to main content
Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Gabriel Alejandro Peña Tijerina, Humanities

The sensorial, and spatial affects of glass atmospheres

Wednesday, June 15, 2022 (all day)

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Daniela Ferrer



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


After transparency takes a critical position regarding the conceptualization of glass in modern and contemporary architecture where it is viewed as an absent entity that divides interior and exterior spaces. Beyond transparency delves beneath the much-touted transparency of glass to expose how its complex material properties are capable of generating affective atmospheres that modify/modulate our sensorial perception of architecture.

In Part I of this thesis, “A Genealogy of Glass,” I begin by exploring the etymological roots of ‘glass,’ and then go on to examine its material, ideological and phenomenological uses in modern architecture. From Joseph Paxton’s Crystal Palace in 1851 to the interwar period in Germany (1918 – 1930), down to contemporary projects that transgress the notion of glass as ‘transparency.’ It is shown that the latter projects highlight the interplay of transparency and reflection to produce rich and complex atmospheres designed to radically transform social and perceptual interactions. Paradoxically, most of these transgressive projects seek to recuperate and enter into dialogue with some of the early intentions of glass architecture at the beginning of the century, before glass came to be seen as a material the greatest achievement of which was to be virtually absent.

Unfortunately, the discourse of absence and transparency remains very current in architecture circles, obfuscating the utopian and sensorial properties of glass architecture dating back to the beginning of modernism. Part one of the thesis concludes with a review of the roots and intentions beyond transparency of seminal projects such as the Crystal Palace, the Glass House, the Glass Room and the Barcelona Pavilion. Here my hope is to uncover unattended routes and phenomenological intentions in glass architecture from an affective and atmospheric perspective.

In Part II, “An Anatomy of Glass Architecture,” a theoretical structure is elaborated, anchored in Kenneth Frampton's “Studies in tectonic Culture,” and developed from a phenomenological perspective based on Gernot Böhme’s “Atmospheric Architectures: The Aesthetics of Felt Spaces.” By ‘weaving’ the concepts of tectonics and atmospheres together, a new position is presented to describe what a ‘glass atmosphere’ is. The concept of glass atmospheres is also explored through the shared history of glass and crystals, both in practice and concept, highlighting the importance of this relation in the production of abstract and modern architecture. The affective dimension of glass atmospheres is studied by describing its sensuous qualities, pointing out as well how these qualities change and transform in relation to their social, cultural, and geographical locus.

To conclude the second part of the thesis, the phenomena of glass atmospheres is conceived as a ‘perceptual apparatus.’ This apparatus is analyzed in terms of its surface properties based on Giuliana Bruno’s studies on the projective e-motion of light and cinema, as well as the capacity of a reflective surface to retain the memories of its surrounding space. Time and entropy are incorporated in the analysis through the work of Fernandes Galiano on the role of entropy in the production and maintenance of architecture, while “The Order of Time” by Carlo Rovelli will help me explain how reflection in glass atmospheres can make us experience alternative temporalities.

Part III “A Typology of Glass Reflection,” examines different forms of glass reflection through different architectural examples, field work observations, experiments, and the fundamental physics that produces the phenomena. To finish the last part, two interviews are incorporated to give insight into the potentialities of glass atmospheres and reflection both in arts and architecture. First, distinguished architect Alberto Campo Baeza discusses some of the ways glass reflection has played an important role in his work, and how this phenomenon has been in incorporated into Moorish and Renaissance architecture. In arts, artist Pedro Lash discusses his work “Dark Mirror,” based on prehispanic mythology, which employs reflection as a perceptual and conceptual mechanism for the decolonization of space.

Back to top

© Concordia University