Conversation with Yang Yang

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Atrium Radio: We are lucky here to have Yang, who is currently carrying out his PhD research into interior public spaces at the University of Sheffield. We can talk a little bit about what is relevant to atrium spaces. Yang, can you tell me the definition of the atrium?

Yang Yang: Yes, actually this is a long story to tell. The definition today is different from historical definitions. It can be dated back to the Roman Times, where the atrium space is the center of the residential house. The open center court with enclosed rooms on all sides. In the middle of the atrium was the ‘Impluvium’, which is a shallow pool sunken in to the floor to catch the rainwater from the roof. The atrium space is usually beautifully decorated, a lavished, furnished room. It can also be a place to display an ancestral spirit. The definition of atrium in modern time architecture: atrium is a larger open air or skylight covered space surrounded by parts of the building. It provides light and ventilation to the interior. Modern atrium was developed in the 19th and 20th century, It is often several stories high and has a glazed roof or large windows, and often located immediately beyond the main entrance.

Atrium Radio: How do you say an atrium differs from the perspective of designers, developers and users?

Yang Yang: that’s a good question. For designers, the atrium is a popular design feature, it makes people feel space and light, and, secondly, it also provides opportunity to create new types of spaces in our buildings. However, they also cause problems: in relation to fire control. Criticism about atrium design evolves around the issue that poorly designed atriums can spread the fire very quickly. For developers, I think they figure it as prestigious thing to do, which increases commercial value and appearance. The downside is that it creates unused vertical space, which could otherwise be occupied. For users, I think, it is dynamic stimulating interior that provides shelter from the external environment, while maintaining a visual link with the environment.

Atrium Radio: Can you tell me about any modern architect, who is practicing in a way that a atrium space is very important to their work?

Yang Yang: you may known the father of the modern atrium John C. Portman Jr., he is a fellow of the American Institute of Architects. He was born in 1924. Unfortunately he passed away last year. So we can not have him here today, but we can introduce some parts of his stories here. John Calvin Portman Jr. (December 4, 1924 – December 29, 2017) was an American neofuturistic architect and real estate developer widely known for popularizing hotels and office buildings with multi-storied interior atria. ortman also had a particularly large impact on the cityscape of his hometown of Atlanta, with the Peachtree Center complex serving as downtown‘s business and tourism anchor from the 1970s onward. The Peachtree Center area includes Portman-designed Hyatt, Westin, and Marriott hotels. Portman‘s plans typically deal with primitives in the forms of symmetrical squares and circles.
The architectural elements in his design includes heating, fountains, elevators for sight-seeing, landscape made from different kinds of plants and cantilevered alcoves. The design of the Peachtree Center also stimulates the adjacent business district and had Atlanta win the 1996 Olympic Games. At this time, his proposal for putting atriums in hotel design is far beyond developers imaginations. Many investor did not by it. John Portmann became a real estate developer himself to realise his design.

Atrium Radio: Thank you Yang. Fascinating stuff, I think we all agree. Very important to the use of the space at HCU. Good luck with your research.

Atrium in a Roman house: line engraving, late 19th century