On the scent

Atmosphere has many ingredients

What is that smell? The emphasis tells you there is something wrong, something out of place. The ammonia waft of rotting melons on Mediterranean streets, carbonised rice blackening an ignored pan, the stench of stale beer as you pass the pub extract. Better the satisfying smell of completion from drying plaster, slowly transforming from the cold sharpness of the building site bouquet to a rounder, more comforting aroma, mixed with paint, soon to be layered with good coffee. At the Watts Gallery, a scent was especially commissioned to evoke an earlier ambience of paint and canvas. It is hard to manufacture the ‘right’ smell. A study of the ingredients, airflow, volumes and materials could make a book. Can the cool marble freshness of the Victorian gallery be sustained as visitor numbers go up? Can the piney release of timber touched by the sun last beyond those first few years without resort to the fakery of air freshener? Can a stuffy classroom, dull smells dulling the senses, become a place for fresh thinking? When you design for light and air don’t forget the air.