A Future Design Experiment

In collaboration with the National Gallery of Victoria.


How can we improve social connection, and as a result well-being, through the design of shared spaces?


Problem Space…

According the Australian Loneliness Report, one in four Australians report feeling lonely, and those reporting higher levels of loneliness are found to have significantly poorer mental and physical health than less lonely Australians.


Rapid urbanisation, shrinking urban spaces and changing social conditions are forcing us to rethink shared and communal spaces. Can we use this opportunity to address loneliness by designing future spaces that facilitate social connection and thus improve well-being in the future of our cities?

Experiment Overview

As part of Melbourne Design Week, Fairfield Amphitheatre was transformed into 24-hour design experiment investigating how we can improve social connection through the design of shared spaces. Inspired by the culture, rituals and spatial dynamics of saunas, Atmosphere used a conceptual sauna as a prototype for a potential design solution.

Over 24 hours a program of sensory experiences incorporating performance, soundscapes, scented infusions, tea ceremonies, and mindfulness experiences took place within and surrounding the sauna prototype. Experiences invited participants to be both an audience member and a research participant, with participants’ responses to the experiences forming the basis of the insights.


Saunas – a potential solution for the future of shared spaces

With a rich heritage as a destination for social gatherings in our cities, saunas were historically a place not only for wellbeing, but also for social connection, discussion, business, politics and hedonism. By deconstructing the ritualistic and social dimensions of saunas, the project aimed to investigate what it is, other than heat, that makes saunas so desirable and beneficial not only for the individual, but also for the community. Through this we aim to show how such spaces could be an antidote to modern ailments such as anxiety and social isolation, due to changing social and urban conditions and the increasingly exclusive ideas of contemporary wellness.


Applying social research to urban development

The work applied a human-centred design approach to the built environment to inform possible futures of shared spaces. Through conducting social research focused on the visitors’ experiences within the space, the project examined how an atmosphere akin to that of a sauna affects individual feelings of well-being and social connectivity within a communal space.

The work attracted 140 research participants and over 250 visitors to the space. Atmosphere conducted surveys, 1:1 interviews and applied observation to measure participants well-being and social connection before and after visiting the space.



Atmosphere reduced loneliness and anxiety whilst improving social connection.

After attending Atmosphere:

  • 64% of participants felt more connected to others

  • 56% of participants felt less lonely

  • 67% of participants felt less anxious

  • 76% of participants felt more relaxed



To enhance social connection and reduce loneliness, spaces need to make people feel present (connected to themselves), relaxed and safe, as well as giving people a sense of shared experience.

Spaces can achieve this by creating:

  • A Sense of Protection

  • A Feeling of Equality

  • Selective Intimacy

  • Novelty, Excitement or Unusualness

  • Sensory Immersiveness

  • A Connection to Nature

  • Detachment from the Everyday



Read more about how Atmosphere’s design achieved these elements in the research report.


Blurring the boundaries between personal and public space, Atmosphere was an intimate, immersive environment where the audience could both find solitude and coexist. 



Presented by: Studio RJM, Fresh Prince & Collective Futures.

Artistic Director: Rachel Jayne Mackay

Architectural Design Director: Alice Nivison

Design & Build: Fresh Prince

Creative Direction: Studio RJM

Research and Strategy: Johanna Leitch

Art Director & Stylist: Ella Murphy

Research Consultants: Mark Ayres & Caroline Sanz



Project Partners:

Studio StructureEngineering

Event Partners:

Addition StudioScent & Product Design

Chase DistilleryGin Sponsor

Mayde TeaTea Sponsor

Bodriggy BrewingSpace Milk Beer Sponsor


Atmosphere is part of Melbourne Design Week 2019, an initiative by Creative Victoria in partnership with NGV.