What do you want Light?

“Celeritas,” by Matthew Buckingham

Light – misunderstood, sometimes downplayed, and often ignored as an architectural material. It has incredible transformative power and emotional weight, some of which architects choose to control and some of which they leave to nature. It can turn a comfortable treelined street into a void of unknown terror after sunset; a well-meaning hotel into a neon monstrosity torn off the Vegas Strip. Often, we associate modification of artificial light, particularly changes in hue, with the latter. Like the bright colors of an ad screaming out for attention, many of these “effects” are dismissed as a cheesy gimmick, a shiny and cool solution in desperate search of a problem.
Yet, we have excellent examples of lighting’s emotional capacity utilized to manipulate function, to bring duplicity to otherwise unassuming spaces. Theaters, bars, museums, and even warehouses become programmatic chameleons with the addition of a careful shift in lighting.

“Call Your Girlfriend” – the many moods created by a warehouse, some lights, and a fuzzy sweater.

Is the problem instead that light is used by the showman as a cheap, blunt object in so many cases? A skilled lighting consultant can surely improve the odds for a positive outcome, but that still begs the question: Does light simply exhibit and pad our designs, or are we creating with light?

Dallas City Performance Hall. Lighting design by Schuler Shook.

Louis Kahn asks brick, “”What do you want Brick?” Brick’s language and desires evolve as it works with concrete, wood, and other materials in a multitude of programs, but we can still ask it this question. What does Light want?


Hospitality & Entertainment | Dallas City Performance Hall | Schuler Shook. Accessed 05 Oct. 2012. <http://www.schulershook.com/projects/lighting-design/hospitality-entertainment/dallas-city-performance-hall/&gt;.

“Mattchew Buckingham – Celeritas.” Light & Landscape. Storm King Art Center. Accessed 05 Oct. 2012. <http://lightlandscape.stormking.org/artist/buckingham.html&gt;.

“Robyn ‘Call Your Girlfriend’ Official Video.” YouTube, 02 June 2011. Accessed 05 Oct. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nv644ipg2Ss&gt;.


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