There have been several posts dealing with light in architecture on this Material Strategies site and tonight, while browsing Pinterest, I have decided that it is time I present my take on light in architecture. I would like to preface this post stating that I have a strong interest in residential architecture and that my ideas of light in architecture have generally been in direct consideration to how one lives in/around/with light and/or darkness. That being said, light plays an important roll in all building types so images and examples I give will show things from various points on the spectrum of building types.

The light source that is most important to architecture, as it is to life, is the sun. I believe this because the earth, circling the sun whilst rotating on its own axis creates a relationship with the sun that provides, for stationary buildings on earth, a natural dynamism of lighting throughout a space. Designers for centuries have worked with this natural yearly pattern to help bring buildings to life. With an ever-changing source of light, designers are given the opportunity to make ever-changing spaces if only they utilize what the sun has to offer, shaping the built world around what light has to offer.

When filtering through all of the examples of light in architecture I was thinking about all of the ways that one might describe natural light – perhaps I’m biased for natural light, but no adjective I came up with was negative. While scrolling through the following images of the greatest examples of light in architecture I could find – think about how you would describe what light means to you, how it makes you feel, or what you think it does for you.

Ancient lighting techniques – The Pantheon

Baroque lighting techniques – Borromini’s St. Ivo

Louis Kahn – master of light – Assembly Building in Dhaka

Contrast of light and dark – Iglesia del Santísimo Redentor

Play in color of light – Steven Holl’s St. Ignatius

Lakewood Mausoleum – a ray of light

Sunlight play through stairs

Even the slightest bit gives something.

Cannot live without a naturally lit bathroom.

After seeing my favorite examples I invite you to feel free to disagree with my descriptions and/or let me know your thoughts/descriptors so I can learn from a broader audience in designing spaces. Light in architecture, to me, has the ability to persuade a number of feelings or emotions to occupants. Natural light is powerful, spiritual, healing, warming, soothing, bright, energizing, sensual, and alive. Light is all of these adjectives to me, which is why I think that it is important to really design for the light that we are given instead of ignoring it which results often in measures of control that muddle the original design intent.


2 responses to “Light

  1. Light is such an interesting topic, always an issue that can make or break a design. I think my struggle when dealing with light is balancing natural light and artificial light… because as much as we love natural light, we still need artificial light as well. My undergrad education in interior design, where selecting light fixtures was a common exercise, somewhat contradicts the lack of light selecting I’ve dealt with in graduate school and I still struggle with balancing these two educations that seem like they would have been so similar.
    Washing a wall with natural light can be such a beautiful effect, as you’ve shown through your pictures, but what do we do when it gets dark, or we need task lighting? I recently had the chance to design my parents’ kitchen remodel and work with an architectural lighting consultant, who was very helpful in a few ways and less so in other ways of staying true to the design concept. In the helpful ways, he helped us configure all the work surfaces to be lit, and even with a great skylight above, it sure is a dream to chop veggies when you can see them more clearly than before!
    Another way to deal with this, one that our class is familiar with in the Rapson Hall addition by Steven Holl, is washing walls with artificial lights. This lets us focus on the light rather than the light fixture, but it isn’t quite the same as washing the wall with artificial light, so are we not being true to the light fixture itself? It’s interesting to go back through your photos and try to find the artificial light fixtures chosen. On a lighter note, an implication I deal with in our building is the inability to sneeze… some people can trigger sneezes by looking at a bright light, including myself (it’s a genetic thing I believe), and as all of the lights in the Rapson Hall additions and studios don’t expose the actual light bulb, I have an extremely hard time getting sneezes out.
    Great post Jenna!

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