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    Architecture and the Impact of Light Essay

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    The complete experience of architecture can be gained only when elements of color, texture, material, detail, light and shadow are incorporated: “Architecture speaks through the silence of perceptual phenomena” (Steven Holl, 2006, p41). The sensations and the perceptions of the user are controlled by the various elements of light, color and sound.

    Perception is the process or method of gaining or gathering information through the various senses. At times, an object could even be perceived in a different way because of the preconceived notion the person has about the object. In the case of visual perception, the decision on how the space is perceived is left on the mind of the occupant. “Every time we move or act, the environment around us keeps changing and hence our perception about the environment also changes” (Mireia Verges, 2007, p18). Architecture could be perceived in many different ways through the various senses. “In architecture, visual perception is the most important as sight is the most dominant sense which helps us to appreciate the minute distinctions” (William M.

    C. Lam, 1992, p11). One may conceive a space as a container of material objects whose framework needs to be filled, but this conception may differ from person to person because of their experience within the space. An example would be how one space could be perceived in a span of one day from morning to night. As the day progress the sun moves, causing the lighting in a space to change throughout the day. Therefore, due to the light cast into the space, the perception of the space changes at different points in the day.

    Dynamism in a space is formed by the different changes felt within that space at different points in time. This occurs due to the application of color and material as well as the effect natural light has as it enters a space and changes throughout the day. Lack of dynamism within a space would result in no changes; therefore, the perception of that space would remain the same throughout the day. The lack of dynamism in a space makes the space monotonous after a point.

    Dynamism can be created within the space by incorporating elements of color and material and also by something as simple as the way the furniture is laid out in the space. All of these elements can be changed over a period of time to maintain the dynamism within the space but not for a very long time. How often could the color of the wall, the material of the furniture or the placement of furniture be changed? With the introduction of light and shadow in the space, the perception of the space can be changed each moment which would leave the user of the space with a unique experience every time. This constant change as the light moves through the space is what makes it dynamic, it allows for a diverse effect throughout different moments in time. According to Tadao Ando, there are three elements that best describe architecture.

    Those elements are the volume, material and nature. The most important one being nature which includes light, sky and water. “Architecture is best perceived in the presence of light as light brings out the diverse qualities of a space like color, texture, volume and form” (Mireia Verges, 2007, p9). Even though light is considered as an immaterialist element, it is successful in giving identity to architecture.

    Light has been declared as the origin of all beings as it greatly affects our lives and makes life possible on Earth” (Jin Baek, 2009, p115). The physical world is best negotiated in the presence of light. “The relationship between man and its environment is enhanced in the presence of light  (William M. C. Lam, 1992, p10).

    “Light has the ability to reveal architecture and create a connection between what people see and what they perceive it as” (Cesar Portela,n. d,p63). Light and shadow can create dynamism within a space by giving the space a meaning which is beyond function. The atmosphere of a space is greatly influenced by the element of light. The value of light should not be underestimated as it is a powerful and strong vehicle of expression. “It is very important for us to realize how important light is in the well-being of humans.

    Hence, we should gain an appreciation of how light influences and affects our lives” (Mireia Verges, 2007, p18). As an architecture student and as an architect in general it is essential that we consider the impact light has on a space when designing. Extra depths of experience can be achieved within the space through the interplay of light and shadow. Those extra depths are achieved through the illusions created and depths that become magnified by light. Light and shadow influences the spatial context and helps to transform the atmosphere within the space.

    With the correct consideration of light and shadow, atmospheres can be created which are beyond function and most of these constructions are religious in nature. It is believed that natural light is considered as a link between God and man. In religious spaces, light is used in a way such that it arouses the feeling of spiritualism and is successful in conveying the holiness and sacredness of the place. “The religious role of light in a sacred and spiritual space is to transform that which is material to something that is immaterial” (Jin Baek, 2009, p112). “The worshippers or the visitors are taken into a phase of meditation and peace by the harmonious divine light” (Henry Plummer, 2009, p6). In a spiritual space, light does not stay at the margin of the body of the perceiver but it fills one with the brightness, lightness and intensity by penetrating through it.

    Jin Baek, 2009, p117). Light forms the basis of creating a divine presence for the believer in the place of worship. A wide range of beliefs and values cannot be expressed with the material form and hence light is introduced within the space in a manner in which it reveals dramatic variations. Natural light has always played a vital role in the history of architecture. The quality of the natural light varies and differs throughout the day and also through the various seasons. “Light is never stagnant, it changes constantly in different seasons, at different times of the day  (William M.

    C. Lam, 1992, p11). As the quality of light keeps changing within the architecture, the perception of the architecture also changes due to the change in the color and material as well as the form. The space changes with the movement of the source which in this case is the sun.

    The change in time makes dramatic impressions on the user of the space. Depending on the quality of the illumination, the same volume can be interpreted in a different way. As the sun moves from the east to the west, shadows are created which convey a sense of time. The movement of shadows carries with it the movement of place” (Robert P. Taylor, 2007). In the words of the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor “how much light does man need and how much darkness?  Both of these aspects are important in creating balance in a space which leads the space to be dynamic (Mireia Verges, 2007, p10).

    Therefore, light and shadow are essential in achieving dynamism within a space and changing the perception of the space. The perception of architecture is determined by the presence of light, the diverse qualities of space like the color, texture, volume and form can be appreciated. What is around us can be defined by light. “Light changes the perception of the things or bodies on which it falls and also the space that contains them” (Cesar Portela, n.

    d, p63). “As a result, light has been declared as the origin of all beings” (Jin Baek, 2009, p115), “Light has a great effect on our lives and makes life possible on earth. Life would be unthinkable without light” (Mireia Verges, 2007, p16). Light has the largest impact on all aspects of creative lives, thus the harmony between the light and the life environment should be considered when designing. As a first year graduate student in the Architecture program, I have come to appreciate how critical light is when designing. We know that a building needs to have windows and openings to allow light to enter the space, but how that is done makes all the difference.

    With each project throughout the semester, my understanding for that has grown. Throughout the design process different questions would always be raised. How much light will enter the space? Which spaces will have light? Which spaces will have none?What feeling am I trying to capture in the space? What will be the person’s perception as they walk through the building? “Architecture is the masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light. ” - Le Corbusier Le Corbusier states the importance of the play of light in architecture.

    A form or mass can only be appreciated when light strikes on its surface bringing out the outline of the form, gathering shadows and depth. “The characteristics of a space cannot be appreciated in complete darkness  (Mireia Verges, 2007, p12). It is the play of light in architecture, such as what Le Corbusier has stated that creates that dynamism in a space. “Objects obtain their individual form along the borders of light and shadow which also leads to the discovery of interrelations between objects” (Jin Baek, 2009, p115).

    “The most important relationship which light creates is that of enabling man to be in touch with its environment  (William M. C. Lam, 1992, p10). “The relationship between the exterior and the interior spaces is affected by the light which creates a connection between them  (Mireia Verges, 2007, p12). With the help of light and shadow, the relationships among beings can be articulated in a certain space at each moment.

    An empty space can be filled with different reverberations with the interplay of light and darkness (Jin Baek, 2009. p115). “Light transcends function and creates atmosphere. ” - Kaoru Mende Light and shadow are not used as a necessity only. The inclusion of light and shadow within a space gives a certain meaning to the atmosphere within the space. The atmosphere of a place is greatly influenced by the element of light.

    The value of light should never be underestimated as it has a profound effect on our emotional well-being. Not only does light cater to the biological needs of people, it also fulfils the psychological needs of people as it has the power to move people. “Light creates an atmosphere which is beyond the function of the space” (Kaoru Mende, 2000, p14). By incorporating the correct quality of light in the space, refreshing atmosphere can be gained within the space which adds on to the experience of the user.

    Architecture is considered not only as a shelter but architecture is also expected to appear alive rather than dead, to be emotionally satisfying and to also change our perception. Good architecture could unconsciously take us from one emotion to another within the building. “All these extra depths of experience can be achieved by the interplay of light and shadow” (Henry Plummer, 2009, p6). The correct illumination can change the outlook towards the way we see things. “It can lift our spirits or depress us, excite us or soothe us, alarm us or make us feel safe and secure” (William M.

    C. Lam,1992,p11). Light is the means by which such valuable distinctions are conveyed. By creating pools of light and shadow within a space, a certain sensual quality is added in the atmosphere of the space along with vitality. Light and shadow influences the spatial context and transforms the atmosphere within the space to either agreeable or disagreeable sensations, mysterious or spiritual sensations or to sensations which make the space look bigger or smaller. “Most importantly light enables to make the space more comfortable, more agreeable, more suitable for living and more visible” (Cesar Portela, n.

    , p63). The presence of light allows architecture to rise above its physical limitations and transform and display signs of life. When light flows through a room, the deadened masses come to life, a mood is created within the atmosphere of the space which changes the perception of the space. One of the most important uses of shadows is that it creates a contrast which leads to a dramatic atmosphere and further creating dynamism within the space. As the source of light is not constant and it keeps moving and changing character, dynamism in the space is created. Just as time changes, the eyes of the users of the space constantly moves to appreciate the space and thus the experience of the user keeps changing with the changing time which leads to a new perception every single time.

    “In all my works, light is an important controlling factor,” says Tadao Ando. One of the most famous works of Tadao Ando which emphasizes the importance of light is the Church of light in Osaka, Japan. The Church of light is located in a residential neighborhood in Osaka, Japan. The existing buildings and the position of the sun determined the layout of the church.

    The distinct contrast between light and shadow defines the space of the church. The only natural element entering the chapel is light. The light enters the chapel through the cut in the concrete wall. This opening or cut in the wall has a symbolic significance. The cut in the wall extends vertically from the floor to the ceiling and horizontally from one end of the wall to the other. Light enters the chapel only from this cut in the wall and hence the cut in the wall is the only connection to the outside world.

    As the morning light falls on the slit in the wall, the cross of light is highlighted. The interior of the chapel is kept to the bare minimum, the effect the light has as it hits the space is what is important. Hence, there are no decorations on the concrete walls so that the experience of the user is not disturbed. One important design aspect in the chapel is the profound emptiness which transfers the occupant into a spiritual world. The intersection between the light and the volume in the chapel delicately dramatizes the space such that it creates an instant connection between the user and God.

    “Through light; the space is filled with the essence of purity, spirituality and tranquility” (Tadao Ando,2000,p122). A second work by Tadao Ando is the Koshino house located in Ashiya, Japan. It consists of two concrete boxes which are arranged parallel to the surrounding national park. The two concrete boxes respond to the natural surrounding and are hence buried in the slope of the national park. The natural light is filtered through the wide stairs and it forms an extension of the stage for the everyday lives. Slits are cut purposely in that particular manner such that they act as a filter for attaining different intersections of light and shadow.

    The exterior is divided into different parts by the help of light and shadow. “In the Koshino house, dynamism is created through the interplay of light and shadow” (Tadao Ando,2000,p96). Lastly, a third work is the chapel on Mount Rokko that overlooks the Osaka bay. The building consists of the church and a bell tower which are connected by a colonnade.

    Fresh air can easily flow through the colonnade as there are no walls. The theme for the design of the chapel revolves around the idea of light and shadow. Directly ahead of the colonnade is the altar and on the left wall there is a window. A shadow is cast in the form of a cross on the floor by the beam and column that articulate the window.

    Light has always been and will always been a critical factor to architects during the design process. A design may be beautiful and well thought out but is not successful if light is not captured well. As I continue to grow as a designer, thinking about how I want light to affect the building I am designing makes all the difference. It is important to think about the feeling it creates in a space. Light, more specifically natural light is a powerful tool that should be used to its fullest potential.

    I want to take that into consideration in order to have both a successful design and capture a dynamic perception within the space. Dynamism is created within a space by introducing light and shadow and this is possible as light is not constant and keeps changing with time. Therefore, a space would be perceived differently every single time. As light is considered the origin of all beings, it enables the formation of various perceptions and atmospheres which are beyond function. Thus, light and shadow are essential in achieving dynamism within a space and changing the perception of the space.


    Baek J.

    Nothingness: Tadao Ando’s Christian Sacred Space, Routledge, Oxon. 2009. Print. Holl, Steven.

    Questions of Perception: Phenomenology of Architecture. San Francisco, CA:William Stout, 2006. Print. Lam, William M. C. Perception and Lighting as Formgivers for Architecture.

    New York:McGraw-Hill, 1992. Print. Mende, Kaoru. Designing with Light and Shadow: Kaoru Mende Lighting Planners AssociatesInc. Victoria: Images Group, 2000.

    Print. Plummer, Henry. The Architecture of Natural Light. New York: Monacelli, 2009. Print. Portela, Cesar.

    “Light and Architecture. ” N. p. , n.

    d. Web. . Vergés, Mireia. Light in Architecture.

    Antwerp: Tectum, 2007. Print.

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