essay 1: response to "Light Revealing Experience"
The diffuse, haunting glow of early morning fog. Long, eerie shadows cast by the evening sun. The full moon over the ocean, highlighting clouds and water with glorious luminescence, shocking my entire being into rapt attention and irrepressible wonder. All of these things and so much more would be meaningless to me, were my eyes unable to capture or my brain to comprehend the physical phenomenon that is light. Sight - perhaps mankind's most treasured sense - is impossible without it. As with other human senses, sight facilitates, even forces upon us, strong perceptions and emotions that define earthly life and the intricacies of our humanity. Shape, form, color, and other principles of art and design are dependent on light to reveal their beauty. Oftentimes symbolic of knowledge or divinity, light can be thought of as bordering on the realms of the physical and the spiritual. We see it and feel it, but we cannot physically grasp it; nor can we fully comprehend its power over us. Clearly, light carries a special significance in our lives, a fact well understood by Marietta S. Millet, author of Light Revealing Architecture (1996). In the book's first chapter, Millet explores the relationship of light to human experiences of place, climate, time, and tasks.
Our experience of a place is shaped largely by the interplay between light and physical form. Many times, a place is recognized not by a perpetual state of being but by distinctive patterns of change that occur within it, including patterns of light and dark. Millet recognizes the importance of light in the formation of genius loci, "the spirit of a place" (Millet, 8). It is crucial to remember that light and genius loci cannot be separated from the unique culture of a place. All are intertwined. Light influences culture; light and culture influence architecture, which interacts with them in meaningful ways to help influence genius loci. Genius loci, in turn, becomes integral in the culture of a place.
The way in which light is manipulated in a particular place can either celebrate and enhance the natural light patterns that occur in that place, or it can evoke the peculiar light qualities of another place and time. This often occurs in the realm of architecture when designers wish to transform experience from the mundane to the exotic. Millet explains, "Images of light in nature can be used as powerful models for designing the luminous qualities of rooms. The poetic use of light adds new qualities to a given place. When light creates an image of nature inside a building, associations are evoked … Light in this case creates a visual connotation, suggesting the presence of something perhaps far distant" (Millet, 15). Factors effecting the amount or quality of light include overall building orientation as well as the size, shape, and placement of windows and other architectural elements, including fixtures for artificial lighting. Artificial light, like natural light, can be altered to create dramatically different effects.
Climate influences architecture in myriad ways. Throughout Earth's history, living creatures have been constructing shelters for protection against elements of nature that endanger life: heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, and other phenomena. In contrast to other living things, human beings take into consideration the psychological as well as the physical impact of the shelters they construct. The presence of light has both a visual and a physiological effect on human perceptions of temperature. Millet presents several examples of ways in which architects have manipulated light in order to visually suggest warm or cool atmospheres within spaces. In Amsterdam's northern climate, the Stock Exchange Building boasts rich, reddish-toned wood that lends visual warmth to the light striking its surface. Conversely, the entry to the Performing Arts Center in Tempe, Arizona extensively filters natural light to visually and literally cool the space.
To guard against the dangers and discomforts of precipitation, buildings and shelters act as parapluies. To protect again harsh sunlight, we erect buildings and shelters that emulate the role of a parasol. A notable example of a "parasol" is the traditional Japanese house model, mentioned more than once in Millet's writing. It is interesting to read about the differing ideals expressed through Japanese architecture and that of the Western world. Millet quotes Tanizaki, who says of Japanese architecture, "In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house" (Millet, 24). This observation perhaps reflects the preference for calmness and reservation in Japanese culture. Western architecture, on the other hand, typically embraces light rather than shadow. It seems that our light-filled dwellings sometimes betray a proclivity for self-disclosure and boldness of spirit.
Light, like all of nature, exists entirely within the context of time. It is unique, however, in that it constitutes the very way in which we measure the passage of time on Earth. As illustrated by Claude Monet's paintings of haystacks, particular places and objects - especially those in natural settings - can take on various identities depending upon the time of day or year. Great architecture embraces and responds to the enduring cycles of the natural world. Buildings constructed to protect against harsh climates still strive to frame a picturesque view or to harness light and energy from the sun. In a time when technology has allowed the privileged to escape many of nature's restrictions, I believe it is important to maintain at least visual and psychological associations with natural settings. Millet offers cautionary words regarding the separation of place from the concept of passing time, as seen in Las Vegas casinos: "In pushing back the frontiers of the night, we may lose the significance of the difference between night and day and their related rituals and symbolic meanings. Recognition of the daily and seasonal rhythms of light and dark is one of our primal connections to this world" (Millet, 30).
Just as our experience of emotion would be compromised by an absence of light, so would our accomplishment of daily tasks. This fact might seem obvious enough to be beyond even mentioning, yet we so often fail to appreciate the abundance of light around us - both natural and artificial - as well as our very ability to perceive that light. An imperative goal of architecture and interior design is to provide environments that promote, expedite, simplify, or enhance the enterprises of life. One way to accomplish this goal is to tailor the amount and quality of light in a space to the activities that take place therein. Libraries and certain workspaces benefit from a welcoming of sunlight into their midsts and around their interior perimeters. Individual, adjustable desk lighting helps to personalize a small reading or working space. Movie theatres require windowless walls and artificial lighting that can be dimmed on command.
This school semester, our own third floor studio in the Gatewood building has been altered with positive and negative effects. With the removal of almost all space dividers from the floor area, the perceived volume of the space and the spread of natural light has increased. This contributes to a more open community atmosphere and more room in which to work. However, privacy and storage space have been compromised, and with the removal of electrical lighting for each desk, students must seek their own. The space as a whole has become noisier, as the fabric-covered space dividers had functioned as absorbers of sound. In our current situation, we are encouraged to produce our own individual and collaborative solutions that maximize the functionality and the light quality of our studio.
Millet's scrutiny of light and its various connections is truly informative and enjoyable to read. In the time since our first-year project of designing a luminaire, the subject of lighting design has interested me like few other design topics. I am convinced that proper consideration of light is one of the most important things a designer can contribute to the quality of his or her work. Just as a painting looks flat without the visual suggestion of light, so forms in a space will be less engaging in the absence of proper lighting.
Millet, Marietta S. Light Revealing Architecture. John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
essay 2: response to "Influence of Architectural Lighting on Health"
Life on Earth is made possible by the star we recognize as our sun. Without this energy source, our planet would be nothing but a lifeless sphere of ice. Vegetation requires sunlight to power its chemical process of photosynthesis, and the majority of species - including humans - are naturally attuned to Earth's cyclical patterns of light and dark. In her article "Influence of Architectural Lighting on Health," Eve Edelstein remarks on findings from the field of chronobiology, which studies the effects of light on human health, behavior, and performance.
Humans follow ingrained circadian rhythms. We tend to awaken for the daylight hours and retire for sleep at night partly due to our bodies' production of the hormone melatonin, which increases in response to darkness and contributes to feelings of sleepiness. Not surprisingly, it has become evident that interruptions of these natural rhythms can have adverse effects on health, particularly when humans are not exposed to enough natural light. However, the extent of potential damage is quite shocking. According to Edelstein, "Inadequate light levels are associated with dysfunction in a number of systems including diminished immune and endocrine function and may contribute to problems such as diabetes, reproductive and growth disturbances, and symptoms associated with premature aging" (Edelstein, 2). People working night shifts in various fields of work are observed to have higher rates of cancer than people working during daylight hours. Problems can effect the human psychological realm as well. Sufferers of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) experience depression during only certain seasons of the year, typically in winter. For winter sufferers, symptoms of SAD occur as days shorten and sunlight is minimized. For this reason, individuals with SAD are often treated with light therapy, which requires them to sit in front of special light boxes for a period of time each day.
As designers, we should use this information to influence multiple aspects of the buildings, spaces, and objects we develop. Edelstein observes, "Lighting solutions involve site planning, building orientation, architectural openings, shading and screening systems, as well as electrical lighting systems" (Edelstein, 3). Because electric lighting is a poor substitute for what nature has provided, we should seek to design buildings and spaces that ensure adequate daylight for inhabitants.
Edelstein, Eve. "Influence of Architectural Lighting on Health." Implications. Vol. 07, issue 02.