The Power of Light in Architecture

Date: Feb 19, 2016 1:53:41 PM

Light plays an important part in design from both a practical as well as an emotional perspective.We obviously need a source of light to allow us to see what we are doing at any time of day or under any weather conditions, but light can also be viewed as a living part of our daily experience. Time of day, season and the presence of other individuals all affect how light interacts with architecture. In sacred spaces, light has always played an important role serving to ‘illuminate’ the spirit as well as the physical space. In the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain, light and color play an important role in reinforcing the religious narrative more than the figurative story telling of say Gothic stained glass. Cool colors flood the east walls referencing daybreak and the Nativity. On the west wall, reds and oranges reference sunset and the Passion. As the sun moves through the sky, the effect is stunning.

Occasionally, a material choice is made that leads to some exciting unexpected discoveries. In a modern interpretation of a centuries old technique to bring natural light ‘below deck’, laminated glass planks with a slip resistant surface, were installed in this large deck. Where the deck prisms of old had to be small in order to not compromise the structure of the wooden planks they were set into, the inherent structural properties of laminated glass allow for an entire plank to become a source of light. The majority of the time, the planks simply allow light to filter to the space below making it a much more pleasant space to be in. When the sun is at the right angle however, the space becomes a magical place bathed in a series of rainbows created by the prismatic properties of the chamfered edges of the glass planks.

There are instances however where a material choice sounds like a good idea but has unintended consequences. Highly reflective or mirrored building facades have been known to reflect so much light into adjacent buildings that air conditioning costs in the ‘recipient’ building skyrocket. There is also an instance where a concave glass façade has focused light onto parked cars doing significant damage. I even receive reflected light off of my neighbor’s solar panels (I live on a hillside and their house is below mine). Not something that one typically thinks about with solar, but under the right conditions . . .

Whether one is designing a residence, a workplace or a sacred space, light can and should be used as an integral element within the design that can enhance the overall experience and sense of delight.

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