Architecture and light

I was thinking about the qualities of Architecture that inspire. What is it that makes you feel uplifted when you walk into a space? What causes that sense of Awe? That feeling of being close to something greater than yourself? That unbearable lightness of being (to steal one of my favorite film titles)….?

I’ll let you in on a little secret; It is NEVER the Architecture (or, at least, not purely the Architecture). It is almost always the light that inspires us.

Walk into a room. You’ll find yourself drawn to the window. You’ll look up at the skylights. And, notice the patterns and reflections of light on the walls. And, if the sun brielfy passes behind a cloud, I bet your heart will skip a beat. There is something amazingly beautiful about natural light washing a wall. Very few Architects have a handle on natural light. All of us try to control it, and use it, or manipulate it. But, there are few that come close to working “with” light. I’m sure you can think of dozens more, but 3 people jump to my mind immediately.

1. Le Corbusier – mainly his chapel in Ronchamp. The light is filtered through a variety of colored glass pieces, through narrow slits, through skylights and monitors, and random patterned openings. The effect is stunning:

2. Steven Holl – Holl is suprisingly skilled at playing off of, and playing with light. His use of textured stucco is particularly effective at enhancing the wash of light on walls:



3. James Turrell – Turrell is an Artist and not technically an Architect, But I dare you to find a better detailed skylight. More than anyone I can think of Turrell has mastered capturing the awe and inspiration of light:

So next time you walk into a space and get that tingle of awe. Think about the light. I bet that’s where it’s coming from.


(by the way, I haven’t been schorlarly with the images in this post. I just wanted to give a flavor of the light quality in a selection of spaces. So, I’ve been careless on properly referencing the images to their source… my apologies if I’ve used copywritten images. Please, let me know if I’ve over stepped my bounds and I’ll remove the image)