“Light creates space.”
It’s a simple sentence; it’s one that you might even overlook in a paragraph. But if you read it again and again, you can start to see the simple layer of depth within it. It was a line that I heard at the International Year of Light Gala in a presentation given by James Timberlake, the founder of Kieran Timberlake Architects. Along with his words, James showed a photo of an old man on a bench. It was around dusk, and a beam of light was streaming next to him. Many details were apparent, but most were cast in silhouettes. Amongst so many details, how did an empty spot on a bench become the essence of the photo?
Because light creates space.
This sentence left me with a thousand conceptual ideas. A space defined only by light; a space without walls, but within boundaries. I’ve always had an interest in the topic of natural light in the workplace, especially being on the side of the industry that is often working in existing buildings and in a location that often offers historical buildings with low ceilings and small windows. Along with the endless intangible ideas came endless questions, starting with “how?” How can exterior light be stretched further into the interior? How can we create our own light-defined boundaries? What device can be used to allow natural light be the source of those boundaries?
Of course, some of these questions have been answered in some way or another; the use of devices to control natural light is not a new idea. The Romans invented the use of an oculus, the huge circular window that brought exterior light streaming through naturally. Historical sites such as Grand Central Station use large, arched clerestory windows high on the perimeter to bathe the area in natural daylight. The famous John Collier photograph of light streaming in through the Grand Central Station atrium is a brilliant showcase of these two concepts – luminous, textural light pouring in to create highlighted “pockets” among the landscape. Like the photograph of the man on the bench, the brilliance of that natural light forces you to look at what it has created – a radiating space that would otherwise be somewhat ordinary.
Contemporary architecture has taken a new approach on the types of devices that help achieve a similar result. In James Carpenter’s installation at the Transbay Center, he was able to successfully encompass the concept of stretching exterior light further into the interior through the use of a “glass cone”. He used this as his device to transfer the light at the peak of a multistory building deep into the interior atrium.
At L2Partridge’s University of the Sciences IPEX Building, the site for the new structure was buried deep into the landscape. The team looked for innovative ways to bring daylight into an otherwise dark interior space. Solatube skylights were used over the central staircase, which simultaneously created an interesting design feature and emitted natural light deep into the building. Like the photograph shown in the Timberlake’s presentation, there is no obvious source of this light, but the quality of which the space was illuminated is an indicator that it is daylight. Being an educational facility, the success of this project was firmly established by the students’ access to daylight.
There is not just one beautiful end product to encapsulate everything that light can do to enhance a space. The quote given by James Timberlake acts as a reminder to dig deeper into the concepts that appear standardized. To break them apart, to analyze the spaces around us and to discover the opportunities that appear when ideas start to show themselves for more than how they used to seem. Like when walls start to seem like they can disappear, and when light becomes more than just light… It’s space.
1. COLLIER, JOHN. GRAND CENTRAL STATION IN NEW YORK CITY, 1929.
2. CARPENTER, JAMES. GLASS CONE AT TRANSBAY CENTER. HTTP://WWW.FLICKRIVER.COM/PHOTOS/COLT-TOLLFAB-VICTORIA/POPULAR-INTERESTING/
3. PHOTO OF L2PARTRIDGE’S UNIVERSITY OF THE SCIENCES IPEX BUILDING. PHILADELPHIA, PA. 2015
4. PHOTO OF MCCALL INSTALLATION AT HANGAR BICOCCA, MILAN, 2009. HTTP://WWW.ANTHONYMCCALL.COM/INDEX.HTML