I am thinking a lot about light these days. I celebrate each day's slight lengthening after the dark days of December and January, anticipating the promise of Spring ahead. Relative to architecture, designers put a lot of thought into not only the artificial light for their projects, but also into maximizing and managing the natural light in the built environment.
I mentioned before that the space I am working on now has a corner (2 sides) with a sweeping view of Puget Sound. How do I best capture and enhance that beautiful luminosity in this living and dining room? One important consideration is the wall color. I have a distinct sense that I need to stick with a color that will flow freely out into the environment, nothing that will jar, disturb or take away from this important asset. Yet during several months of the year, the days are 16 hours long, and the Western exposure can produce a fiery heat in these rooms. So UV shades that deflect most of the hot rays, but still allow the expansive view in are definitely on the program.
Some of my all time favorite architects are best known for their extraordinary work with light in the spaces they design. The magnificent Renzo Piano, who was born in Genoa, Italy into a family of builders, has been perfecting the use of light in museum spaces for several decades. His recent addition to the Art Institute of Chicago has been roundly praised in the press for its sensitivity and near perfection for viewing the works housed in the Modern wing of the Museum. The New York Times architecture critic, Nicolai Ouroussoff expressed it this way:
"...it is the light that most people will notice. Mr. Piano has been slowly refining his lighting systems since the mid-1980s, when he completed his design for the Menil Collection building in Houston. Over the years these efforts have taken on a quasi-religious aura, with curators and museum directors analyzing the light in his galleries like priests dissecting holy texts.
At the Art Institute Mr. Piano has stripped the system down to its essence. The glass roof of the top-floor galleries is supported on delicate steel trusses. Rows of white blades rest on top of the trusses to filter out strong southern light; thin fabric panels soften the view from below.
The idea is to make you aware of the shifts in daylight — over the course of a visit, from one season to another — without distracting you from the artwork, and the effect is magical."
See if you agree. Here are a few photos of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, from the New York Times slideshow:
The Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago just opened in May 2009, and I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting the addition. However, one of my favorite pieces of architecture in Seattle, the Chapel of St. Ignatius, is called "A Gathering of Different Lights" and was designed by the then relatively unknown architect, Steven Holl. I last visited the Chapel in 2006. I'm not Catholic; otherwise I wouldn't have admitted that.
Holl's guiding organizational principles for this Jesuit house of worship were "Seven bottles of light in a stone box". Each of the seven bottles corresponds to an aspect of Catholic worship, as well as reflects and refracts a defined color by means of sunlight both passing through a colored lens and also bouncing off color fields painted on hidden suspended baffles. In this way, the light both defines space and calls attention to the spiritual function of the building. The discreet manipulation of light evokes different emotions throughout the small (6100sf) deconstructivist structure, from bright and celebratory in some spots, to quiet, calm and reflective in others. The effect is awe-inspiring. Here are some photos I took of the Chapel of St. Ignatius almost exactly 4 years ago, on a short January day much like today. Check out the LIGHT in each photo:
And one last thing, if you're a fan of Renzo Piano's work, you may want to view this 20 minute interview with Charlie Rose: