The rainbow is an example of caustic light. The scattering of light by
raindrops causes different wavelengths of light to be refracted into
arcs of differing radius, producing the bow
Our earliest ancestors depended on atural light. The sun determined whentheyrose andslept, and where they migrated. Fire provided heat o cook food. The stars blanketing the night sky served as a map when
the landscape was too dark or uniform to navigate.
Early humans may not have understood as much as we
do now about the technical aspects of natural light, but
they must have known how fundamental it was to their
existence. It was more than simply a resource – they
worshipped, celebrated, feared it. We see evidence of
this in their architecture, much of which seems to have
been constructed not simply to shelter daily activities,
but to honour natural light.
Technological advancements in lighting, cooking
and navigation have led us to depend less on natural
light. Still, it continues to affect us in ways that are
mysterious, primal and essential to our wellbeing. As
it surrounds, entertains and surprises us, it seems that
it recalls some essential similarity between nature and
ourselves that technology can never quite reproduce.
As designers and architects, we seek to understand
the nuances of how people perceive and experience
all types of light, but natural light remains enigmatic.
What is it exactly about natural light that causes us to
respond to it the way we do? What is the source of its
power, its mystery?
Natural light does not simply illuminate the visual
world. Its inherent dynamism plays a crucial role in
shaping our environment. This dynamism impacts
both our bodies (our physiology, our emotions) and
what our bodies perceive. In our everyday lives, we
encounter natural light’s rhythms in a variety of ways.
Our experience of these rhythms can be focal or
peripheral, collective or individual.
Natural light can be a spectacle, a fleeting display
of light that provokes anticipation and commands
attention. Such events often inspire social gatherings
and foster community. An especially vibrant sunset
might draw a crowd to the water’s edge and prompt
collective awe and excitement. A long-awaited
eclipse or meteor shower might have a similar effect.
In witnessing lightning during a storm, we might
share with other observers the experience of fear, or
deference to nature’s power.
We might also observe natural light spectacles in
fleeting display of light that provokes
anticipation and commands attention’