human experience. Their unique value is evident in our
collective and individual responses to natural light, and
in examinations of the roles it played in architecture and
societies of the past. If, as designers, we are to imbue
architecture with wonder and delight, it is essential that
we engage natural light’s dynamism. We might consider
this a modern revisiting of the ancient connection to the
cosmos that our ancestors sought, in that we are seeking
to relate architecture’s occupants to a facet of nature’s
significance that they, and we, don’t entirely understand.
In today’s world, how best do we engage natural
light’s dynamism in architecture? This question could
lead us to new and compelling design processes. We
should, of course, continue to explore ways to address
the challenges of solar light’s variability. We should
understand how to control glare, and we should use
natural light strategically, depending on which visual
tasks can and cannot withstand a high degree of light-level variability and contrast. But perhaps we should
consider whether too much control over natural light
might be detrimental to the dynamic benefits it can
offer. Our design process is typically geared toward
limiting unstable outcomes. How might that process
change if instead we welcomed instability? If we
embraced dynamism rather than suppressing it? How
would the lighting design profession itself evolve if it
were to shift its focus to accentuating the ephemeral
instead of concealing it?
The articles that follow in this issue of Lighting:
Illumination in Architecture will look primarily at solar
light. Specialists in the field will explore natural light’s
contribution to ancient and modern architecture, and
its role in defining place. They will consider natural
light through an architect’s lens, then a light artist’s.
Finally, they will examine the often inscrutable
gap between the technical analysis of natural light
and the qualitative sensory experiences it provokes.
‘Our design process is typically geared toward limiting unstable
outcomes. How might that process change if instead we welcomed
instability? If we embraced dynamism rather than suppressing it?’
Solar flares on the sun’s surface.
A solar flare is an intense burst
of radiation coming from the
release of magnetic energy
associated with sunspots.
They are the solar system’s
largest explosive events
Previous pages: eruption
of Mount Stromboli, on the
eponymous island north
of Sicily and one of Italy’s
three active volcanoes
We ask, as you read and consider these topics, that
you reflect not just on our experience of solar light,
but on our comprehensive experience of all natural light.
Natural light’s unique power may derive from the
simple fact that it is natural, and so can never truly
be replicated with technology. But should we try? In
addition to recognising opportunities for natural light
to enhance architecture, should we consider applications
of technological light that are more dynamic than what
we currently specify? Is it possible to access natural
light’s benefits through technological means?
As electric lighting capacities and methods advance, it
is inevitable that lighting designers and manufacturers
will attempt technological imitations of natural light.
But it is likely that many of these attempts will fall short
due to the difficulty of imitating nature’s complexity and
creating synthetic rhythms that aren’t too predictable.
But we don’t yet know what technology will be able
to accomplish in the future. We don’t know how
sophisticated these imitations will get, and whether
or not architecture’s occupants can actually sense the
difference between a natural light effect and a well-orchestrated technological one. But while we look for
ways to embrace natural light’s dynamism in our design
process, it is worth considering how our technological
lighting design process might change if it focused
not on translating natural light effects into abstract,
simplistic imitations, but rather on referencing and
deploying natural light as we find it – full of chance,
rooted in unpredictability.
l Glenn Shrum is the owner/founder of Baltimore and
New York-based transdisciplinary lighting practice Flux
Studio, and assistant professor of lighting design in the
MFA Lighting Design programme at Parsons The New
School for Design, School of Constructed Environments.
Laura Dillon is a lighting designer with Flux Studio