Even at the paper stage, the way
light behaves determines many of
architect Steven Holl’s designs
WORDS: Steven Holl
PICTURE: Steven Holl Architects
Taken from an essay that first appeared in You Say Light –
I Think Shadow, collected and visualised by Sandra Praun and Aleksandra
Stratimirovic, and published by Art and Theory Publishing
We conceive of the space, light, and concept of a work from the very beginning. Often in concept watercolours the aspects of light are there in the first sketch,
integral to the concept of the architecture, unique to the
site and place. The behaviour of light has guided many
design decisions. Changes in natural lighting conditions
are left visible – so passing clouds bring shadow –
brightness varies as the interior experience varies.
The infinite possibilities of light have been evident
from the beginning of architecture and will continue
into the future. The revelations of new spaces, like
interwoven languages, dissolve and reappear in light.
In magnificent spaces, light changes and appears to
describe form. An eclipse of white clarity suddenly
gives way to a pulse with colour; light is contingent,
its shadows intermittent.
The surprising things about light are often experiences
in seasonal changes or daily changes. We can imagine
light as a clocking, timekeeping paradigm. Something
tangible emerges from its continuous unfolding of
spaces, materials, and details. Within its spatial frame,
a wealth of incidental and phenomenal experiences
are time-contingent. Our experience of foreground,
middle ground, and distant view merges with the
quality of material and light in a measure of time.
The time experience of the physical spaces of
architecture includes the time of day and the time
of season with all its subtle variations. The glowing
light of sunrise, an aerial blast of light at noon, or an
orange wash at sunset; all are diurnal celebrations via
architecture. A full moon’s glistening light in glass
reflected on snow animates night. We can feel the
sidereal time of the night sky inscribed in a courtyard.
The intensity of a work lies in overlapping relations,
just as the experiential time in a space is integral to
seasonal and diurnal time.
Opposite: Holl inspects work on experimental guest house The Ex of In
House, Rhinebeck, NY, 2015