Text: James Carpenter

05. Aug 2010

Designing with daylight
Light in the public realm

Light phenomena occur around us at every moment, and every moment of ephemeral light informs our conscious and subconscious observations. It is the distractions of our urban environment that suppress our ability to observe them. Over forty years of experience, beginning as an artist, working with glass, exploring film installations and light and then working with glass scientists and manufacturers and eventually working with engineers and architects I have developed an approach that aims to consider daylight as a public resource. My firm, James Carpenter Design Associates and I, apply the full extent of our cross-disciplinary experience to the design of complete architectural projects.

The artist’s discipline is one of observation, and this observation tells us about the world we live in. When it comes to light, the quality of light is explicitly related to the specificity of place. Light contains much of the ‘information’ about our immediate environment and our ability to decipher this information is highly suited to the architect’s discipline, where we understand the site, evaluate existing daylight conditions and use our knowledge of materials and assemblies to harness the light, be it in abundance or paucity. The goal is to synthesize a level of observable phenomenology, which we can then insert into the public experience of the site. As light interacts with the material world it reveals itself. Light and its interaction with any family of materials records and presents the information that defines the reading of our immediate context. Through the careful choice of materials we aim to render light phenomena in a way that can compete with the urban environments’ distractions. To achieve this means crossing the boundaries that segregate the practices of lighting design, daylighting, architecture and art. The initial approach to the architectural design demands an understanding of the architectonics of volumetric light. Our approach originates with our understanding of the extraordinary characteristics of glass. It is not light in the service of architecture but architecture in the service of light. The architectonics of light considers the material qualities of glass as having the most comprehensive ability to generate a volumetric quality of light. Light simultaneously occurs on multiple surfaces thereby implying a depth to that field of light. This is a key concept that results in surfaces becoming sensitized, offering the viewer a new reading of the specificity of a site. However, constructing the ephemeral into the built environment requires creative ideas and technical expertise beyond glass. The nature of transmitted, reflected and refracted light and its perception is a consistent point of reference, even as we work with a multitude of materials. The result is design that exists positively within the public realm by engaging and enriching the individual’s relationship to nature’s phenomena within the urban experience. […]

The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 72

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