Text and Photos: Ilka Schmid

19. Jul 2009

On the possibilities of designing with shadow

There is a lot of talk about working or designing with light. New technical developments appear regularly on the market, offering even further innovative means for illuminating spaces or creating special spatial experiences for any use or event. But we are also becoming more aware of the negative effects of too much light – the lack of darkness restricts the work of astronomers and the enjoyment of star gazers, disrupts ecological processes and affects our hormonal balance. A lot of light is thus not necessarily a positive thing – too much light can cause substantial damage. Given the increased light pollution and the mass of electric light we are subjected to, is it not high time to make way for more darkness, and to consider how to use shadow more purposefully and for effect?
The first time I became aware of the fact that shadow has a formal language of its own was during a stay in Mexico. I was sitting in my friends’ garden and my attention was drawn to the interplay of light and shadow on an orange wall generated by sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy of a nearby tree. It was a spectacle of forms with clear-cut and blurry edges, an array of contrasts, of light and dark, a multitude of different shades and tones of colours, some distorted, some layered – in a constant state of change, giving rise to new shapes and patterns – a fascinating impression of aesthetic quality. It is amazing how seldom shadow is perceived as a formgiver in its own right. In my profession – landscape gardening – we certainly pay attention to the generation of shadow. But most attention is paid to climatic aspects, be it to ensure the quality of the specific space by incorporating areas that are protected from the sun, to avoid casting too much shadow into living spaces, or to design landscapes so
that plants receive the right amount of light or shadow to promote healthy growth. All this does not address or require the calculated design of shadow. Shadow occurs more or less randomly. Shadow is seldom used as a means of design. Is that because it is so difficult or complicated to control, or do its inherent properties render it unsuitable as a design tool? […]
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The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 67

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