Light as a Medium

Natural lighting is an incredibly powerful yet delicate medium that changes every moment of the day. According to Baker and Steemers “light is the medium that reveals space, form, texture, and color to our eyes.” In consequence, architecture is a tool to enhance natural lighting. By it’s form and shaping of light, a structure can dance with light in different ways at different times. As Frank Lloyd Wright said, “light is the beautifier of the building.”

Many architects have worked extensively in this arena, light is no new fascination. Among them Louis Kahn has been regarded as a master of light and space by working with shadows. He once declared that “even a room which must be dark needs at least a crack of light to know how dark it is.” Thus shadows belong to light and must be understood and studied as attentively as light.

According to Thomas Schielke of ArchDaily, there are three types of shadows (which have been identified by Leonardo Da Vinci): attached shadow, shading, and cast shadow. Attached shadow is the kind that falls on the body of the object itself, “like a cantilever roof causing a shadow on the facade” (Schielke). Secondly, shading is the contrast between light and shadow, between brights and darks. Lastly, cast shadow is the projection of the object’s shadow into its surroundings like the outline of a building upon the street.

One of Louis Kahn’s well-known works is the extension to Yale University Gallery of Art. Given to him in 1951, this commission was his first major commission. Here pictured are several images of the art gallery, as well as its tetrahedral ceiling with Louis Kahn himself. He incorporates all different types of shadows in his works, and his fascination with light continued through his entire career of few but poignant works of architecture.

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Light shapes our perception of a building and how we interact with it. Returning to Baker and Steemers Daylight Design of Buildings, “light is energy”. It is transformative and evolving. In an architect’s palette, they can filter, angle, and reflect light (and so much more). The techniques of integrating natural light into buildings is an age-old part of architecture that can never be replaced. Although artificial lighting and switchboards are prevalent in modern architecture, I believe the human capacity for love of natural lighting will always be greater.


Baker and Steemers, Daylight Design of Buildings, Chapters 1-4

Schielke, Thomas. “Light Matters: Louis Kahn and the Power of Shadow”.


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