‘I never saw an ugly thing in my life for let the form of an object be what it may – light, shade and perspective will always make it beautiful.’
‘In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.’
‘Light is More’
Alberto Campo Baeza
‘Weather forecast for tonight: dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.’
“The masterly, correct and magnificent play of masses brought together in light”.
Selected text from forthcoming book...
Masters Of Light
The Magical House
The speed of light can astound us, but it is the quality of light that moves us. Light is the filament that flares from the tar black cosmos and shapes life on earth. Science uses it to measure infinity, the ‘nano’-second, and everything in between. Art responds with almost infinite interpretation and impulse. For architecture, light is the difference between failure and success. It is the correct exposure at the right time that reveals the full dimension of place, objects and awareness. By day, light envelopes us with its steady and constant touch. Light’s reverse side, shadow, is the critical juxtaposition that provides the other half of the equation. Together they contribute to our better understanding of the cosmos, quasars and everything in between.
Light is the starting point and building block of all architecture. It can be used to deliver the visual blast or veiled caress. Masters Of Light demonstrate how structure can acquire gravity and radiance. Just as giant telescopes collect signals from deep space, architecture can be light receptor and visual transmitter. In the process such work becomes light-catcher and shadow-maker.
Commercial towers, opera houses and cathedrals help put cities on the map but, ultimately, housing defines who we are and how we really live. Housing creates the opportunity for architecture to be its most intimate and engaging. It isn’t often so, but when the architecture does fully connect, we are reminded why a house can provide a way of living and heightened experience.
Architects have a leading role to ensure the most efficient use of materials and resources for the built environment. The profession needs to lead by example to provide housing that consumes less and delivers more. Light provides a brilliant means of navigation lead along the way. Light and temperature are intertwined. To design well with light and shade provides opportunity and shelter. As the world tries to take stock of the implications of global warming, architecture can also contribute to a renewed appreciation of the planet and its place, much less as real estate opportunity than as life-raft. But this recognition is far from a universal. Throughout the Western World, edifice tract housing and poorly designed towers are profligate energy consumers in their creation of highly synthetic living and workplace environments.
Masters Of Light features the work of leading contemporary practitioners able to weave the ethereal into practical. For the greater part, their houses and apartments are extremely efficient in the translation of shelter and comfort. All too often the pursuit of luxury and style disregards light other than as an artificial supplement. Expanses of space frequently encourage lazy design and development. But who’s complaining about the greenfields opportunity when there are architects such as New Zealand’s Pete Bossley, Chile’s Felipe Assadi or North America’s Marlon Blackwell who use light so exquisitely to create architecture of such optimism? Design texts rarely provide insight or example in order to achieve the transcendent place, but these architects convert the alchemy and science of light into the real thing.
Workplace studies reveal significant lifts in production and occupational health where employees are exposed to natural light rather than enclosed in a fully artificial environment. What does this say about our houses? If morale and performance are so affected in the workplace, why should housing be considered any less important? Light is much more than a weekly or seasonal dose. It is as much about our emotions and psyche, as it is laboratory readings and spectropgraphic analysis. One of the difficulties for light is that it so overwhelmingly present and familiar that it is consistently disabused.
The best architecture understands the consequences of designing and building light. The effects may be palpable or they may take time to manifest and be fully appreciated. Much depends on whether it is the play of light is cinematic or delicate shimmer and shadowed nuance. Relevance to need, as always, is everything.
House design should reflect high levels of efficiency and economical material consumption. This reduces stress on occupants and the environment. In the well designed house the correct play of light for instance warms a space when necessary and can be mediated to permit illumination with minimal heat gain. New technologies such as low emissivity glazing along with improved ventilation provides healthier, more sustainable housing. In addition, glass is available to contribute a sense of immediacy or distance, depending on the strategy of transparency, translucency or opacity. Other approaches such as carefully shaded walls and windows will ensure amenity and prospect without the claustrophobia and high levels of mechanical cooling required to compensate for poor design. In the process of opening to light and shade, these houses ventilate so efficiently that the prevailing ‘modern’ techniques of mechanical cooling are made redundant.
Houses that achieve a balance between privacy and their immediate environment reflect a whole series of relationships and understandings. Was the architect the right one? Did the builder really care? Were regulations a straight-jacket? Did the client provide the right brief? And so the list goes on. The permutations and possibilities for so much to go awry, is why really good buildings are hopelessly outnumbered by the mediocre, bad and dreadful.
Around the world architects grapple with the mystery and magic of light. This investigation and curiosity is what so often defines differences in creative and technical solutions. It is no coincidence that there are parallels between the work of some architects. They work from a similar process of investigation and the solution is often only a matter of degrees. The challenge is to create fully sustainable houses not with dogma or style but one where there is an intrinsic craft. Such architects, steadfast in their determination to harness the elements, are also revealed in the process of making light work. Architecture shouldn’t be the province of an elite or cognoscenti. Brilliant work is rarely cheap but cheap work is invariably expensive. The challenge for architecture now, as always, is to be as broadly relevant and inclusive as possible.
The stellar Japanese architect Shigeru Ban demonstrates how architects can better address low cost housing with light-weight temporary and light-filled permanent structures. The principles behind Ban’s work of great utility are absorbed into also inform his other, larger scale, works such as his design for a paper church in Kobe, Japan. The notion of dignified housing for the poor and displaced received little attention from architects until Ban’s luminous cardboard ‘lantern’ shelters began appearing during the mid-1990s.
To be contuned...
Journalism provides an entrée for many of my interviews and assignments.
I’ve interviewed some of the world’s most interesting and influential architects. I love meeting and working with this group. They are inevitably passionate and driven by strong ideas. There is an impetus about everything some people do and hopefully that carries through in my essays. The selected essays are mainly current. Some are simply favourites.
- Bio 21
- Britomart Station
- Clement Meadmore
- David Ming-Li Lowe
- Ed Lipmann
- Glass House
- Glenn Murcutt
- Great Glass Buildings
- John Demos
- John Lautner Review
- Julius Shulman Review
- Malcolm Carver House
- Masters Of Light Intro
- Pete Bossley
- Peter Cook
- Peter Stronach
- Queensland Gallery of Modern Art
- Sidley Residence
- Steel Profile 100
- Sydney's Olympics
- Yve Apartments