Experiences with Light

Experiences with light

Jack Kennedy

IAR 334

Light has always been one of the most important elements in the environment.  Both the natural and built environments present us with different qualities of light and vastly different experiences.  Light in place, nature, climate, time, and task will be explored.

Growing up for me was in a small town in the foothills of the blue ridge mountains of North Carolina.  Summers were always sunny, colors vibrant and exploding.  Winters were gray, very gray.  Gray skies, gray trees, gray light, everything was gray, which was compounded by the blues hue in the mountains.  It was almost like it was going to snow every moment of every day.  The sun rose late and set even earlier.  In the spring the light is soft and warming, yet still foggy.  The fall light is warm and piercing.  Shards of light blast through trees loosing their leaves, both are fleeting.

A former residence of mine had lots of glazing.  White perforated roller shades were chosen to cover the windows for privacy and white sheers on top of those to create a sense of layering and formality.  The northwest corner of the house always had this ethereal glow of light.  Even in full sun the quality of the light was the same, though never overbearing.  This quality of light reminded me of springtime back in the foothills, fresh, clean, and vibrant.

Summer in the foothills was hot and bright.  My childhood home had a wall of windows all across the back of the house, which faced due south.  Blinds controlled the light; they were white on one side, and metallic gold on the other. I thought this detail was quite bawdy when we moved in.  I soon came to find out the gold on the outside during the summer made the interior quite a bit cooler, reflecting the sun’s heat.  Transoms were above the French doors in the den.  Copious amounts of light flooded through these, always striking you in the most inopportune places, such as directly in your eyes while you were trying to watch television or read a book.  These transoms may have been better suited for the north side of the house.

My current home in Greensboro has a sun room on the west side of the house.  The east side of the room is adjacent to the house, the north, south, and west all have windows.  In this room the morning light is always soft and gentle, which makes it my preferred coffee spot.  This softness gives way to clean, crisp, and bright light throughout the day which I find ideal for reading or writing or just sitting for a chat.  Around five in the evening the sun dips below the canopy of the trees and beams in the room.  Sometimes it is nice to lay back and bask in the warmth of the sun.  Other times this makes it impossible to read or even sit; as the sun is directly in your eyes.  Night time is magical.  A few dimly lit lamps and a softly lit chandelier cast a warm glow over the room that makes everyone comfortable, and at ease.  This soft dim light also makes everyone look good!  For the most part it seems that most ever switched light is attached to a dimmer.  The control that this simple switch has changes everything.  Should you need to vacuum the corners at night, lights on bright will allow you to see everything.  I would hardly want to sit in any room like that.  Dim the lights a bit for reading, and dim them even more to create a cozy, glamorous, or seductive atmosphere.  The ability to control the level of light lets you choose the correct level for any task at hand.

The ability to see light in different environments and spaces allows one to truly experience a time, a place, a space.  Bringing this ability into a built environment allows one to create memorable moments in time.  This control is critical to enjoying a space not only functionally, but also aesthetically.  Light is the attribute that allows us to experience the world as we know it.  Without it we are left in the dark, literally.

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