Illuminating the Kimbell

Light entering vaults through skylight and reflectors

We were presented with many fascinating examples of light being used as a building material during Mary Guzowski’s lecture on Tuesday. Churches comprised of many of the examples that were shown in the slides which was understandable for good reason. Light as a material has the ability to bring lightness and an ethereal presence to a room which is appropriate in a spiritual setting such as a church. Openings were not just used as ways to bring light into the spaces but as a way to evoke an emotional response.

Exterior view of the Kimbell Art Museum

I was quite surprised that there were not more examples of museums shown during this lecture especially considering how light is crucial in gallery spaces. Artwork looks better in natural daylight but faces issues of degradation when exposed to direct sunlight. For this reason designers must find effective ways of bringing evenly diffused light into a space that will highlight works of art without damaging them. One notable example that does this effectively is the Kimbell Art Museum in Texas which was designed by the renowned architect Louis Kahn. From the exterior the building it is easy to imagine that the interior is opaque and is lit solely with artificial lighting; however, it is actually lit with rows of skylights and a reflector system to bring light inside. Though I have never visited the museum in person, the interior images of the space seem to suggest that this system effectively guides light into the gallery space with evenly diffused light. The amount of sunlight that is brought in is enough so that artificial lights are not necessary during the daytime, though they are installed in the spaces.


Section of vault

I believe that the lighting strategies that are used in churches and museums are both similar and different in certain ways. Churches can get away with including direct sunlight in ways that museums are not able to due to the damage that sunlight can cause to the artwork. The lighting that churches employ is also used for experiential purposes while the lighting in museums is more-so designed for functional purposes so that light is present but not overpowering the artwork itself. That being said, I believe that both of these building types have a crucial relationship with light which effectively determines the success of the building.


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