Light as a Material?

When Mary came into our class on Tuesday and was lecturing on the topic that light is a material, I wasn’t so convinced.  I do believe that there is an aspect of light that a designer can very much play into and control, but I believe there are much larger factors that must go into a design to create light as a medium, such as other mediums.  I began looking into some more technical aspects of light to see what I could find.

What exactly is light then?  Scientifically it is electromagnetic radiation that is visible to the human eye and responsible for the sense of sight.  While light’s intensity, frequency, wavelength spectrum and direction can all change; it does have a constant speed in a vacuum, which is actually one of the constants of nature.

The one aspect of light that really caught my attention was its responsibility for the sense of sight.  If we are trying to argue if light is a material or not, someone who is blind would not be able to experience light as a material visually. And since light is not a physical substance, they wouldn’t be able to experience it by touch either.

I see light as more of a material enhancer, just like color or an applied texture.  I think of a material as a physical object.  Adding color or texture to a material can dramatically change the visual aspect of the material as well as the space it is in, but the physical properties stay relatively the same.  I see this argument strongly with light.

An example of this argument could be seen in Ando’s structures. His buildings would still structurally be standing and have much of the same physical characteristics without light; but with the light, the space is elevated to a whole new level of experience. I know this topic is very opinion related and there are many sides that can be taken on it and I know Ando and Barragan would very much disagree with me on this topic.  I do see light as a very valuable design element, just as a I do color, but I do think there is a large role in the physical material that light is paired with to create a space.


One comment

  1. kieck033

    Having Mary as a studio professor I have become more conscious and selective of how I treat lighting qualities in my designs in the last three months. Light very well can be a material in itself, depending on the other surrounding details and how one views the space. For example, the Pantheon, in my opinion, is one of the most influential and incredible structures to stand on Earth. When I went to Italy this past summer and walked into the enormous concrete building I realized that pictures in our history textbooks do not do justice. One of the major factors that makes this building so spectacular is the giant oculus in the center of the hemispherical roof that pours down light into the space. Light plays a crucial role in the experience of this building.

    However, I do agree with the statements in this blog for the most part. In the case of the Pantheon, the light gleaming down from the oculus may enhance the beautifully polished stone materials and sculptures within. The statement “light is paired with [physical material] to create a space” seems to be spot-on with this example.

    One way I view light in some of my designs is how it creates patterns on all surfaces within a space. This idea is one way that I believe light can act as both a material in itself and as an enhancer. Patterns and shadows can create intriguing design aspects on the interior and exterior of a building. Using the structural system as a way to create these patterns may be a careful handled idea that can strengthen the experience and ambiance of particular spaces.

    So even though I agree, for the most part, with everything stated in this article, light does offer extraordinary opportunities to liven and strengthen our designs. Light is technically considered a “material enhancer” but it is still extremely important to think about. As we progress in our designs and professions, light must not be forgotten.

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