Building with Light

July 23rd, 2012

The other morning I got up early to ride my bike before the heat of the day settled in.  As I rode along the back roads past fields where horses and cows leisurely grazed, I was struck by the beauty of the morning light, a golden hue that washed the scene giving it an ethereal quality.  I’ve always been intrigued by light and the dramatic affect it has on our experience of our surroundings.  But I never considered it as a building material until I read an article about the Twilight Epiphany pavilion at Rice University.

The pavilion is both an object of art and a functioning venue for musical concerts.  The designer, James Turrell, describes the structure as “architecture that light and space makes.” He expands on his perspective saying, “Light not only reveals, it also obscures – so you can actually build a space with it.  I use light and architecture in that way:  to limit space and to reveal it, either way.”  The open frame in the center of the roof structure is reminiscent of an oculus used in classical architecture that captures a cone of light.  In this case the opening also frames passing objects, the moon, a bird, a cloud, responding to what inhabits the space around it.

Our eyes are naturally drawn to light and we gravitate to rooms that have natural daylight on two sides, but James Turrell adds a whimsical touch and expanded perspective when working with light as a building material.  

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