Incredibly, eighteen-plus months on, we are still immersed in a time of uncertainty as the pandemic continues to occupy our thoughts of what the future will bring. We are yearning for connection with our communities and restored by our connection to nature, wherever we may find it – a beautiful plant on the fire escape, a sunset on the horizon, or if we are lucky, the outdoor gardens where we live, work or play. Healthy, sustainable living and equitable design, as discussed in previous blogs by my colleagues, align with access to daylight, views, fresh air, and a connection to nature.
Though this connection to nature and the wonder it evokes have been a part of the dialog of architecture and light for many hundreds of years (as exemplified in the Hagia Sophia with inspiring light from above, or the MIT Chapel with reflected light from both above and below, or the soft filtered light of a Japanese temple), the connection between indoor and outdoor space in the architectural medium of today’s projects has thankfully become the norm. Seventy percent or more of the spaces we design for our clients involve indoor/outdoor areas for occupants and visitors alike. Healthcare centers have gardens for meditation and reflection, airports welcome visitors to spectacular experiential greenspaces, sports venues engage fans in celebratory revelry with open-air views to the surrounding cityscapes, and many of the work and living spaces we design integrate outdoor amenity areas for people to gather for impromptu conversations, meetings, and special occasions.
In ancient times, the connection between interior and exterior spaces was moderated by the architectural constructs of the time. With new technologies, the boundaries between interior and exterior spaces have all but dissolved. Large expanses of glazing that slide open during temperate months, while still enabling the visual connections in more extreme weather, allow access to light and views in the daytime. But what of night?
As lighting designers, our joy emanates from crafting the luminous experience of both day and night. In the daytime, the transition from abundant natural light to more tempered interior light is a dance that requires a deep understanding of the human visual system. The process of visual adaptation from as many as 10,000 footcandles (fc) in a bright sunny courtyard, to an illuminance of 1,000 fc in a portico or lobby, to 100 fc in a pre-function space, prepares our visual system to be comfortable in the 10fc or less that might be appropriate for a museum exhibition of sensitive works on paper, or a contemplative quiet space in a healing center. Much of this visual adaptation can be accomplished with architectural volumes and finishes, quietly supported by architectural lighting in just the right places. As the sun sets, the balance of luminosity shifts, and the lighting systems must adapt.
As natural light subsides, the architectural lighting asserts itself in both interior and exterior spaces. Expansive planes of glass can enable views to beautifully lighted gardens or become blackened mirrors that pull the warmth out of a space. Carefully considered lighting control systems help to tune the luminous experience from day to night, and emerging technology now enables shifts of both the intensity and hue of light. The crisp white of daytime can be emulated in areas beyond the reach of natural light, and at night can soften to warmer tones that feel more appropriate in the evening. To enhance the interior-exterior connection, the volumetric experience of light must be considered holistically. Simple gestures that connect the interior and exterior can have profound effect. A floating series of spheres in a special event dining area that continue to an exterior catenary system help the café tables spill into the exterior and dissolve the boundaries between the two, doubling the occupiable space and helping the indoors feel connected to the outdoors and vice versa. A glow of light below benches and a dappled moonlight effect in the trees acknowledges our desire to connect with the full spatial dimensions of our surroundings. Even a simple consideration of the spacing of downlights to align with their reflection in the glazing can make a subtle but meaningful impact on the visual harmony of an indoor/outdoor space at night.
Architecture and light have a deeply meaningful role in supporting our communities as we navigate these unusual times, and we are grateful to be collaborators in the quest for creating healthy, restorative environments for all.