One of the very best ways to determine good architecture is the evaluation of how natural light is handled throughout the space it illuminates. I like to think that I have some sensitivities regarding how natural light is managed in my projects but there are times when everything seems to align just right and something amazing is the result.
To help set the tone for the importance of light, I thought I would prime you by presenting some of my favorite architectural quotes regarding natural light. In no order of preference:
“The history of architecture is the history of the struggle for light.”
Le Corbusier – Architect
“We are born of light. The seasons are felt through light. We only know the world as it is evoked by light.”
Louis Kahn – Architect
“Light is of decisive importance in experiencing architecture. The same room can be made to give very different spacial impressions by the simple expedient of changing the size and location of its openings.”
Steen Eiler Rasmussen – Architect
“Light belongs to the heart and spirit. Light attracts people, it shows the way, and when we see it in the distance, we follow it.”
Ricardo Legorreta – Architect
“Architecture which enters into a symbiosis with light does not merely create form in light, by day and at night, but allow light to become form.”
Richard Meier – Architect
“I sense Light as the giver of all presences, and material as spent Light. What is made by Light casts a shadow, and the shadow belongs to Light.”
Louis Kahn – Architect
“Light has not just intensity, but also a vibration, which is capable of roughening a smooth material, of giving a three-dimensional quality to a flat surface.”
Renzo Piano – Architect
“More and more, so it seems to me, light is the beautifier of the building.”
Frank Lloyd Wright – Architect
Obviously, these architects knew a thing or two about which they spoke. Without light there is no architecture – it brings spaces to life and gives form to space. And with those lofty ideals, naturally, I would segue into images of one of my own projects.
Let there be light!
These are images taken from my most recent job site visit up to the Northwoods of Wisconsin – the point of which was to document progress and construction. While the quality of the pictures doesn’t do it justice, I found myself extremely happy with the quality of light that comes into each and every space in the house.
Just to clarify, none of these photos has been doctored up, there are no artificial lights in any of these spaces, and all the images were taken within the same 20-minute window of time.
The image above is one of the guest bedrooms on the ground floor – it’s window faces south, but you can see that there are a lot of trees just outside the window.
This is one of the ground floor bedrooms and it has windows that face South and west.
Moving upstairs, this is the main elevation in the kitchen and the slot window you see will exist between the upper and lower cabinets (the refrigerator/freezer stack happens to the far right in this image). This window faces east and provides a view down the drive that approaches the house.
We are still in the kitchen, but now we are facing North and we are looking into the pantry space. There is a pocket door into the pantry since we felt that this door would actually be open a majority of the time – which is why we added a window in the room. This might actually be the nicest pantry from a lighting perspective that I have ever designed.
Still in the kitchen but I am rotating counter-clockwise to the West – this is the main view of the house since the lake lies to the west.
Same view but I’ve moved towards the pantry and now you can see the entire length of the main window that looks out towards the lake. That collection of ganged together windows measures exactly 32′-0″ in length – you’ll be able to get a panoramic view from anywhere along the western elevation of the house.
Now I’m in the space that will be used as a Dining room – the space measures roughly 18′ wide by 15′ in length. The low wall you see right in the middle of this space is the stairs up from the ground floor level. They were arranged here so that your view up from below was out through the large main window, but as you approach the top of the stairs, your eye will get pulled down and out across the vista of the lake and the view beyond.
The Dining room is a generous space but will ultimately feel much larger since we tied the Dining room together visually with the Living space beyond by sharing the ceiling into a pitched vault that carries across the entire area.
Just a context shot to help you visually pull the Kitchen, Dining room, and Living room together. There are windows on each elevation that will allow natural light in through the entire span of the day.
I’m in the Living room looking back across the stair opening and towards the window on the North elevation of this room. Although, this is not technically a window. There is a sliding door that is missing in this picture and the opening you see on the far wall (you can see plywood) is actually a screened opening on a covered exterior grilling area.
Another look towards the Dining room and Grilling Porch beyond.
I’m in the Living room facing East – towards a small upper-level playroom. While this house has a fully built out basement, after going through the programming phase, I decided it would be a good idea to include a small space on the upper level for the purpose of reading, playing games, or watching TV. Not everyone wants to feel like they’ve been banished to the basement if they want to goof off a little. (This is where I would probably be spending my time – that and in front of the bar).
The large windows you see face South, and you can get a good feel for what it would be like to live in a treehouse in this room.
Here’s another look at the Playroom space. Again, the light quality in these areas is remarkable and when you set these white spaces against the natural lushness of the green foliage provided by the trees, you can help but be appreciative of your surroundings (which I think is a good thing considering this is a lake cabin).
I located the Master Bedroom for this cabin up on the second floor and isolated it a bit from the other rooms. It is a large room and the entire space can easily accommodate a sitting area in addition to the sleeping area. The windows in this space face North (16′-0″) and East (8′-0″).
Another view of the Master Bedroom. Over on the left-hand side of the photo above, you can see the doors into the closet and the bathroom. The door heights actually align although they don’t really look like it – there is an operable glass transom window above the door heading into the bathroom.
This is looking into the Master Bathroom – which has a high slot window approximately 5′-0″ long and 2′-0″ tall. The sill is located 6′-0″ off the finished floor so there won’t be any concerns of someone being able to peek a look into this space (not unless they can fly).
Another view of the window located in the Master Bathroom. I intentionally carried the opening up tight against the mirror wall so that we could get light and shadow lines in this room that were tight to the wall.
I love that condition.
Finally, (sarcasm) this is the horror show that is the basement … pretty non-creepy if you ask me. (You can see what the basement looked like in the house we removed here)
There were other areas that I had to review – some of which were on the exterior. Most of the exterior work is done – there is a lot of grading work, a driveway to grade, steel plate entryway (that’ll get it’s own dedicated post) and exterior stairs and deck work to complete.
And to quote Jon Snow … “Winter is coming.”
Once everything is done I think I’ll put an article together that compares the built product with the initial concept design drawings. There were a couple of budget-driven design decisions that have been made along the way but I don’t think the end result will suffer.
There is still a ways to go, but for now, I am taking comfort in the quality of the light that exists within the house. It will be interesting to come up during the winter to see how the light changes as the sun travels lower along the horizon. I would imagine that in an area of the country where the winter-time temperatures routinely fall below zero, any additional radiant heat will be more than welcome.