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June 30, 2020

Light connects interior architecture, urban studies, and cognitive neuroscience – Yunni Cho, BRDD 21′

by Yunni

I am currently majoring in the field of urban studies, cognitive neuroscience, and interior architecture through a dual degree program at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. My goal is to find the potential of design in creating social justice at an urban scale with an understanding of the science behind our spatial perception. Throughout the first month of the Maharam fellowship, I realized that the study of lighting is a perfect way to demonstrate the interdisciplinary nature of my education. 

Lighting contributes a fundamental base for architecture and space making. As Steven Holl argues in his interview, lighting remains “integral to the concept of the architecture, unique to the site and place.” Although each of his projects is different in how the building utilizes the presence of light, he believes that “the infinite possibilities of light have been evident from the beginning of architecture and will continue into the future … as light is contingent, its shadows intermittent.” In The Light on Things, Peter Zumthor further extends Holl’s notion of light orchestrating the interior experience by analyzing materials with their capacity to pick up the quantities of light and reflect them in the darkness. For Zumthor, architecture is “to plan the building as a pure mass of shadow then, afterwards, to put in light as if you were hollowing out the darkness, as if the light were a new mass seeping in.” It is this very conception of giving light a sense of mass that allows materials to occupy its surfaces through their way of reflecting the light. In Silence and Light, Louis Kahn defines light as “the giver of all presences … giving to silence the ability to act.” He follows Zumthor’s approach by situating structure as the maker of light and believing an expression of form as the realization of nature.

In architecture, one can see how architects have harnessed the varying morals and politics of their respective time periods leading to a wide array of artistic interpretation. All of these different time periods and ideologies can be united under the presence of light. As Holl, Zumthor, and Kahn claimed, the power of architecture comes through in its ways of dealing with the presence of light, by designing the passage of how light enters and leaves the structure and the ways in which light leaves a visual trace of its presence in one’s spatial perception.

Light, the radiant energy that is capable of exciting the retina and producing a visual sensation, gives rise to visual principles, such as illuminance, luminance, color, temperature, height, density, direction, and distribution (IESNA, 2011). Lighting is fundamental in creating depth perception and a sense of intimacy by defining visual composition and ambience of a space. Without light, we cannot perceive contrast, brightness, material appearance, or three-dimensional surfaces through our vision. There is no space that we can visually perceive and appreciate in an absence of light. 

I wanted to share this intimate connection with light in architecture as well as in perception and cognition through my fellowship projects. After spending two weeks on research to find relevant sources, I came across literature on ‘preattentive visual properties.’ Preattentive visual properties refer to four information – (1) form, (2) color, (3) position in space, and (4) movement – that get processed in our sensory memory without our conscious thought. These features are part of our low level visual system, which are necessary for higher level visual abilities, such as figure to ground discrimination as well as depth perception from perspective or relative movement. Designers use these properties to help users easily understand and use information they are presented with. 

For my first project, Transient Stillness, I proposed to use these four properties to analyze form, color, spatial position, and movement of light using four different techniques – (1) white ink, (2) color pencil, (3) cut-outs, and (4) time-lapse images – to breakdown our perception and understanding of natural light. The initial goal for this project is to finish 25 images in these four different techniques (100 drawings in total) to make a grid formation for an easier comparison. This week, I finished five additional color drawings and five cut-outs to show how I am envisioning the inclusion of these new techniques. Additionally, I took a couple more time-lapse videos when the weather was windy and cloudy to record different daylight conditions. 

I presented my new ideas for the second project, Choreography of Light, at the start of this week to my team. The new proposal was about including two additional pages at the end of each chapter to cite the sources and summarize my research process. The presentation was successful and the team supported this new direction to the project. After the approval, I completed the citation pages for the first and third chapters as well to finalize the three chapters I started. 

During the team meeting, I got a chance to meet two interns at the Hamburg office, Selina and Vanessa, who  would also be joining our virtual collaboration. We now have fine artists, interior designers, architects, lighting professionals, as well as engineering experts in our team. And all of us are very excited to see how this journey would end as we have a great diversity in each of our backgrounds and skill sets. 

This week, we received the first newsletter from the Tanteidan office for the Lighting Detectives since all of the projects became online due to the effects of COVID-19. The letter acknowledged the difficulties the organization as a whole face in not having in-person meetings and public workshops. But Lighting Detectives also promised to focus on the World Lighting Journey magazine and virtual projects that can still be very effective in achieving their goals. We were very glad to receive this letter as it ensured that other chapters are also taking a similar direction as how we are doing our projects through a virtual collaboration.

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