“The sun never knew how wonderful it was until it fell on the wall of a building” – Louis Kahn

Optics and light have always been something I’ve been interesting in since IB Physics in high school.  I thought Professors Sherman lecture in the dark because it made me realized that it is not always about getting the most light and that sometimes no light at all can be good and open up your other senses.  Tanazaki provides a similar idea in his essay, “The Praise of Shadows.”  Tanazaki argues about the impact shadow has own space.  He describes how shadow, through its connection with space, applies a deeper understanding of the spatial structure (inside and outside of it) that could not be gathered with just pure sunlight.  Shadows are a reaction to sunlight and help to divide up subtle breaks in the space.  Tanazaki uses the difference between east and west architecture and culture to support his argument.  In the West, Tanazaki argues, is continuously searching for new technology and new forms of light and clarity, while oriental art enjoys subtle and subdued forms of art.   Tanazaki is definitely more appreciative of the subtle shadows to provide a strong impression.

Architecture develops in response to climatic conditions and building materials.  Tanazaki pulls different examples of how Westerners find beauty in the lean/pristine/untarnished/clear, while the Chinese/Japanese find beauty in the worn/imperfect.  He compares a the harmony and austerity of a typical modern Japanese house with a wires and pipes of a western house through the heaters, stoves, security systems, lamps and bathrooms.  He notes how bathrooms have become bright, sterile metallic and industrial and are no longer the dim, cool, meditative spaces they once were.  He also compares Japanese temples (Heavy roof with dark shadows, keep sun off) versus gothic cathedrals (Light, airy celestial structure, keep wind and dew off).

As it is noted in the afterward, “the quality that we call beauty…must always grow from the realities of life.” I admire the sentiment Tanazaki provides for the subtle use of shadow.  However, I believe the contrast can also be just as beautiful.  I think the way western modern architecture, though it is not my favorite, can be very beautiful in a way that it is showing how the building is functioning and how light and shadow flow through pipes in the ceiling.   I think every kind of architecture as the ability to produce strong shadows to reflect upon the space and react to the culture, building materials and environment around it.

Here are some pieces of architecture that I think are visually stimulating through light and shadows:

Hagia Sophia

Church of Light

The Pantheon

Reading: “The Praise of Shadows” by Tanazaki

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