Page H1 . 02 April 2003                     
ArchitectureWeek - Patterns of Home
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    Patterns of Home
    Pattern Four Capturing Light : Light from Two Sides

    ArchWeek Photo

    Light can direct and enhance our movement through space, as in this house by Jacobson Silverstein Winslow Architects.
    Photo: David O. Marlow


    People are comfort-loving creatures. We turn toward the sun, seeking light and warmth, needing it to nourish both spirit and body.

    The position of the sun in the sky, the color of its light, keeps us in touch with the time of day and the season of the year. The amount and type of cloud cover connect us to changes in the weather.

    While artificial light illuminates the dark, the impact of natural daylight has a completely different effect on our experience.

    The intensity of sunlight is so great that no artificial light can approach it, and it offers a complete color spectrum that is not present in most standard artificial lighting. With the light comes warmth, heating the objects it strikes and the spaces it fills.

    When we build houses it is important to locate and organize them in a way that allows all important spaces to receive abundant natural light. This single step probably has more effect on our perception of comfort than does any other aspect of home design.

    ArchWeek Photo

    A simple four-square house allows light into two sides of each corner room.
    Image: Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    A long thin house allows light to enter from opposite sides of most rooms.
    Image: Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    The major source of light in this guest room by Thomas L. Bosworth FAIA is the wide door opening to the atrium. Light is balanced by a high window on the opposite wall.
    Photo: David Duncan Livingston

    ArchWeek Photo

    A house with wings assembles pieces of the long thin house form to create rooms with the potential for light on two or three sides.
    Image: Taunton Press

    ArchWeek Photo

    On sites where security concerns or building codes limit exterior windows, the combination of a central atrium and light monitors or skylights can create balanced light.
    Image: Taunton Press

    Click on thumbnail images to view full-size pictures.

    If light is essential, shadow is the complement that gives it power. Relentless light (imagine a fluorescent-lit classroom or a discount store) deprives a space of the meaning that comes with variety.

    Pools of bright light draw us to them because they highlight an area within a surrounding of shade. Shadowy corners or edges lend an air of mystery to a well-lit interior. Retreating into the shade when the sun is high allows us to enjoy a cool space on a hot day.

    And filtering sunlight mixing light with shadow to admit just the right amount allows us to select the appropriate intensity of light for any activity. It is the play of light and shadow that gives shape to forms and brings life to our surroundings.

    Placing the house on the site to take best advantage of available light requires a study of the light and shadow patterns created by surrounding structures, by the topography, and by landscape elements.

    As the house takes shape, a primary goal is to bring light into each room from two sides, a strategy that reduces glare within the room and gives each room sun exposure through a good portion of the day. This can be accomplished in many ways.

    In a simple rectangular house, each corner room has the potential for windows on two sides. A long thin house and a house shaped with long wings afford the possibility of windows on opposite walls.

    Houses tightly fitted between surrounding buildings can achieve light on two sides by using an inner courtyard and bringing in light from above.

    Patterns of Home

    Discuss this article in the Home Design Forum...



    Part of the ArchitectureWeek Patterns series. Text and images excerpted with permission from Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein, and Barbara Winslow, copyright © 2002 The Taunton Press, Inc. The book is available from The Taunton Press and at

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