Why architecture now plays its part in the natural sciences Presented by Philippe Rahm
Once abstract and inorganic, in recent decades light has gained biological and medical implications, prompting a rethink of its design by architects and urban planners
Light has often been a key factor in assessing beauty in architecture — that of Le Corbusier’s magnificently lit volumes or the silent light of Louis Kahn. Nature knows four seasons. “Architecture knows only two: shadow and light,” said the Italian Rationalist architect Alberto Sartoris. Until the 1980s, architecture played with light as an inorganic material, a sculptural counterpoint to darkness, shaping forms and volumes, choreographing spatial sequences and revealed in all its splendour in the black-and-white photography of Tadao Ando and Robert Mapplethorpe. Light seemed to come only in a block, like an elementary particle, as too emptiness, shadow and fullness: indivisible, abstract, pure, fundamental elements underpinning the architectural composition and with which architects played to produce beauty. Macroscopic white light has, however, gradually became more complex under the microscope and been broken down into different wavelengths between infrared and ultraviolet. It has lost its mineral neutrality on concrete surfaces to assume biological worth for the eyes and bodies of humans, fauna and flora. We have started hearing about Seasonal Affective Disorder, blue light, macular degeneration, light pollution, biological rhythms, photoperiodism, circadian cycles and their disturbance.