Architecture of Light
From Classicism to Modernism to Parametric architecture and beyond, lighting is what makes a building truly shine.Architecture is, as Le Corbusier put it, “the learned game, correct and magnificent, of forms assembled in light”. For all their very evident mass, even the most sublime of structures couldn’t fully impact us without luminosity. Except perhaps the tomb, the exception that proves the rule: without light, architecture is dead. Rome’s majestic Pantheon, constructed under the Emperor Hadrian, has no windows. The sole light source is the oculus at the centre of its dome which pans light across cornices and bas-reliefs and colonnades as the earth moves around the sun. On the same day every year, as the midday sun strikes a metal grille above the doorway, the exterior courtyard is bathed in intense, deflected beams. That day, April 21 is celebrated as the founding of the city – and the sight of the Emperor standing in the entrance emanating heavenly light was considered evidence enough of his divinity. For Modernists such as Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, light was a way of bringing their concrete and glass structures to life. Johnson’s Glass House, a provocatively transparent box set upon rolling lawns in New Canaan, Connecticut, relies on light to breathe it to life. During the day, the sun’s rays cut across it, bringing its rational steel structure into relief. By dark of night, though, interior lighting turned it into an inverted mirror reflecting its inhabitants back onto themselves. To resolve the problem, Johnson called upon the services of stage lighting designer, Richard Kelly. Kelly’s theory of lighting, which is still used by architects to this day, is based on three principles: ‘Focal glow’ (the pool of light which highlights particular activities, like reading); ‘Ambient luminescence’ (background lighting Kelly likened to “the uninterrupted light of a snowy morning in the open country”); ‘Play of brilliants’ (which “excites the optic nerves, and in turn stimulates the body and spirit, quickens the appetite, awakens curiosity, sharpens the wit…”). By transferring the ambient luminescence to the trees outside, using focal glow to pinpoint functional zones and a play of brilliants to punctuate the space, Kelly turned Johnson’s foreboding glass box into a sensual machine for living in. Decorative lighting design like that privileged at Swarovski also follows Kelly’s three principles. Focal glow and ambient luminescence are part of our daily preoccupation; play of brilliance the very core of our DNA. As times change, the hegemony of the Modernist canon has been effectively challenged, first by the flamboyant Postmodernism of Robert Venturi, Ettore Sottsass, Ricardo Bofill and Co and then by the radical Deconstructivism of Frank Gehry, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Rem Koolhaas and others of their ilk. Now, in the age of Parametric architecture when algorithmic thinking and digital fabrication are enabling entirely unforeseen shapes, form has been granted the potential to become untethered from function. Nowhere is this shift more evident than in the work of the late Zaha Hadid, for whom fragmentation and fluidity were more important than formal rigidity, and light a means of illuminating the way a building behaves. Unleashed from the strictures of mere function, decorative lighting is truly able to shine. Swarovski has been the master of the art of ‘Play of Brilliants’ since the company was founded in 1895. In the following pages we present the evocative new trends and innovative new crystal components to excite your optic nerves and stimulate body and spirit. Hedonism, escapism and a new spirit of essentialism will be guiding interior design for the foreseeable future, and our new product lines are designed to make rooms – no matter what their function – shine. We’re also delighted to unveil our new Manufaktur designed by Norwegian firm, Snøhetta – it’s a manufacturing facility, a showroom, a co-working space, a cathedral. We’re quite convinced it will whet your appetite.
Stephen Todd, Design Editor