Rogier van der Heide: Why Light Needs Darkness (Transcript)

In this TED Talk, lighting architect Rogier van der Heide shows a beautiful new way to look at the world — by paying attention to light (and to darkness).

Rogier van der Heide – TED Talk TRANSCRIPT

There’s a beautiful statement on the screen that says:

“Light creates ambiance, light makes the feel of a space, and light is also the expression of structure.”

Well, that was not by me. That was, of course, by Le Corbusier, the famous architect. And here you can see what he meant in one of his beautiful buildings — the chapel Notre Dame Du Haut De Ronchamp — where he creates this light that he could only make because there’s also dark.

And I think that is the quintessence of this 18-minute talk — that there is no good lighting that is healthy and for our well-being without proper darkness.

So this is how we normally would light our offices. We have codes and standards that tell us that the lights should be so much Lux and of great uniformity. This is how we create uniform lighting from one wall to the other in a regular grid of lamps. And that is quite different from what I just showed you from Le Corbusier.

If we would apply these codes and standards to the Pantheon in Rome, it would never have looked like this, because this beautiful light feature that goes around there all by itself can only appear because there is also darkness in that same building.

And the same is more or less what Santiago Calatrava said when he said:

“Light: I make it in my buildings for comfort.”

And he didn’t mean the comfort of a five-course dinner as opposed to a one-course meal, but he really meant the comfort of the quality of the building for the people. He meant that you can see the sky and that you can experience the sun. And he created these gorgeous buildings where you can see the sky, and where you can experience the sun, that give us a better life in the built environment, just because of the relevance of light in its brightness and also in its shadows.

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And what it all boils down to is, of course, the sun. And this image of the Sun may suggest that the Sun is something evil and aggressive, but we should not forget that all energy on this planet actually comes from the Sun, and light is only a manifestation of that energy.

The sun is for dynamics, for color changes. The sun is for beauty in our environment, like in this building — the High Museum in Atlanta, which has been created by Renzo Piano from Italy, together with Arup Lighting, a brilliant team of lighting designers, who created a very subtle modulation of light across the space, responding to what the sun does outside, just because of all these beautiful openings in the roof.

So in an indirect way, you can see the sun. And what they did is they created an integral building element to improve the quality of the space that surrounds the visitors of the museum. They created this shade that you can see here, which actually covers the sun, but opens up to the good light from the sky.

And here you can see how they really crafted a beautiful design process with physical models, with quantitative as well as qualitative methods, to come to a final solution that is truly integrated and completely holistic with the architecture. They allowed themselves a few mistakes along the way.

As you can see here, there’s some direct light on the floor, but they could easily figure out where that comes from. And they allow people in that building to really enjoy the sun, the good part of the sun. And enjoying the sun can be in many different ways, of course. It can be just like this, or maybe like this, which is rather peculiar, but this is in 1963 — the viewing of a sun eclipse in the United States.

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And it’s just a bit bright up there, so these people have found a very intriguing solution. This is, I think, a very illustrative image of what I try to say — that the beautiful dynamics of sun, bringing these into the building, creates a quality of our built environment that truly enhances our lives.

And this is all about darkness as much as it is about lightness, of course, because otherwise you don’t see these dynamics. As opposed to the first office that I showed you in the beginning of the talk, this is a well-known office, which is The Weidt Group. They are in green energy consulting, or something like that.

And they really practice what they preach because this office doesn’t have any electric lighting at all. It has only, on one side, this big, big glass window that helps to let the sunlight enter deep into the space and create a beautiful quality there and a great dynamic range. So it can be very dim over there, and you do your work, and it can be very bright over there, and you do your work.

But actually, the human eye turns out to be remarkably adaptable to all these different light conditions that together create an environment that is never boring and that is never dull, and therefore helps us to enhance our lives.

I really owe a short introduction of this man to you. This is Richard Kelly who was born 100 years ago, which is the reason I bring him up now, because it’s kind of an anniversary year.

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