Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Memory 2.0 Seeing is believing

The recall or sight of an experience in light frequently triggers a tactile association with the warmth or coolness of that place in the same way that a phrase in conversation may bring to mind a snippet of melody that accompanies that phrase in a song. With this awareness, the designer can reinforce expectations based on our past experiences or challenge our preconceptions to establish new associations tethered to a singular place in the world.

There is something indelible about discovering light at the center of a space or a structure. Perhaps this is because light has to penetrate architecture, roofs, and walls, to find its way to the center. Daylight is familiar, but we are accustomed to finding it outside or at the edges of built spaces. The sun, the origin of all light and heat and the center of our solar system, is the prime example of the importance and pleasure we take at finding light and heat at the middle of things. This is replicated at the campfire, a display of light and heat that invites us to gather and recognize each other; it represents security in the enveloping darkness. We find the same power at the hearth, a fireplace, characterized by flickering light and radiant heat, around which we are invited to gather. The location of light, the sense of heat, and the cracking sounds of fire invite us to gather and make a center. Light at the center is also powerful because properly designed spaces typically invite people to fully occupy a space, and not just lurk at the edges. Light invites us to participate. It can be difficult to provide daylight at the heart of a space but, for this reason, it can be the element that reminds the designer to make inhabitable spaces.

Discovering significant light or space inside or at the middle tinkers with our expectations. Just as we commonly see light originating at the edges of a space, our parallel expectation is that centers will be darker and more solid, permanent, and fixed. This expectation is repudiated in the structure of Fay Jones’ Thorncrown Chapel (Eureka Springs, Arkansas; 1980) where, at the very center of the diagonal cross bracing we would expect to see a solid connection between braces, there appears a trapezoid of space, an opening for light. This detail is representative of the chapel, fully glazed between wood supporting members on all sides, and with light occupying the center.

Memory 1.0 Seeing is believing.

Daylight remembers where it has been; it always arrives with company.  It reaches us most evidently accompanied by heat and color, which derive from its source, the sun, and from surfaces it has touched on the way to our eyes.  We can see and feel heat and color quite easily and both are capable of influencing our perceptions and our use of space.  Daylight levels and character, including color and motion, often signal to us what the temperature of a place is before we are close enough to feel heat or cold.  It has been noted that sight may be considered an extension of our sense of touch, enabling us to understand, at some distance from them, how things feel.  The understanding is based on our knowledge of having seen and touched these things before.  In this way, daylight messages engage our individual memories.  What we see and what we know about light leads us to anticipate the character of a space or a surface and to draw associations with other times and places.  Associations between light, its source, and events on the way tour eyes stimulate our own deeply held associations.