Page 1

sean michael mcalister’s

nothing disappears completely sean michael mcalister’s

nothing disappears completely

lumière mystérieuse + the mytho-poetic basis of architecture

lumière mystérieuse + the mytho-poetic basis of architecture

sean michael mcalister’s


[ ]

nothing disappears completely

material unit publication

[ masters programme ] [ dundee school of architecture ]

“It is the light that produces the effects ... If I can avoid that the light arrives directly, then to make it penetrate without the spectator noticing its origin, the product is a mysterious and inconceivable effect” Boullée, c.179001

01  Étienne-Louis Boullée [c.1790] Architecture, Essai sur l’art, Hermann [1968] p93

“C’est la lumière qui produit les effets... Si je peu éviter que la lumière arrive directement, et la faire pénétrer sans que le spectateur aperçoive d’où elle part, les effets résultans d’un jour mystérieux produiront des effets inconcevables” Boullée, c.1790

v acknowledgements xi 01

a note on the layout of this book introduction: what is light?


a list of words and definitions important to this book

97 matzine 100 bibliography 102


image references

contents 06

lumière mystérieuse


the thingness of light optics





27 29

31 35 41 43

47 52 55

59 63

visual perception

a note on the us luminaesthes proximogra


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phy extroproje ction absolute black scotopia shadow t ra n s a pparit ion eye o b s c u ra

the so

laris p

roject p l ates pi : s 71 cotop i a pii : 73 t ra j a n’s se p at iii : e 75 ngin e room piv : 75 room 559 pv : 77 85 esca pe h narr a tc h atio n an 81 d th e le ns a no 87 te o n the a no film te o ing n th of b e et lac k c hin mill gp roce ss 69

the so




ac knowledgements

Helen + Fergus The Mats The print studio: Mark + Peter and anyone else who engaged, then challenged my work. In. Progress. Thank you




Light is something you can’t touch, you can’t see it, move it nor weigh it. Light doesn’t need air. In the morning, light visits distant planets and bounces back to Earth, before you boil your kettle. And light can travel-time. Where does the ‘wonder of light’ exist in architecture? Where does architecture marvel in the mysterious, intangible and untouchable quality of light? Who is pushing the illusion of light, understanding its nature above all others? Should this not be each architects’ mission?

fig01 [image on contents page] Photograph of a bulb, dipped into bitumen and reconnected to the lamp. This fish-eye effect could be a cheap way to make a lens. fig02 Astronomers Instrument. The protective shell of an observatory’s telescope. This model was a response to a short design exercise entitled ‘sheet music,’ The basis of which was a sequence of abstractions, in some way linked to my proposed thesis.

For me, one of the greatest and saddest paradoxes of our time is the story of light in architecture. Do we not have the means to beam a laser so that it is visible on the moon? Do we not have the vast infrastructures in place to turn entire nocturnal environments into day, with legions of street lamps? Do we not have the ability to track, measure and mitigate the sun’s illuminance better than ever? Consider our expressionless office spaces, our omnidirectional fluorescent tubes, our deep [efficient] floor plans; void of natural light and our evenly lux’ed homes with evenly lux’ed corridors. We have the greatest



fig03 Section of the Pantheon, Rome. Originally commissioned by Marcus Agrippa in 27 BC

understanding and control of light at our fingertips now more than at any other time in history, and what do we have to show for it? This book’s title, ‘Nothing Disappears Completely’ is a reference to an enigmatic quality of light and darkness that appeals to our senses; those spaces and images we might find hard to explain01. This book, as a thesis, is as much about the enigma of light as it is about modes of representing it; as much about the ‘lens’ used to capture the image, as it is about the narrative the image suggests. Enigmas inherently raise questions. Do we need to see in order to feel darkness? How much light do people need in order to live, and how much darkness? Are there things we can experience only in dark, shaded places, in the darkness of night? When the lights go out, can you become the space your body inhabits? Is it even possible to imagine things without light? Is there such a thing as bad light? Indeed, is there such a thing as good light? What do we want to illuminate, and how long for? Can we see something without interacting with it? What is light? Is it an illusion?

01  The title comes from a book by Henri Lefebvre, see p52 ix


a note on the layout of this book

The layout of this book gives the reader a suggested sequence of reading. This sequence represents a particular route through my thesis. However, the book is designed so that it may be read in a nonlinear order.

fig04 Shadow revealing form. Photograph was shot face-on to this door lock, with the light from above revealing the relief of the object: shadows contain data, or perhaps reveal data.

The layout of this book is also designed to be navigated by the reader, using provided references as guides to further enquiry. This method is an acknowledgement of the interlinking and overlapping nature of the various aspects of this subject, and the method of study.

see also 

“narration and the lens” p77

Throughout the book, there are notes to the reader concerning: methodology, definitions important to the study and internal cross-references and references to the Material Unit’s broader field of study.02 Special attention has been given to the idea of ‘process’ throughout my research, a habit and passion picked up from the Material Unit studio. The staggered layout of the images, text and footnotes should be understood as a reflection of this. This book is a thesis, a catalogue and an artefact, not a ten thousand word essay. 02  The Material Unit is the masters unit at Dundee School of Architecture, within which my course of research is based. The Material Unit is referred to several times throughout this book and so for an expanded explanation see p97



introduction: what is light?

“In working with light, what is really important is to create an experience of wordless thought, to make the quality and sensation of light itself something really quite tactile... Often people reach out and try to touch it” [Turrell, 2009]03

fig05 Enlargement of intaglio print, “Obelisk on a Horizon”. The image tested an exaggerated, monumental perspective, and the relationship of the human scale to the out-of-scale. original size: a4

I’m fascinated by the enigmatic substance of light. This course of research began as an obsession with depictions of light in science-fiction movies04, however it has since been brought back to earth. Through studying light as a subject my attention has been drawn to things on the boundary of visibility, when one can just make out a thing’s presence. Here, I’ve found, is light’s greatest illusion 03  Turrell, J, 2009, Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz p90 04  For example Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Metropolis etc..


- it’s absence. The subject of light is broad, it is perhaps impossible to produce a piece of research that could bridge its entirety. In acknowledgement of this my , I have repeatedly focussed my subject of interest, which began as a study into the phenomenology of light; to series of studies concerned with humanity’s condition regarding light; manifested in our physiology, our sense of illusion and narrative through representation. This project could be seen to be one about cinematography. I have drawn heavily on my interests in photography, cinema and printmaking in order to investigate illusionary qualities of light. The product is a series of somewhat abstract design investigations, a suggestion of narration. The main design project takes the form of a monumental, subterranean optical instrument, a space for showing Andrei Tarkovsky’s film, Solaris05. The idea of space as an instrument, an ‘optical toy’ in its own right is perhaps a metaphor for architecture; in this instance, an architectural proposition is born from human physiology, with regards to vision, psychology, in reference to perception and the objective physics of light. The Solaris project is augmented with a study in representation and cinematography, which takes the form of a short film called Black Mill.06 Set in a ‘future noir’07 05  Solaris, based on Stanislaw Lem’s novel, was released to cinemas in 1972, produced with a budget of 1 Million Soviet Roubles. The film running time was 165minutes, a film length of 4,596metres on 35mm negative film, aspect ratio 2.35:1. The film won the Grand Prix Special du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival. 06  A note on the short film, see p81 07  Future Noir was the ascribed genre for Metropolis, 02

world, both this instrument for showing Solaris, and my short film were conceived as formal juxtapositions of my investigations in optics and cinema. Throughout my course of research, I have allowed myself to be influenced by a love for science-fiction cinema, incorporating elements of narrative, or rather, ‘experience’ in my drawings and designs, as if from the point of view of a depicted spectator. I hope for this story telling device to bring my drawings beyond mere “retinal images”, as Pallasmaa would describe: “A meaningful architectural experience is not simply a series of retinal images. The ‘elements’ of architecture are not visual units or gestalt; they are confrontations and encounters” [Pallasmaa 2000]08

fig06 left. James Turrell’s “Light Triangle” is a piece of art which relates light to the condition of human visual perception. fig07 right. Lebbeus Woods’ “Tomb for Einstein” is an architectural proposition more closely linked to science-fictional than pragmatic design. Yet this foray’s strength is in the meta-narrative; the implied story.

This thesis studies the relationship between light and space, optics and vision, science and psychology. With it, I am trying to convey a holistic understanding of light. This is not an attempt to analyse light in the fullest sense, nor to be strict in fulfilling a pragmatic architectural brief. The aspects of light which I choose to include, representing enigmatic or illusionary qualities, are not intended to comprise a self-encompassed, theoretical idea. Neither are these phenomenon those which exhibit the greatest illusionary or awe inspiring qualities. They do, however, show a fair range of these enigmatic qualities of light, which I find ‘stir the viewers fantasy’09 and that is what a 1927 German Expressionist film. 08  Juhani Pallasmaa [2000] Encounters: architectural essays: Stairways of the Mind, Rakennustieto Oy, p60 09  See p87. “Piranesi’s ability to stir the viewer’s fantasy - to convey through his etchings a certain emotional apprehension of the ancient world and the city that for Piranesi most embodied it namely Rome - had a greater and more enduring influence 03


fig08 A double exposure photograph, both intriguing and deceiving. This effect isn’t technically something a human can experience with their own eye - an illusion then ensues since through this image, we are capable of imagining it happen.

I’m interested in. Important to this research is a documentation of process, self reflection. The work presented within this essay is the application of research and the testing of my thesis as an investigation of design and representation. The findings of each step of investigation then informs the subsequent course of process. What is light? Light is a nuisance, to be avoided and mitigated? “Each individual chamber, then, should have windows, to admit light and to allow a change of air... their frequency and the light they receive are no greater or less than utility demands.” [Alberti, 1452]10 I rather think light is more mysterious.

than his various theoretical treaties” Ficacci, L, [2001]. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: selected etchings, Taschen, Italy p. 12 10  Leon Battista Alberti [1452] On the Art of Building in Ten Books, Rykwert, Leach, and Tavernor, trans. [Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1988], p1.12 05

lumière mystérieuse “The divine light penetrates the universe according to its dignity” [Dante Alighieri, c.1300]11

‘Lumière Mystérieuse’ is a term popularised by architect John Soane in 182812. He used the phrase to describe the effect of light in the Pantheon, percolating mysteriously through the dome. ‘Lumière Mystérieuse’ also refers to the work of Soane’s contemporary, the French classical romanticist, Etienne-Louis Boullee. Both of these notable Architects were fascinated by light and the imagination it inspires. It is perhaps a coincidence that at this time, 11  Dante Alighieri, c.1300, The Divine Comedy, translated by Charles Eliot Norton, Publishing, 2005, p259 12  Soane was at this time making clear his influence from romantics within the french classical tradition like Boullée


fig09 Illusions aren’t always cheap tricks, but perhaps they can couple curiosity and beauty,


scientist Michael Faraday was theorising the relationship between light and electricity; which subsequently has changed the way we live. “It is the light that produces the effects ... If I can avoid that the light arrives directly, then to make it penetrate without the spectator noticing its origin, the product is a mysterious and inconceivable effect” [Boullee, c.1790]13

I’m drawn to those enigmatic moments when the substance of light reveals space in a seemingly impossible configuration. Our visual perception of these illusions and the space in which they are contained remains as important today as it did for Soane two centuries ago. “Our eyes are made to see forms in light. Light and shade reveal these forms” [Le Corbusier, 1927]14

Mysterious light conditions, however are not the sole product of light alone. Le Corbusier picks up on the dual effort of “light and shade” in our perception of space and object. The importance of darkness is a sensitivity we develop from an early age as Jun’ichirô Tanizaki suggests “even we as children would feel an inexpressible chill as we peaked into the depths of an alcove to which the sunlight had never penetrated”15. Many of our juvenile questions are answered as we grow up into the ‘real world’, our wild fantasies, suppressed by the hard facts of science. 13  Étienne-Louis Boullée [c.1790] Architecture, Essai sur l’art, Hermann [1968] p93 14  Le Corbusier [1927] Towards a New Architecture, Payson & Clarke, ltd p29 15  Tanizaki, J. [2001] In Praise of Shadows, Vintage, University of Michigan, p31 08

fig10 left. Boullee’s Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton from 1784 is a seminal unbuilt monument to the mystery of origin of light; an optical instrument. See p59 fig11 right. Caravaggio’s “The Calling of Saint Matthew” The shadows provide a place for secrets and mystery; Caravaggio associated this with the spirit world.

But this curiosity remains in adults, and those questions of darkness and shadow prove to be other than simple, naïve concerns: “Shadows are so fascinating because they are enigmatic and in fact we do not seem to know much about them” [Brandi, 2002]16 “Mystery - if we can use an image here - is like a sombre and unknown night which envelops us completely; it is also like dark space, homogeneous, infinite, such as we have before us when we close our eyes” [Minkowski, 1933]17

I’m inclined to believe that there exists a mysterious phenomenon concerning light. I associate those moments of trance, for instance, when one loses concentration to the awe of a single shard of sunlight that inextricably finds itself in the deepest part of your house. From this perspective, light is far from its functional role of necessity. It is something else. “Generally, we use light to illuminate other things; I like the thingness of light itself” [Turrell, 2007]18

16  ‘Walking through Shadows” by Ulrike Brandi. in: 2002, The secret of Shadow: Light and Shadow in Architecture, Wasmuth, Berlin 17  Minkowski, E. [1933] Le temps vecu: Etudes Phenomenologiques et Psychopathologiques. Trans by Nancy Metzel in a book called lived time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological studies, Northwestern University Press, Evanston [1970] 18  James Turrell [2007] in Evelyn Pschak, Die Sehnsucht ist Licht, Artnetmagazin, March 16, 2007, magazine/features/pschak/pschak03-16-07.asp [accessed April 1, 2010] as quoted in Geometry of Light 2009 09

the thingness of light

see also 

“luminaesthesia” p29

“What is the nature of this invisible thing called light whose presence calls everything into view - except itself?” [Zajonc, 1993]19

There is an uneasiness in describing light as a thing. Scientifically, psychologically or aesthetically, light defies categorization. It interacts with us in a particular manner; we can feel its heat radiating on our skin; but we can’t see it unless it meets a surface. We can cast shadows; 19  Zajonc, A. [1993] Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind, Oxford University Press, New York p7


but they have no weight. We perceive its presence but it doesn’t seem to obey the rules we live by. We’re then left with calling it neither thing nor nothing. Zajonc’s question underpins a millennia-old paradox concerning light, that we have recently come to describe as the difference between matter and energy. “There is a “thingness” to light that one cannot form with one’s hands. Light is not verbal; we need images, we need spaces” [Holl, 2000]20 fig12 left. The embossed page of an etching print. When I began to learn about the etching process, the back of the page printed on was as fascinating to me as the inkedprint itself. The print then becomes a drawing of relief: light and shadow directly represent the thing. See information about etching on p63 fig13 right. Anthony McCall’s “Light describing a Cone” invited the viewer to touch these rays of light; an almost tactile “thingness”.

Light as a metaphor can quickly become a cliché, whereas explorations into the objective substance of light have consistently formed foundations for civil advancement in human history. During the age of enlightenment21 the scientific understanding of light accelerated with experiment-led research from Michael Faraday, followed by Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity22. However, his widely accepted and precise formula of light did not stifle our capacity to imagine and wonder about light’s nature that has been on our collective consciousness since records began. Ancient Greek philosophers, Plato and Euclid, explained light as a consequence of seeing; describing light as the “fire within the eye.”23 They compared the eyes to lanterns; as if the eyes emitted a kind of “visual ray”, and that the ray travelled at a given speed, explained those strange 20  Steven Holl, 2000, Parallax, Princeton Architectural Press, p139 21  The age of enlightenment is thought to have formed around mid nineteenth century 22  Einstein’s theory of special relativity incorporates the principle that the speed of light is the same for all observers regardless of the state of motion of the source 23  Joel Achenbach, October 2001, National Geographic, p11 11


fig14 A film still from Black Mill. See p81. The sunlight streaming into this dark room and being caught in the musky air gives a sense of light ‘occupying’ space and being a ‘thing’

moments when you looked in the direction of an object but failed to notice its presence immediately. This theory held that the ray “...must strike an object directly before it can be seen”24 While this theory might seem irrational, even unhelpful, to a person born in modern times, it does serve to remind us that we don’t have an innate understanding of light. We rely on the cumulative work and knowledge of theorists and scientists, striving over thousands of years to comprehend the laws of physics, which affords us our current, relatively accurate, description of how light behaves. Euclid’s theory was disregarded even by his contemporaries after a time. Aristotle was among those to point out: “...if this were true, we’d be able to see in the dark.”25 Aristotle, unfortunately, was not always this clear in his descriptions, “Light is the activity of what is transparent” [Aristotle, c.350 BC]26 This rather opaque description of light resists comprehension at first, until one compares it to Zajonc’s expression at the start of this section. But perhaps this abstract statement is a fair gauge of light’s enigmatic quality; or more simply, even great minds find that light is a thing hard to describe.

24  Lbid. 25  Lbid. 26  Aristotle c.350, On The Soul, Kessinger Publishing 2004, p34 13



see also 

“narration and the lens” p77 “a note on the filming of black mill” p81

Optics is our measured understanding of light. In many ways the story of optics is linked to the story of architecture. As civilisation has developed, so has our understanding of light. Some of the milestones in man’s understanding of light include: fig15 Same 35mm film, scanned three times. This strip of negative film was magnified using a high resolution digital scanner. bottom 2400dpi, middle 4800dpi, top 19200dpi. dpi : dots per inch. For reference, the average office-grade scanners scan at 150dpi by default. As the resolution increases, the film becomes visually alien.

Light travels in straight lines27 ; Light comes from the sun, not from rays emanating from our eyes28 ; Reflected light bounces off a surface at the exact same angle of incidence29 ; The finite speed of light 3x108 m/s230 ; The electromagnetic spectrum, visible and beyond visible31 ; Special theory of relativity32 27  Euclid [c.300BC] in his book ‘Optica’ 28  Ibn al-Haytham [965–1040] in his ‘Book of Optics’ 29 Lbid. 30  ‘In 1849, Hippolyte Fizeau directed a beam of light at a mirror several kilometres away. A rotating cog wheel was placed in the path of the light beam as it travelled from the source, to the mirror and then returned to its origin. Fizeau found that at a certain rate of rotation, the beam would pass through one gap in the wheel on the way out and the next gap on the way back. Knowing the distance to the mirror, the number of teeth on the wheel, and the rate of rotation, Fizeau was able to calculate the speed of light as 313,000,000 m/s’ from Wikipedia,, accessed 23/03/2010 31  James Clarke Maxwell 1862, while lecturing at King’s College, calculated that “the speed of propagation of an electromagnetic field is approximately that of the speed of light” from Wikipedia, Clerk_Maxwell#Electromagnetism, accessed 18/04/2010 32  Albert Einstein, 1905, the worlds most ‘catchy’ equation e=mc2 - energy’s relation to mass in relation to the squared speed of light. a great paradox seems to be that the speed of light is a constant, no matter the relative speed of the observer 15

These advances in science also represent paradigm shifts in how we view the world. From the earliest inception of fire, having light in the dark of night would have helped tribes and armies in their conquest of lands; an understanding of reflection undoubtedly helped perfect mirror surfaces; the laws of perspective brought realism and proportion to early Renaissance paintings and buildings; manipulating optical properties of materials led to the camera obscura, photographs and cinema and now we use optics as our preferred medium in global telecommunications. It wouldn’t be an unfounded statement to say the more we humans understand, and can manipulate light the more it effects our way of life. However confident our culture seems to be in using light, no matter how many scientific laws we use to define light, the question remains unanswered, what is light? “Here we come to one facet of the miracle of light. It has no volume” [Achenbach, 2001]33

One way to prove Achenbach’s statement is by directing vast numbers of high energy lasers at a single point in space, and the light passes through unaffected.34 But it is not necessary to have billion-dollar high-tech laboratory equipment to experience the effects of this illusive quality of light. On a sunny day, when we stretch out our hand and cast a shadow, it is because light is acting as a stream of fast moving particles, that have direction and speed, neither of which we can directly perceive. However the 33  Joel Achenbach, October 2001, National Geographic, p10 34  This is the basic principle at the National Ignition Facility, USA, where lasers beams from 192 high energy sources are concentrated on a single pellet of fuel with the aim of producing a nuclear fusion reaction. hi/sci/tech/8485669.stm, accessed 23/03/2010 16

fig16 left. Photograph of a Nuclear explosion, a millionth of a second after ignition. This technological optic achievement captured the plasma blast before it even reached the ground. fig17 right. Section through two camera lens. The precision of craft is required to produce a useful, or coherent, manipulator of light.

shadow cast reveals that our hand wasn’t in fact entering a ‘volume of light’, but rather through a field of moving light. A lens is a special artefact. A valid and pragmatic description of a lens could be: an instrument of optical manipulation, embodying the culmination of research into light of human’s recorded history. But the true enigma of these immaculately crafted objects, is evident when they impress upon our conscience much more deeply; they coherently interact with light like nothing else in nature. Here lies the lens’ faculty for illusion; it can seem quite a simple thing, yet produces complex and counter-intuitive marvels. Optics is essentially the mathematically correct study of this otherwise otherworldly thing. Through optics we can find a common description of light, before it enters the subjective realm of perception. However between optics and visual perception is the intermediary, the Human eye.




see also 

“scotopia: dark vision” p43 “transapparition” p52

“The eye is the first circle; the horizon which it forms is the second; and throughout nature this primary figure is repeated without end” [Emerson, 1841]35

The Human eye is a finely tuned instrument, but its capabilities are quite limited. Light entering the eye has to pass through the pupil, at a given aperture, be refracted by our lens to be focussed on our light sensitive retina.

fig18 Long exposure photograph experiment with digital camera. camera was spun at high velocity in the presence of a point-source light. as a result the ‘threads’ appeared, yet they are all from the one light. image inverted.

Vision as a result of light encountering the retina in the human eye is described by two categories, foveal [the central, distinct vision of sight] and peripheral [the less distinct but larger portion of sight]. The retina is an intricate thing, and considering its surface forms roughly 72% of a sphere36, it is in itself an interesting spatial construct. A complex result of spatial awareness, then, is to consider that when we see a two dimensional image, the curvature of our retina and the refracting properties of our lens would translate as a three dimensional reproduction. 35  Ralph Waldo Emerson [1841] as featured in Circles, The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1971, Harvard University Press, p179 36  “In adult humans the entire retina is approximately 72% of a sphere about 22 mm in diameter. The entire retina contains about 7 million cones and 75 to 150 million rods” wikipedia,, accessed 27/03/2010 19

Humans, it could be said, are nature’s optical toy. The eye is a translation device, between an optical and cerebral reading of the outside world. The image we receive from the eye contains a wealth of information surface, light source, intensity, direction, distance, position, movement etc... For this information to be useful, for our brains to understand it, the light must be tempered, manipulated from it’s diffused, chaotic state into an ordered stream. In our eyes we achieve this using two facilities, the cornea [which has a fixed optical power] and behind that, the lens [which stretches and contracts, giving it a variable optical power]. “Sight produces blindness while blindness generates insight” [Derrida,2005]37

The eye is a symbol, a meta-object enamoured with meaning. Architects are not the least purveyors of the metaphors of vision and the eye. For instance, as the description of an eye develops, so does its similarity with those descriptions of cameras and buildings. Although, since film cameras are a relatively recent concept38 it is important to note the analogy between eye and architecture is perhaps much older. Renaissance architect Vincenzo Scamozzi is said to have “conceived his building as an instrument with apertures and chambers for collecting and combining sunlight, moonlight, and skylight.” [Borys 2004]39 There is a fundamental relationship between optics 37  Jacques Derrida, 2005, Vitamin D: new perspectives in drawing, Phaidon p161. original author: Emma Dexter 38  Film, cameras first appeared in the late 19th century 39  Ann Marie Borys [2004] Lume di Lume: A theory of Light and its Effects, Journal of Architectural Education, Blackwell Publishing p9 20

and vision. To consider one, is to consider both since our experience of light begins with the human eye; with its abilities and limitations. Before our brains interpret the spatial information received in our eyes, there are specific conditions that we learn to take for granted. “Nothing among visible objects is seen all at once, though the object may be imagined to be seen all at once because of the speed of sight’s glance” [Euclid, c.350BC]40

fig19 left. Schematic drawing of Turrell’s “Alien Exam”. This space was designed to encompass the entire field of view of the occupant, allowing no discernible features for the eye to latch onto. fig20 right. Picasso’s “Portrait of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler” 1910.

Similar to his other statements, Euclid seems to point out the obvious yet again proves to be insightful. It would certainly be very difficult for us to see behind a cube while standing in front of it - a condition of having a ‘point of view’. Although, there is something further we can take from this his observation that could have parallels drawn with the early twentieth century rise of Cubism, or a more recent example, David Hockney’s ‘Joiners’41. Cubism, as pioneered by Pablo Picasso, seemed to disregard classical methods of representation in favour of abstracted forms. Derived as a way of representing something beyond our normal visual perception, Cubism broke objects apart, analysed, and re-assembled them. Instead of depicting from a single viewpoint, the subject is shown from a multitude of viewpoints, representing the subject in a greater context. Presumably influenced by this movement, David Hockney’s work achieves a similar result but with a camera instead of a paintbrush. 40  Euclid, circa. 350BC, as quoted in: Elaheh Kheirandish, 2005, The Arabic version of Euclid’s optics, Volume 1, Springer, p4 41  “Photo collages, or joiners, illustrate aspects of movement, sequence, space, and time and contain relational intricacies between real space and philosophical space.” Robinson, C. (2005). Browsing, Bouncing, Murdering, and Mooring, Journal of Architectural Education, Iowa, Blackwell Publishing. See p77 21

“Cubism is like standing at a certain point on a mountain and looking around. If you go higher, things will look different; if you go lower, again they will look different. It is a point of view.” [Lipchitz, 1966]42

Hockney often photographs a scene, space or object while incrementally moving the camera, giving a sense that you were looking at the result of a sweeping gaze. While being in front and behind an object at the same time is strictly impossible, this relatively new representational technique has something in common with the human gaze and essentially with Euclid’s statement. Here, the boundaries between vision and visual perception are blurred, reality and its interpretation merge.

42  Jacques Lipchitz (August 22, 1891 - May 16, 1973) was a Cubist sculptor. Quote from Jacques Lipchitz: the artist at work, by Bert Van Bork, Crown Publishers, 1966


visual perception “Light has not only provided illumination and perception - it has placed us in a particular relationship with the sun and has contributed an essential element to architectural meaning” [Borys, 2004]43

The perception of space is perhaps our primary engagement with light. Beyond the complex, yet physicalbound nature of our eyes, is our faculty to perceive the visual, to interpret the image. Depth, texture and atmosphere are dimensional effects which light offers space. Such effects signal when rational space and emotive space coalesce. “You have to take all the phenomena of light into account - the glow, the brilliance, the flickering, shadow and lots of other things besides” [Bohme, 2009]44

So important was the consideration of light in Scamozzi’s [16th century] buildings that to understand and ultimately utilise it more fully, he categorised it into six species; direct, perpendicular, horizontal, limited, secondary and minimal45 The gradients of variation between these species are infinitessimal and the categories themselves were perhaps not new things in themselves, but the process of investigating how we perceive the subtle “wealth of nuanced chromatic values”46 of light encouraged a 43  Ann Marie Borys [2004] Lume di Lume: A theory of Light and its Effects, Journal of Architectural Education, Blackwell Publishing p3 44  Gernot Bohme, 2009, Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz p69 45  Summarised from “Lume di Lume: A Theory of Light and its Effects” by Ann Marie Borys 46  Luigi Ficacci, speaking about Piranesi’s etchings, 2001, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: selected Etchings, Taschen, p14 23


fig21 Sequence of eight photographs during the etching process of “Engine Room”. The black material on the plate is tar or, bitumen. When this zinc plate was submerged into the copper sulfate acid solution, the bitumen resisted etching. This sequence shows the build up of the reverse image of the print. See p87 for “a note on the etching process”

scientific framework for Scamozzi’s contemporaries. “I use light as my material process the medium of perception. I believe that feeling, perceiving, is a sensual act, an emotional act” [Turrell, 1993]47

When the human mind interprets light, as with visual perception, the investigation invariably branches across disciplines; architecture, psychology, physiology and art. However even with such a broad front of research, the enigma of light remains. In a similar way to Scamozzi’s special descriptor of light, my own thesis is an attempts to definite light in terms of its illusionary qualities, given the inherent relationship visual perception has with space and architecture.

47  James Turrell [1993] Licht als Material, Kunstforum International 121, as quoted in Geometry of Light, 2009 25


a note on the use of por tmanteaux

Lewis Carroll, when writing ‘Through the Looking Glass’ gave his characters the freedom of blending two words of their lexicon into one single word, with a combined meaning. Whilst throughout history this has been a common evolutionary process of the English language, Carroll’s naming of this type of word ‘portmanteau’ caught the imagination of his readers and is now a globally appreciated process in linguistics. Similar in kind to Carroll’s portmanteaux, Bruce Mau believes in the benefit of making new words: “28. Make new words. Expand the lexicon. The new conditions demand a new way of thinking. The thinking demands new forms of expression. The expression generates new conditions.” [Mau, c. 1998]48

In order to explain certain juxtaposition of meanings, I have employed Carroll’s portmanteau device and Mau’s advice. The idea was prompted by an inadequate available lexicon to describe quite particular phenomenon. These portmanteau are primarily concern light, visual perception and representation. New portmanteau are not necessary, or appropriate, for all of the following sections. Although in some cases, I have found they are needed. 48  Bruce Mau, an Incomplete Manifesto for Growth. This manifesto has been a large influence on my study of architecture, and my conversations about design. From http://www., accessed 18/04/2010. 27




see also 

“the thingness of light” p10 “shadow” p47

(syn), “together,” and (aisthaesis), “sensation” a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway50 ‘Light can be synaesthetically transformed into matter that can almost be touched, smelled or heard’ [Agostino De Rosa, 2009]51 fig22 Mysterious light. Photograph of Melville Street studio, Perth. Light filters deep into the heart of the building, the source concealed two levels above.

There exists a strong, dual cognitive phenomenon that we experience with light and solid objects. The abstract, immaterial nature of this is inherently an extremely hard thing to describe. The common thread that links the two is, ironically, another metaphysical, intangible thing: space. Imagine, for instance, that shaft of light that beams through the dusty loft window - it occupies space, with geometric boundaries, in a way not dissimilar from your own body. And yet the illusion is realised when we pass our hand through this light - it is haptically transparent, it provides our body no resistance to force. “There are some qualities, some incorporate things, that have a double life which thus is made a type of that twin entity which springs from matter and light” [Poe, circa. 1840]52 49  Portmanteau. Luminescence + synaesthesia. See p94 50  This is wikipedia’s definition of ‘synaesthesia’ - http:// - accessed on 13.03.2010 51  Agostino De Rosa, 2009, Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz, p90 52  Edgar Allen Poe as quoted in: 2000, Parallax, Princeton Architectural Press, p104 29

Poe makes an astonishing insight, no less than eighty years before Einstein proves the scientific relationship between energy [light] and matter. His description however is one of intuition and did not rely on scientific discoveries to determine how he experienced phenomenon. What validates ‘luminaesthesia’ as a worthy description of spatial experience is that the scientific world unified electromagnetic radiation and matter, with magnificent and suitably mind-warping theory: “Einstein said that mass actually bends space, like a heavy ball stretching a rubber sheet” [Serra, 2005]53 This ‘thingness’ of light isn’t a mere mis-categorization, or indeed a scientific folly, but the result of our ability to interpret these spatial entities with the same neurological tools.

53  Serra, R. 2005 The Matter of Time, Guggenheim, p20 : quoting john guinn ‘gravity +gravitation; einstein’s general relativity’ 30



“-graphy  a combining form denoting a process or form of drawing, writing, representing, recording, describing, etc., or an art or science concerned with such a process: biography; choreography; geography; orthography; photography.”

Let’s stop calling buildings ‘buildings’, and instead call them ‘depthographs’. Architects are concerned with depthography - albeit a unknown and fictitious word. If architects are in any way involved in the manipulation of space, then any designed gesture in that space is depthography; drawing with depth. Thus architects rely on the human senses to reveal their ‘depthograph’ in detail. And there is no better revealer of detail than light. Our sense of depth is largely augmented by our visual perception. This augmentation is the result of a combination of faculties; having two eyes, eyes that irregularly scan the scene, eyes that focus at different distances and our capacity to usefully interpret this information give us an impressive perception of depth. But this gestalt instrument requires light, and not simply the presence of light but varying intensity, contrast, direction and surface [in other words, that which resists light]. Can our sense of space be subverted by certain lighting conditions? Artist James Turrell has experimented with this notion throughout his career. “Ganzfeld: a visual field in which there is nothing for the eye to latch onto. Colour, brightness are homogenous and there is no surface or depth. Most of us have never experienced a 54  Portmanteau. Proximity + -graphy. See p94 31


fig23 Photograph taken from peak of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh. The optical power of the lens used to shoot this picture is so low that our perception of the distance between the people in the foreground and Edinburgh’s cityscape is compressed.

Ganzfeld since occurrences in the natural environment, such as arctic whiteouts, are rare” [Herbert, 1998]55

In certain pieces of his work [like in the art house project with Tadao Ando], Turrell has attempted to suppress all visual cues of spatial and object boundary. He achieves this by evenly lighting a simple space with rear projected, immaculately distributed light; “An abstract, retinacontrolled, consciousness-forming act”56 The experience is said to be ‘strange’, the resulting dis/ non-orientation confusing and at times uncomfortable. As stated already, Turrell found “often people reach out and try to touch it”, ‘It’ being the space where light suggests ‘thing’ . With true indeterminacy of depth, the boundary of space lies equally a millimetre in front of you, as it does infinitely ahead. Such unnatural and counter-intuitive experiences are important explorations of light for the architect’s craft; it enables them “to have subjective visual experiences that link them in unique ways to the outside world, to their inner world, and to the art”57 In a related experiment, Robert Irwin, James Turrell and Ed Wortz got together to discuss how science and art could investigate the effects of sensory deprivation. To do this, they sat in an anechoic chamber58 for up to eight hours at a time. When exiting the chamber, their experience is 55  Lynn Herbert [1998] Spirit and Light and the Immensity Within, in James Turrell: Spirit and Light, Houston; Contemporary Arts Museum 56  Ursula Sinnreich [2009] The Geometry of Light: Between Heaven and Earth, Hatje Cantz p41 57  Lbid. 58  “An anechoic chamber is a shielded room designed to attenuate sound or electromagnetic energy”, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia. org/wiki/Anechoic_chamber, accessed 29/03/2010 33

of heightened spatial awareness, orientation, depth and texture.




Another enigmatic facet to light is defined by our intangible inter-actions with it. Extroprojection describes when the light source is turned towards a human, when our eyes are the screen to be projected on, and in turn, when our eyes are the projectors of image. “With this chiasma of vision the viewer is transformed from passive receiver of the image into its active transmitter” [Islam, 2004]60

It seems important to acknowledge that our eyes don’t in reality produce or project light. However if we appreciate cerebral experience as something unbound by what is real and what is not, the illusion of a visual experience can give this effect. Runa Islam is an artist who, in an installation called ‘Stare Out/Blink’ used the idea allowing a viewer to gaze on a photo negative projection of a woman with her eyes wide open is shown. Every now and then this projection is interrupted with a bright, white flash, during which a glimmer of the positive image remains on your retina like a vision, or a persistent after-image. “It became a problem for me that my performance film Landscape for Fire was a document rather than an object... Line Describing a Cone emerged. It’s a film that exists only at the moment of projection” [McCall, 2007]61

59  Portmanteau. Extrospection + projection. See p92 60  Runa Islam, 2004. “Stare Out/Blink” exhibition as seen in Eclipse: towards the edge of the visible. White Cube, Hoxton. original author: Annushka Shani 61  Mccall, A. 2007,. Éléments pour une rétrospective. Monografik Editions p54 35


fig24 Inside a DIY Camera Obscura. This photograph was taken inside my purpose-built room made of black-out material, with an aperture to allow light through. The resulting configuration was acted as a camera obscura. The sensation of light coming towards you can be experienced with rear projection.

Anthony McCall conceived this piece to disengage his work from the notion of a single aspect experience. Two aspects of this installation play with the nature of light and the human condition; the dual role of the visitor as the spectator and their role as participant, as they interact with the projection and a transformational gesture of moving blades of light. Important to appreciate in McCall’s work is his reinterpretation of cinema. In his own words, McCall said Line Describing a Cone was “... an attempt to deconstruct the cinematographic medium, a gesture aimed at analysing its principle components: time and light’ [McCall, 2007]62 Described as “a piece of high-tech phenomenology”63 this installation celebrated the complexity of each moment of ephemeral experience; the viewers’ interaction with light was unique to their position in the room, moment of view and your state of motion. “If we define art as part of the realm of experience, we can assume that after a viewer looks at a piece, he ‘leaves’ with the art, because the ‘art’ has to be experienced” [Turrell, 1968]64

As a means of testing and representing the intangible qualities of light, Arthor Zajonc devised an experiment and public exhibition, entitled “Project Eureka”. The set up was simple; “...A carefully fabricated box and a powerful projector whose light shines directly into it”. When one looks into the box through a view port, absolute darkness 62  Mccall, A. 2007,. Éléments pour une rétrospective. Monografik Editions p14 63  Matt Saunders, February 2009, Artforum: Notation: Circulation and form in the arts, p 184 64  Turrell, J. [2009] Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz, p90 37


fig25 Photograph of a planetariums projector, from Dundee’s observatory. The spherical aspect of this mysterious looking machine allows the light projecting from inside to cover a wide ‘field of view’; a sort of live photo-collage.

stares back - and yet at this point one is certain that an intense beam of light is being projected before one’s eyes. The exhibited paradox is a powerful one, if somewhat obvious; we can’t see this substance called light, yet we need it to see.



absolute black “There is never no light... even when all the light is gone, you can still sense light” [Turrell, 1992]65 fig26 BLACK 55985. My experience with printmaking brings me close to all tones of black. This particular black ink produces a slightly warmer black in the print.

‘Black’, in common use, is a subjective thing. There does not exist two blacks. True black is an ideal. It can be mathematically proven to exist, astronomers predict its location in deep outer space [although this has been disproved], but on earth, we have never experienced it. Black is nothing. The physical limits of my eyes do not determine the value of black. It is a true universal constant: the complete absence of electromagnetic radiation in all its forms. Black as a colour is a largely misconceived notion.66 And yet black plays an important role in my drawing. I represent black, with the intention to make a viewer aware of the unaware-able, and consequently conscious of the paradox they are taking part in. Some of my drawings use a palette of tones to represent a range of blacks, however impossible that should be, in order that depth of space in the image is barely perceivable; or, on the edge of vision. Recently N.A.S.A. commissioned a photographer to curate an exhibition from the archive film negatives of all Apollo 65  From an interview with James Turrell and Alision Sarah Jacques in James Turrell: Perceptual Cells, Kunstverein fur die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Dusseldorf, 1992 p56 66  Just as Inuits have several words for snow; a range not available in the English langauge; I wonder whether in countries of ‘white nights’ or 24 hour days and nights, do they have similarly many words for light or black? 41

flight missions. The photographer’s creative instinct was to complain that the deepness and expansiveness of space wouldn’t be represented well by existing ‘black’ inks, N.A.S.A. gave the go ahead to develop a new ink, much more richly black than anything previous. Calling it ‘Luna Nero,’ this is the least reflective ink known. In certain fields of research the hunt for the absolute black is gaining a lot of attention. The development of meta-materials, made from carbon nano-tubes traps light unlike anything other material. “All the light that goes in is basically absorbed,” says Professor Pulickel Ajayan. “It is almost pushing the limit of how much light can be absorbed into one material.”67 The material Ajayan is involved in synthesising is almost thirty times darker than the current international standard benchmark of blackness. It is close to this idea of absolute black, which could absorb all colours of light and reflect none.68

67  Pulickel Ajayan, as quoted from articles/2008/01/16/2139711.htm, accessed 18/04/2010. 68  The substance has a total reflective index of 0.045%, which is more than three times darker than the nickel-phosphorous alloy that now holds the record as the world’s darkest material. Basic black paint, by comparison, has a reflective index of 5% to 10%. 42



see also 

“vision” p19

“the solaris vignettes” p61

“pi : scotopia” p69

“Darkness is not the mere absence of light; it has some positive quality. Whereas bright space disappears, giving way to the material concreteness of objects, darkness is “thick”; it directly touches a person... The feeling of mystery we experience at night probably stems from this.” [Caillois, 1935]70

Scotopia is vision in dim light. See p95. When investigating light, it quickly becomes apparent that the term ‘light’ is an unsatisfactory descriptor; it brings an incomplete set of connotations. For instance, in this essay, when I am not speaking about the actual substance of light, I am using it as a gauge - light/less light/no light. In this case I am using the term ‘light’ in a very broad sense to mean light and darkness. I have come to argue that brightness and darkness are not separate states, but the same condition in space perceived from opposite reference points. On becomes off, black becomes white, and the solid object gives up the space it occupied. ”...architecture becomes visible not simply by its existence in light but in the creation of a penumbral zone between darkness and light” [Borys, 2004]71 69  Portmanteau. Scotos + -opia. Scotopia is a portmanteau that pre-exists my study, which means ‘vision in dim light’. See p95 70  Caillois,R [1935], The Edge of Surrealism: a Roger Caillois reader,, Duke University Press, p101 71  Ann Marie Borys [2004] Lume di Lume: A theory of Light and its Effects, Journal of Architectural Education, Blackwell Publishing p3 43


fig27 Ballgay Hill, Dundee Observatory. Long exposure photograph. Shutter open for 15 seconds. When I took this picture, I could see nothing around me, only the dim rectangular light on the side of the observatory

The importance of darkness in our everyday lives is undervalued. “Darkness is a precondition of seeing something. i.e. that there are such things as definition, articulation and determinateness” [Bohme, 2009]72 Bohme makes a point about the literal and aesthetic necessity of darkness in our vision and perception of space. The role of darkness can seem undefined in today’s 24 hour culture. Urban zones are lit day and night, forests of isolated street lamps73 glow ground and sky alike. It is well noted that light pollution in our cities endanger migrating birds’ journey, confusing and disorientating them. Darkness is a natural occurrence, ‘a state of place’ common in every part of the world, yet it remains somewhat mysterious. An interesting thing occurs when you consider darkness as having a material quality; it becomes dense, capable of weighing against you. Similar to ‘Luminaesthesia,’ this unreal haptic sense conjures complex relationships in our consciousness between the conceptual notions of luminescence and solidity. Perhaps this mysterious yet fundamental sensation holds an explanation for our fascination with broader unsolved questions; such as those concerning infinity, space and dreams, not to mention their esoteric counterparts like particle physics, anatomy of the brain, spiritual healing et al. 72  Gernot Bohme, [2009] Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz, p72 73  “Urban street lighting is now taken for granted in many parts of the world. Its significance is not immediately apparent to everyone any longer, “it is just there” [...] The new, permanent illumination of 200 years ago enabled citizens to use exterior spaces at night [...] Lanterns were destroyed during the riots in Paris, Berlin and Vienna [...] Public lighting was regarded as a key instrument in the system of domination” [Ulrike Brandi, 2007, Light for Cities: lighting design for urban spaces, a handbook, Springer, p150] 45



see also 

fig28 How we read objects, is partially informed by the objects shadow. Here, a table in plan view is given the impression of being off the ground because of the legs of shadow it casts

“lumière mystérieuse” p06

Shadows deserve a unique categorization, albeit within the broader subject of darkness and, therefore, shade. A ‘shadow’ suggests a placement on a surface, a defining contrast of luminescence and a source of shade and light. These prerequisites of shadow are strong devices for suggesting narrative in fields of visual art and story telling: “It is only through light and shadow that architecture acquires shape” [Flagge, 2002]74 Shadows are often attributed anthropomorphic qualities. The nature of shadow, being of dark substance, an effect of the eye, can excite your imagination. Indeterminacy and ambiguity of shapes are tools for illusion and distortion. “Shadows of people are both part of them and separate, perhaps the outermost visual boundary of someone, giving a likeness but more usually a distortion.” [Broadhead, 2010]75 A shadow is both silhouette and boundary in space. In common use, we refer to the dark shape on the floor, as our shadow, when in fact it is a dynamic three-dimensional form, whose rate of change is inperceivably fast [the speed of light: 3x108m/s].

74  Ingeborg Flagge, 2002, The secret of Shadow: Light and Shadow in Architecture, Wasmuth, Berlin 75  Caroline Boradhead, from an interview about her design of a dress that casts shadows - gallery2/caroline_broadheadrev2.shtml - accessed 13.01.2010 47


“What I discovered was shadow isn’t just a line on the wall, but it’s really a volume in space” [Kegan, 2009]76

This counter-intuitive aspect of darkness reminds me of the ‘transparency of light.’ It is disturbing to think of how little our culture achieves with a fluid commodity like shadow. One only has to glance towards past cultures of Babylon and Egypt to see how shadow could be used; for instance such things as sundials and gnomons could transform sunlight into a reading of the time. fig29 left. Presentation wall at start of the year. The role of shadow in our perception of objects was something I was looking into at that time. The drawings and prints are separated from the wall so that they are given the feel of objects, not merely two dimensional plains. fig30 right. Warped shadow goes around corners. a play on the basis that light only travels in straight lines. recently, ‘gravitational lensing’ has proven otherwise

76  Kegan, Larry, an artist working with illusionary forms and shadow. Unfortunately the source of this quote is unknown, despite effort to locate it. I’ve kept the quote in due to its general nature and that I’m not basing any large assumption on its content. 49





see also 

“preface” pvii

“luminaesthesia” p29

“Nothing disappears completely, however; nor can what subsists be defined solely in terms of traces, memories or relics... In space, what came earlier continues to underpin what follows” [Lefebvre, 1991]78

The namesake of my thesis is quoted from Henri Lefebvre, a French philosopher. For me, this space he speaks of is a notion of transapparition - the phenomena of being and un-being, visible and invisible. In everyday life, the image before us is often endowed with “...bold chromatic contrasts of light and shadow that exert a psychological impact on the viewer.”79 Our sight, however, is capable of observing much more complex situations, when something disappears. “ that cross borders into different realms, opening up the in-between spaces where shadows fall between, visible and invisible, the image and its undoing, the mark and its erasure, the action and its trace” [Shani, 2004]80

Transapparition describes appearance-in-flux. I have found this to be one of the most intriguing phenomenon of light - the limit of seeing. It almost takes a conscious effort 77  Portmanteau. Transformation + apparition. See p90 78  Lefebvre, H, 1991, The Production of Space, Wiley-Blackwell p229 79  Luigi Ficacci, speaking about Piranesi’s etchings, 2001, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: selected Etchings, Taschen, p11 80  Annushka Shani. 2004. Eclipse: towards the edge of the visible. White Cube, Hoxton p49 52

fig31 [spread on previous page] Lamplight and Twilight. Sources of light can tell us three fundamental things, that there are radiating bodies in the universe; that there are bodies which don’t radiate and that there are transparent things.

to reconcile that when an electric light is switched off, and a room becomes pitch black, the objects which filled the room are still there. However, I could equally say that in a metaphysical state they have, by all record of my senses, ceased to exist. “Now there clearly is something which is transparent, and by ‘transparent’ I mean what is visible, and yet not visible in itself, but rather owing its visibility to the colour of something else; of this character are air, water and many other solid bodies” [Aristotle, circa. 350 BC]81

As with all of the phenomena of light which I associate together here, transapparition isn’t a trick of the eye or cheap illusion. It is a reflection of the human condition, psychological and physiological, and thus is timeless. Aristotle was preoccupied by what he could not see, and yet he had the foresight to name this invisible category of things. This intuitive move on Aristotle’s part, paved the way for future philosophers to ponder the substance of dark matter: “Since dark space enfolds me from all sides, and penetrates me much more deeply than does bright space, the role played by the inner/outer distinction and thus by the sensory organs as well [insofar as they enable external perception] is quite minimal” [Minkowski, 1933]82

81  Aristotle, On The Soul, Kessinger Publishing 2004, p34 82  Minkowski, Eugene,1933 études phénoménologiques et psychopathologiques, Collection de l’évolution psychiatrique, quoted in Roger Caillois book 53


eye obscura

see also 

“optics” p15 “vision” p19

It is important to note that the eye and the camera are strikingly similar, no matter how rhetorical the statement may seem. They are of course both instruments for viewing the world, they both have are light sensitive and an can both manipulate light in some varying manner. But they also share particular conditions that, at first, might seem a nuisance, vis-à-vis distortion. “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are” [Nin, 1934]83

fig32 Self-made camera obscura. View from the Material Unit studio. Light converged through my 24mm camera lens onto a sheet of paper

My investigation into light’s illusions has often led me back to the camera - to take a photograph of a drawing or model and a I can’t help but observe the discrepancy between what I see and what my camera see’s. It goes without saying that the human brain doesn’t simply absorb visual images - it compares, associates, augments, interprets everything we see. We do not see objectively, essentially we are the makers of our own illusions on a second by second basis. It seems as architects we are trained in the art of visual stimulus: “The architecture of our time is turning into the retinal art of the eye. architecture at large has become an art of the printed image fixed by the hurried eye of the camera” [Pallasmaa, 1994]84 83  Anais Nin, 1934, The Diary of Anais Nin: 1931-1934, Swallow Press 84  Juhani Pallasmaa, [an architecture of the seven senses; retinal architecture and the loss of plasticity] as quote by Toshio Nakamura, 1994, Questions of Perception: phenomenology of architecture, a+u publishing, Tokyo 55

The camera creates its own illusions also. Objective as cameras may seem, they are powerful and precise manipulators of image; field of view, depth of field, aperture, shutter speed and flash. The levels at which the operator can finely tune a camera, and thus the subject of view, is incredibly complex, it is assumable that this is why the camera has given birth to a much celebrated art. “Photography, it is said, is writing with light,”85 “Architecture, camera and shadow share common features here: geometry and perspective ... photographs are nothing other than fleeting traces of light and shadow, fixed on paper as images” [Flagge, 2002]86

If we accept these particular limitations and distortions, then you can begin to draw outwith these preconceived readings the world. Is perspective, itself, is an illusion?

85  Andre Laude, 1989, Weegee, Thames and Hudson, London 86  A catalogue of the shadow exhibition in Germany which was trying to re-educate about the appreciation of shadows in architecture, Ingeborg Flagge, 2002, The secret of Shadow: Light and Shadow in Architecture, Wasmuth, Berlin 56






A design proposition forms a major piece of this thesis. The Solaris Project is the application and testing of the research thus far presented in this book.87 My design proposal is essentially a monumental optical instrument, carved into the side of a mountain. Somewhere between astronomical observatory and epic cinema theatre, the form and function of this design is finely tuned to a rare total solar eclipse.88 fig33 ‘Claustrophobia’, etched aquatint print. The source of the light is out of frame but the incident light on the wall suggests the source of light is behind a doorway. The different planes of surface in this depicted room are barely discernible in the pitch-blackness of space. The illusion here is that the doorway is smaller that the man. With measured drawings I found that the man would not be able to fit through this opening. Is he trapped?

Part of the intention with this project is to explore the periphery of our vision. This encompasses not just our field of view, but also the limits of luminescent perception, ideas of pure white and absolute black and our ability to project image, as well as receive. Part of the intention with this project is to bring into close relationship the scales at which light affects us; on one hand, the sun illuminates over half our planet with a blinding 90,000 lux from 149,600,000,000 metres, whereas the human eye can adapt to use just 1 lux of light, as from the full moon close to the equator. “We three [Turrell, Irwin, and Wortz] are becoming 87  Preexisting the conception of the Solaris Project was a series of etching studies I experimented with. These five studies looked into various aspects of light, with deliberate references to cinematic representation and narrative. Over the next five page spreads I have shown the resulting prints. 88  This particular Total Solar Eclipse occurs in 2186, on 16th July, at 08:57 in Columbia, South America. The significance of this eclipse, and the reason I have chosen it to tune my project to, is that it is the longest theoretical eclipse that will occur on Earth for 5 millennia. 59


fig34 left. ‘Obelisk on a Horizon’. A stream of light projects across the floor from a oblong opening in the far wall. Is this in the same room as in ‘Claustrophobia’? Is it possible for the figure’s top half of his body to be illuminated? If so, there must be a second, unseen light source. This etching lends an aesthetic and sense of scale reminiscent of 2001:A Space Odyssey. fig35 right. Proposed scheme for Mount Tindaya by the late Eduardo Chillida. The monument is both sculpture and device; a working instrument of art.

intranauts exploring inner space instead of outer space” [Turrell, 1969]89

Turrell’s ‘intranauts’ are analogous with the introspective nature of this design project. In one sense the film Solaris is about our perception of illusion, seeing things we can’t easily explain. And so my design tries to work on a level of consciousness with the viewer, or, intranaut. With this intended inward engagement, it then becomes the intranaut, and their ‘seeing’ that provides the narrative in the architectural representation. “How would the painter or poet express anything other than his encounter with the world?” [Maurice Merleau-Ponty] “...How could an architect do otherwise, we might ask with equal justification” [Juhani Pallasmaa]90

The methodology employed for this design was initially guided by a series of intuitive decisions. The methodology involves a particular interchange between intuition and logic - mirrored in this design by the consideration of atmosphere and measurement. In these spaces, the ‘feel’ of lighting in a place is coupled with its existence as a plot device. The mood of a scene is cross-referenced with an aspect of the human condition; like perception, illusion or dark adaptation. In part, the concept of an atmospheric and obscure design is a result of my interests in representation, and “the mytho-poetic basis of architecture.”91 See pvii 89  As cited in William Wilson, “Two California Artists Are Busy Exploring Inner Space,” in the Los Angeles Times, May 11, 1969, section D, p2 90  Pallasmaa, quoting philosopher Merleau-Ponty om Encounters: Architectural Essays, 2005] 91  Juhani Pallasmaa [2000] Encounters: architectural essays: Stairways of the Mind, Rakennustieto Oy, p59 61


the solaris plates

see also  

“a note on the etching process” p87 “lumière mystérieuse” p06

“At the turn of the millennium, the great challenge for architects is the re-sensualization, re-mythologization, and re-poetization”92

WHAT ARE THE SOLARIS PLATES REALLY? Drawing and research, I have found, can come to represent each other. As part of the Solaris Project, and to experiment with modes of representation, I have worked towards producing a series of etching prints. The prints and their plates, illustrate those illusionary phenomenon of light which form a significant portion of my research. Collectively, I will refer to these prints are the Solaris Plates. The etching process lent both a particular representational aesthetic and a framework for developing the design.

fig36 ‘The last eclipse’. Just within the confines of the light a figure stands, casting his elongated shadow towards the camera/viewer. Is that a ceiling or simply the sky beyond? Does this wall extend ad infinitum? This plate is a reference to the solar eclipse imagery, which I investigated during early stages of my research.

Amongst architects, my inspiration has come from the French Classical romanticist Etienne-Luis Boullee, the visionary paintings of John Soane’s partner Joseph Gandy, and the writings of Peter Zumthor. My attention, however, has been drawn to those visionaries less bound by pragmatic architectures, such as Piranesi, Jorge Luis Borges, Stanley Kubrick and Andrei Tarkovsky. What each of these influences of mine have in common is their hugely 92  Juhani Pallasmaa [2000] Encounters: architectural essays: Stairways of the Mind, Rakennustieto Oy, p61 63


successful ability to tell a story. I argue that architecture and story telling are inextricable things. See p77 “My work is more about your seeing than it is about my seeing, although it is a product of my seeing” [Turrell, 1981]93 “Producing inner images is a natural process common to everyone. it is part of thinking” [Zumthor, 1998]94

With the Solaris Plates, the viewer of the print should feel like becoming the occupant of the imagined space. Turrell and Zumthor speak about perception and images, and I took a cue from them to experiment with a form of representation. Strictly avoiding ‘classical perspective’ in my drawings, I have tried to give the effect of a sweeping gaze, or perhaps as though we are looking through an impossible optical lens, irrespective of how irrational the scene seems. As mentioned at the beginning of this book, there is an element of the Cubist approach to drawing here; a multiplicity of viewpoints.

fig37 ‘Edge detail’. Aperture and projection were the points of interest behind this plate. Again, the figure is isolated, perhaps imprisoned. The figure’s shadow seems to have its own character, disobeying the rules of nature - or perhaps this is just another trick of the eye.

This process resulted in a series of images with a representation of space that hadn’t been anticipated. Unlike some Cubist paintings, the Solaris Plates’ multiple viewpoint perspectives are put to a pragmatic95 as well as atmospheric use. In Scotopia this gives an aspect of an elongated space; in Trajan’s Seat, this allows the viewer to 93  James Turrell, quoted in Craig Adcock, “Light, Space, Time: The visual Parameters of Roden Crater,” in Julia Brown, Occluded Front: James Turrell, exh. cat. Museum of Contemporary Art [Los Angeles, 1981], p102 94  Peter Zumthor, 1998, Thinking Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press p67 95  “The goal I proposed myself in making cubism? To paint and nothing more... with a method linked only to my thought... Neither the good nor the true; neither the useful nor the useless” [Picasso,1972] Picasso on art: a selection of views, Viking Press 65


fig38 ‘0 gravity, why have you forsaken me’. Below a hovering form, light is projected and illuminates the lower surface. There is a figure, falling towards this lit surface. The hovering form seems to be rectangular in horizontal section, with an imperceptibly thin edge. Is that figure alive? If so, why is the body on its side rather than falling upright? What is holding up this large form? Could this event be caused by the floor dropping away rather than the figure falling? Perhaps the figure is moving upwards. The barely discernible form, which dominates the upper part of the print is the result of many long hours finely tuning different tones of black. The intention was to achieve a mysterious sense of depth with three tones of black.

see around corners, in a useful, informative way. The apparent position of the ‘camera’ or voyeur in the Solaris Plates became an important consideration as the project developed. As an unavoidably direct connection to the narration of a scene or space, the eye of the camera influenced the design of a scene or space. At around the same time as this methodology was taking shape, I began working on a short film called Black Mill. The development of the design process, with the Solaris Plates, inspired an approach to the filming techniques used in led to an approach for filming my short film, Black Mill. See “a note on the filming of black mill” p81

While the Solaris Plates are not a complete series of prints, the next section looks at those which have been produced to date. The aim of this section is to set up a particular reading of the printed plates. In the context of their conception, the intended mood and references explain some aspect of atmosphere, with which words can not seem to describe.



pi : scotopia fig39 ‘Scotopia’ 42 minutes length of time it takes to walk down this vestibule 2800 number of steps in the stairwell 448 metres depth of shaft 10.6 metres width of shaft 40 metres breadth at opening 452.2 metres breadth at base 23 steps per run 7.4 metres height between level pairs 300mm run 160mm rise 76˚ angle of inclination of shaft

see also  

“scotopia” p43

“All hope abandon, ye who enter here” [Dante c.1315]96 “Is is conceivable that our stairs could once again reawaken our awareness of Heaven and Hell?” “ Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance ambiguous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy “ [Pallasmaa, 2005]97

This is the first Solaris Plate, intended to depict the entrance to my design. The drawing, etching and printing of this plate was one of the first steps in the Solaris Project’s design. The space depicted in this place relates to the idea of scotopic vision, or dark adaptation of the human eye. The length of time is takes the human eye to fully adapt to optimal dark conditions is between 20-40 minutes. Notionally this space is designed to take 42 minutes, if walked without rest. This entrance is a slight parallel to that of a conventional cinema, where dim lights prepare your eyes for the dark experience of the screen room. 96  Inscription over the gate of Hell. Dante Alighieri wrote this allegorical epic poem between 1306 and 1321. from Dante’s The Divine Comedy, 1867 trans. by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,Tricknor and Fields, 1867 97  The Eyes of the skin : Architecture and the senses, Juhani Pallasmaa, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2005 69


pii : trajan’s seat “Only a weak light glimmers, like a tiny point in an enormous circle of blackness... doubtful whether the light might not itself be a dream, and the circle of blackness, reality.” [Kandinsky, 1912]98 “I wandered up the stairs, of and along the pavements of the inextricable palace (afterwards I learned that the width and the height of the steps were not constant, a fact which made me understand the singular fatigue they produced)” [Borges, 1962]99 “Together with the door, the stair is that element of architecture that is encountered most concretely and directly by the body. As we ascend or descend a stair, our step measures its dimensions and our hand caresses the smooth surface of the banisters” [Pallasmaa, 2005]100 fig40 ‘Trajan’s Seat’

Trajan’s column, Rome, has a staircase spiralling up through its core. The idea of trying to depict this claustrophobic space was challenging. The solution I found was to unwrap the space, dissolve the walls where necessary and give the impression of being able to see around corners. The large areas of black ink shroud the edges of the steps and wall; it’s left up to the viewer if they position themselves in the staircase or looking through the wall. This staircase leads to the seat, from which one views Solaris.

98  Wassily Kandinsky, painter and art theorist, thought to be the an origin of abstract art. worked in the Bauhaus until Nazi’s closed it. As quoted in Catching the Light, p128 99  Jorge Luis Borges [1962] Labyrinths: selected stories & other writings, New Directions, p110 100  The Eyes of The Skin: Archi!echlre and the Senses, luhani PallaslTt1a, GB Wiley-Academy, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2005 71


piii : engine room “Light is a fundamental precondition for perceiving space: it is therefore difficult to isolate a discussion of its representational value” [Borys 2004]101 fig41 ‘Engine Room’

The engine room is were the angle and intensity of direct sunlight is measured, before it reaches the projector. It is essentially a maintenance room, accessed only by the resident projectionist. Each vent is calculated to point directly at the sun for five minutes, reaching up to the surface of the mountain. The width is determined by the a goal of achieving a minimum lux level of 200 lux on the screen projecting Solaris. The length is determined by the arc of the sun, over a period of 5 minutes, in relation to the depth of the shaft. The film is 165 minutes long, therefore 33 shafts were required. The proportion of the width to the length relates to the aspect ratio of the original 35mm film of Solaris; 2.35:1. This ensures an economic use of sunlight, and lends the building an aesthetic of proportions.

101  Ann Marie Borys [2004] Lume di Lume: A theory of Light and its Effects, Journal of Architectural Education, Blackwell Publishing p3 73


piv : room 55985 pv : escape hatch The two above mentioned plates are in the process of being etched. fig42 ‘Room55985’. This print is a work in progress.

Chamber 55985 is the room in which Solaris is played. It consists of a vast, part-spherical, volume of space, in which Trajan’s Seat is centrally positioned. The film is projected onto a section of wall, curved like the inside of an incomplete sphere. As the film progresses, the projection travels across the screen, reflecting the movement of the sun. Escape Hatch is the building’s exit. It is a relatively quick exit, compared to the 42 minute-long entrance. This takes the form of a tunnel, taking advantage of the topography of the mountain, and simply leading the viewer outside but at a much lower level. The concept here was to mimic that opposite effect of dark adaptation, although it only requires a minute for ones eyes to adjust. Escape Hatch is also a reference to when one goes to the cinema during the day, only to come out and be surprised and disorientated by the daylight.



narration and the lens fig43 joiner of the print studio. this was a base of operations for my weeks spent etching. this type of joiner was an experiment with changing point of views, following lines/objects of interest. the traditional approach of bottom-weighted panorama was suppressed. in photograph: bed press in foreground.

On a necessary level, representation and story telling are both concerned with communicating ideas. Architects engage the idea of representation as a fundamental means of communicating concept and design. Therefore I’m inclined to argue that architecture and storytelling are inseparable things. Unfortunately, this connection seems to have been misconceived, and hence undervalued, in my architectural education. I therefore wish to clarify narration’s position in architecture. narrate –verb 1. to give an account or tell the story of; 2. to relate or recount events, experiences, etc.,102

Narration in architectural representation is how our ideas relate to the viewer. The narration and the means of representation should be co-considered in some sensitive manner. This can be seen in the works of Giovanni Piranesi, Lebbeus Woods and Steven Holl. The success of this methodology is displayed, with great effect, in Piranesi’s Prison etchings. These massive underground prison scenes engage my imagination, as they haunt and intrigue me in equal measures. The harsh marks left by Piranesi, during the intaglio process is a deliberate device, to be interpreted as a symbol of violence and desperation in the world of the drawing. In the Solaris Plates, the viewer initially assumes the 102  ‘Narration’ definition; see p93 77


position of ‘camera,’ as if viewed through some sort of lens. In a manner of speaking, the drawing was drawn through that same, or similar lens, as the viewer perceives. This organic-esque perspective would not likely sit well with those Renaissance masters, given the strictures of perspective drawings at the time: “Perspective would be nothing without architecture and the architect nothing without perspective” [Serio, 1537]103 Narrative in drawing can engage the viewer in a dialogue. If drawings ask questions, then narration is the ability to ask the viewer a question that is relative to that viewer. The Solaris Plates attempt this by employing an intuitive, albeit irrational, perspective, being spatially and atmospherically descriptive, by providing a human scale and allowing the viewer to assume a depicted figure’s position in that fictional space.

103  Sebastiano Serlio [1537] On Architecture, Hart and Hicks, trans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, p37 79


a note on the filming of blac k mill

“Absolute space is located nowhere... and that of mental space, magically [imaginarily] cut off from the spatial realm, where the consciousness of the ‘subject’ - or ‘self-consciousness’ takes form.” [Lefebvre, 1991]104

Film and architecture both deal with “mental space” and its relationship to the “spatial realm.” With this in mind, and through a deep interest in cinematography, myself, together with Stephen Mackie, a fellow student, embarked on an inter-unit collaborative film project. In relation to my thesis, the purpose of the short-film was to experiment and document the illusionary effects of visual perception, in an actual location. Two self-imposed restrictions on the film-making were set out from the beginning. The first dictated that only natural and incidental light was allowed to be used during filming. The second rule included that visual effect could only be created using in-situ ‘optical instruments’ to alter the light.

fig44 top. Film still. Video collage of rear of the Black Mill. fig45 below. Poster announcing the Premiere of Black Mill, the collaborative project between fellow student Stephen Mackie and myself. The Premiere was an open invite.

The aesthetic ‘look’ of the film was largely affected by these two conditions, producing atmospheric imagery and perhaps a ‘truer’ sense of light of a place. Other representational techniques played an important role in this film also; with the ideas of photo-collage being translated into video-collage; stop-motion animation mixed with live-action video; and a series of shots which dissolved the mill’s walls and floors - allowing the camera 104  Lefebvre, H, 1991, The Production of Space, Wiley-Blackwell p236 81


to seemingly section freely through the building. Natural and incidental light. This building is an optical instrument. The Black Mill plays with light in much in the same way the Solaris Project does; the windows are apertures; the confined dust acts like a lens; the shiny walls are like mirrors. What is immediately apparent after viewing this film, is that ‘atmosphere,’ or a ‘mood’ of place, can be successfully represented through the medium of film. Through strictly using only natural and incidental light, the atmosphere presented is something quite true to a sense of place. This then becomes an important aspect to my own research due to the fact that I deal with a fictional site with equally fictional site conditions. Although it seems obvious, this restriction proved that light can be mysterious without the necessity of imagined conditions. Optical instruments. In the making of this film several objects that manipulate light were used; a lens, a pin-hole camera, a mirror, the reflection off shiny walls and dust in the air. Strictly speaking, some of these listed objects are not optical instruments in themselves. However through the discovery of this building I became aware of the more subtle nuances with which objects could influence light’s path. The optical instruments used in this film essentially represented an experimental endeavour; the exploration of optical manipulation. fig46 top. Film still. Light entering the doorway is caught in the dusty air. Light becomes an ‘almost-tactile’ thing. fig47 below. Film Still. Video collage of the spiral staircase.

Godard once said, “All good fiction is documentary and all good documentary is fiction”105 The visual experience of 105  Jean-Luc Godard, b.1930, is a French and Swiss filmmaker and one of the founding members of the Nouvelle Vague, or “French New Wave”. quote: source unknown 83


fig48 top. Film still. Pinhole camera was placed in front of the video camera. This gave the video a dreamlike quality. fig49 below. Film still. Video collage of the main staircase. Another exploration of the idea of seeing up and down at the same moment.

the ‘Black Mill’ film is designed to give a sense of a past vision of the future, similar in genre to the Solaris Project. Inspired by twentieth century film noir, the film follows the exploration of a dilapidated, abandoned mill building on the edge of Dundee City centre. This is a detective story. “The imagination and daydreaming are stimulated by dim light and shadow. In order to think clearly, the sharpness of vision has to be suppressed, for thoughts travel with an absent-minded and unfocused gaze. ‘” [Pallasmaa, 2005]106

This is a detective story. A detective is asked to investigate a disturbance in an abandoned building. The detective is sure he will find some ‘junkies’ squatting in the building, although, the longer he remains in the building, the less sure of anything he becomes. The stories climax occurs in a flurry to the top floor of the building, where a confrontation between the detective and an antagonist ensues. “As the dark space obscures the distinction between inside and outside, and provokes an impulsion toward a loss of subject, one may confront the pure and direct experience through architecture” [Han, 2009]107

In this film project, each scene was considered in order to take advantage of those angles which produced high contrast, or depth of focus, dictated by that particular space in the mill. Often, the architecture of the old mill building, with all its beautiful, deep-set windows and deep floor plans, compounded the sense of experience which the building provides.

106  The Eyes of The Skin: Architecture and the Senses, Juhani Pallasmaa, GB Wiley-Academy, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2005 107  Chooyan Han [2009] Dimension 22:Visceral Sensation in the Space of Death, University of Michigan Press, p15



a note on the etching process

fig50 The print rack in the print studio. This rack is used to air, dry and keep separate prints that use wet ink or wet paper. In the print studio, a sense of community is invoked when everyone’s work has to be necessarily stacked together, no matter of place in the school, quality of drawings or other department. On a separate note, this rack is made up of straight lines but the camera’s lens has distorted these, curving the lines towards the edge of the page.

See p25 for a sequence of images from the etching process.

Throughout the year, this course of research has been accompanied and informed by my interest in intaglio etching, and more broadly speaking, print-making in general. As this thesis has developed, the importance of representing the idea’s explored has become greater also. Using etching, and the process of drawing that leads to an etching plate, has set out for me a framework for representing the idea’s contained in the subject of light. When learning how to etch it seems one has to re-learn how to draw. With inverted tones, mirror images and a reverse sequence of drawing [dark to light], every move on the metal etching plate needs to be carefully considered. The etching process uses metal plates, cut to size, to print onto wet paper. Metals used to make prints for this thesis have been copper, zinc and steel. Each of these mediums have specific qualities and characteristics and each have their own chemicals with which to erode the surface. These metal plates are resistive mediums to work with, especially considering the effortless mark-making performed when drawing pencil on paper. At virtually every stage of the process, the metals seem to oppose your act of drawing and engages the hand in a tactile


exchange. The subject of my print’s have undeniably been influenced by the work of 18th Century artist Piranesi. His fictitious and atmospheric etchings of Rome’s ruinous remains have instilled a deep sense of narrative and experience I find in few other pieces of art. Some material qualities are invariably invoked when, in a print one represents light and space with an etched plates. There is a rough, coarsely textured surface to hold the black ink and the unblemished perfection of intense area’s of brightness shine on the page. The prints produced from etchings often represent spaces, however on another level of consideration, etching is literally about space-making. There is a part of the process that essentially creates microscopic containers on the surface of the metal, to hold ink. These acideroded caverns seem enormous when viewed through a microscope eye-piece. The depth of erosion is difficult to perceive with the naked eye but when magnified, the metal plate jumps into sharp, detailed focus. The vast landscape looks like a different world, like an outlandish drawing or otherwise imagined uninhabited planet. The space which is formed from the acid-etching process is a real space, one that seems important to appreciate when making a plate. Before one wets the page and rolls the plate through the press, the negative, textured metal plate is backward and obscured by ink. The anticipation of what your creation is going to cast is fantastic. The effect of the damp paper 88

being pushed into the eroded metal plate and all of its holes seems then similar to something like plaster casting. The plate comes out terra formed, moulded and shaped. Before now it was easier to forget that paper is fibrous. A combination of ink formation and embossing creates something undeniably three dimensional; this place is inhabitable, a plate to think. Light negotiates around the print’s surface in fascinating combinations, revealing traces of the drawing’s origins.



a list of words and definitions important to this book

All definitions are taken from the eighth edition of The Concise Oxford Dictionary, unless stated otherwise. Some definitions have been truncated for the sake of being Concise.


comb. form

forms nouns denoting a technique of producing images



the s.i. unit of luminous intensity


glowing with or as with white heat

catenary curves


a curve formed by a series of uniform lines



the transparent circular part of the front of the eyeball



the act, instance or process of putting out of shape, a misrepresentation, some impairment of quality

n. v.

the obscuring of reflected light from one body by the passage of another between it and the eye or between it and its source of illumination






riddle or paradox, a puzzling thing or person



the consideration and observation of things external to the self; examination and study of externals.

ganzfeld gnomon


the rod on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow



a figment of the imagination, a faulty perception of an external object


n. v.

an optical appearance or counterpart produced by light, a representation of the external form of an object


immediate apprehension by the mind or senses without reasoning. immediate insight

n. adv.

the natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible



the s.i. unit of luminous flux, equal to the amount of light emitted per second from a uniform source of one candela



the intensity of light emitted from a surface per unit area in a given direction



the s.i. unit of illumination, equivalent to one lumen per square metre

intuition light


a phenomenon of visual perception caused by staring at an undifferentiated and uniform field of colour. The result is “seeing black� - apparent blindness



a continuous story or account, related to events in order of happening

n. adv.

not anything, non-existence

n. adj. v.

hide from view by passing in front of ex. a lighthouse light that is cut off at regular intervals


the degree to which a lens, mirror, or other optical system converges or diverges light. it is equal to the reciprocal of the focal length of the device

the scientific study of sight and the behaviour of light


the intuitive recognition of a truth; the faculty of perceiving

n. adv.

the apparent relation between visible objects as to position, distance, size



a fact or occurrence that appears or is perceived; what the senses or the mind notice



a leather trunk, opening in two equal parts, a word blending the sounds and combining the meaning of two others

n. v.

a course of action


a thing that obtrudes; a mental image viewed as an objective reality

nothing occultation optical power optics perception perspective

process projection




nearness in space or time



what is real or existent or underlies appearances



a layer at the back of the eyeball sensitive to light

n. v.

shade, the slightest trace, a dark figure projected by a body intercepting rays of light



the production of a mental sense-impression relating to one sense by the stimulation of another sense



a pair of connected or correlated things, conjunction or opposition



a traditional narrative, usually involving an imaginary person, thing or idea. an allegory


elevated or sublime in expression



the process of separation



a carving incised in hard material



a unit of refractive power of a lens, equal to the reciprocal of its focal length in metres






the proportion of light or radiation reflected by a surface, eps. a planet or moon

absolute magnitude


the brightness of a celestial body as seen from a standard distance of ten parsecs



unit of stellar distance, equal to about 3.25 light years (3.08 x 1016 metres), the distance at which the mean radius of the earth’s orbit subtends an angle of one second of arc



a combining form occurring in compound words denoting a condition of sight or of the visual organs



greek, for darkness



an act of appearing; manifestation



an inexpensively produced, self-published, underground publication




The matzine is a small publication by the Material masters unit, which I am part of. The matzine is a portmanteau. Material + zine. We use the matzine as a format which brings into close relationship the work and ideas of each member of the Material unit. Students and staff alike. It was also a great platform to share ideas on binding, book making and printing with very thin paper. To date edition #001-#004 are published. The following paragraphs are the unpublished preamble to matzine#003 ‘a maifesto’. On the following page is the manifesto as set out by our unit. Material attempts to comprehend the expansiveness of architecture and contextualize wider issues beyond the normal scope of plan, section and programme. We delve beneath the surface and investigate our own agendas. Nothing is predetermined. The passage of learning brings forth enlightenment from obscurity. The margins between success and failure are secondary to the processes undertaken. Outcomes are not fixed but form part of a bigger picture where learning and identity continue to be re-evaluated. We form our own objectives and criteria and test through exploring alternative means of investigation. The manner of our methodology and reflective brings a mature understanding towards a definition of architecture and our relationship within it.




we are interested in architecture

architecture is fundamental to human existence; through the act of dwelling and shelter. architects are not fundamental to human existence, they are merely the interpreters + facilitators.


explore the peripheries

our interests traverse the spectrum of the technological and the philosophical within architecture and extend through the arts and humanities


work with the analogue, the mechanical and the tactile believe in the potential of plaster, the typewriter, the pencil and all analogue media - question preoccupation with the digital


enjoy the act of making

by makng, we think. models and drawings created and used are not dumb and neutral; they are formative steps in the trans(form)ation of an idea


critique = peers * 6


context experience


work with doubt

maintain a positive relationship; doubt and anxiety are natural bedfellows to investigation and exploration


keep creative mess

mix it, break it, make, it fake it. the (creative) mess of your colleagues is more important than you might think it can’t but be of some influence, trivial or profound

question the questions you ask


they are often more important than answers


embrace the autobiographical

our work is as much a dialogue and rhetoric with architecture as it is with our selves, our own narratives and experiences




be critical and thoughtful of others’ work; not impulsive, but intuitive

articulate the clear argument

communicate your position in a cogent, structured manner. obfuscation and verbosity are two of architecture’s greatest afflictions. avoid them


drink beer in studio

studying architecture is a vocation, not just a course. don’t separate your ‘working’ life from your social life. the greatest ideas need company


we are not architects. we are not artists we are students


use intuition in the creative process don’t let reason box you in


don’t print manifestos

the moment they are agreed upon, they become redundant



Achenbach, J. October 2001, National Geographic, p11 Alberti, L. B. [1452] On the Art of Building in Ten Books, Rykwert, Leach, and Tavernor, trans. [Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1988], p1.12 Aristotle [c.350] On The Soul, Kessinger Publishing 2004, p34 Borges, J. L. [1962] Labyrinths: selected stories & other writings, New Directions, p110 Borys, A. M. [2004] Lume di Lume: A theory of Light and its Effects, Journal of Architectural Education, Blackwell Publishing p9 Boullée, E.-L. [c.1790] Architecture, Essai sur l’art, Hermann 1968. p93 Brandi, U. [2007] Light for Cities: lighting design for urban spaces, a handbook, Springer, p150 Caillois,R [1935], The Edge of Surrealism: a Roger Caillois reader,, Duke University Press, p101 Corbusier, Le [1927] Towards a New Architecture, Payson & Clarke, ltd p29 Dante Alighieri, [c.1300] The Divine Comedy, translated by Charles Eliot Norton,

100 Publishing, 2005, p259 Derrida, J. [2005] Vitamin D: new perspectives in drawing, Phaidon p161. original author: Emma Dexter Emerson, R. W. [1841] Circles, The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1971, Harvard University Press, p179 Ficacci, L, [2001]. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: selected etchings, Taschen, Italy p. 12 Flagge, I [2002], The secret of Shadow: Light and Shadow in Architecture, Wasmuth, Berlin Han, C. [2009] Dimension 22:Visceral Sensation in the Space of Death, University of Michigan Press, p15 Holl, S. [2000] Parallax, Princeton Architectural Press, p139 Islam, R. [2004] “Stare Out/Blink” exhibition as seen in Eclipse: towards the edge of the visible. White Cube, Hoxton. original author: Annushka Shani Lefebvre, H, [1991] The Production of Space, Wiley-Blackwell p229 Mccall, A. [2007] Éléments pour une rétrospective. Monografik Editions p54 Minkowski, E. [1933] Le temps vecu: Etudes

Phenomenologiques et Psychopathologiques. Trans by Nancy Metzel in a book called lived time: Phenomenological and Psychopathological studies, Northwestern University Press, Evanston 1970

Zumthor, P. [1998] Thinking Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press p67

Pallasmaa, J. [2000] Encounters: architectural essays: Stairways of the Mind, Rakennustieto Oy, p60 Pallasmaa, J. [2005] The Eyes of the skin : Architecture and the senses, John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Serlio, S. [1537] On Architecture, Hart and Hicks, trans. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996, p37 Serra, R. [2005] The Matter of Time, Guggenheim, p20 Shani, A. [2004] Eclipse: towards the edge of the visible. White Cube, Hoxton p49 Tanizaki, J. [2001] In Praise of Shadows, Vintage, University of Michigan, p31 Turrell, J. [2009] Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz p90 Zajonc, A. [1993] Catching the Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind, Oxford University Press, New York p7




fig01 Photograph of a bulb. Own image fig02 Astronomer’s Instrument. Own image fig03 Pantheon, Rome. http://upload. Pantheon.drawing.jpg, accessed 19/04/2010 fig04 Bathroom door lock and shadow. Own image fig05 “Obelisk on a Horizon” etching print. Own image fig06 James Turrell, “Light Triangle”. http:// uploads/2009/10/james_turrell.jpg, accessed 20/04/2010 fig07 Lebbeus Woods, “Tomb for Einstein”, migueloks/3323983672/, accessed 20/04/2010 fig08 Double exposure with window in hair. Own image fig09 Photograph of wall and ceiling junction. Image kindly lent from Rowan MackinnonPryde. fig10 Etienne-Louis Boullée’s “Cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton” 1784, http://commons.

_%C3%A9l%C3%A9vation.jpg, accessed 20/04/2010 fig11 Caravaggio’s “The Calling of SaintMatthew”, sacred2.jpg, accessed 20/04/2010 fig12 Embossed page. Own iamge fig13 Anthony McCall’s “Light Describing a Cone” Guardian/arts/gallery/2007/dec/12/, accessed 20/04/2010 fig14 Still from Black Mill, a short film. Own image fig15 Scans of 35mm film negative. Own image fig16 Photograph of a nuclear explosion, “Optics in Photography” by Rudolf Kingslake, SPIE Optical Engineering Press, 1992 fig17 Section through two camera lens. Lbid. fig18 Long exposure photograph. Own image fig19 Schematic drawing of Turrell’s “Alien Exam”, Geometry of Light, Hatje Cantz, 2009 fig20 Pablo Picasso’s “Portrait of Daniel Henry Kahnweiler”, 1910, http://www. kahnweiler.jpg, accessed 20/04/2010 fig21 Sequence of photographs showing the etching preparation process. Own image fig22 “Mysterious Light”. Photograph of Melville Street. Image kindly lent from Rowan Mackinnon-Pryde fig23 Photograph taken from the peak of Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh. Own image

Own image fig35 Mount Tindaya proposal by Eduardo Chillida. http://tumbaymonumento. jpg/34252427/tindaya3.jpg, accessed 21/04/2010 fig36 “The last eclipse”etching print. Own image fig37 “Edge detail” etching print. Own image

fig24 Photocollage of self-made Camera obscura. Own image

fig38 “O Gravity, why have you forsaken me?” etching print. Own image

fig25 Photograph of a planetarium projector. Own image

fig39 “Scotopia” etching print. Own image fig40 “Trajan’s Seat” etching print. Own image

fig26 “BLACK 55985”, a photograph of an etching ink container. Own image

fig41 “Engine Room” etching print. Own image

fig27 Photograph of Ballgay Hill observatory, Dundee. Own image

fig42 Photograph joiner of the print studio. Own image

fig28 Photograph of a table and its shadow

fig43 Film still from Black Mill. Own image

fig29 Presentation wall. Own image

fig44 Announcement Poster for Black Mill. Own image

fig30 Photograph of model. Own image fig31 Photograph of studio, with lamplight. Own image fig32 Resulting image from Camera Obscura. Own image fig33 “Claustrophobia” etching print. Own image

fig45 Film still from Black Mill. Own image fig46 Film still from Black Mill. Own image fig47 Film still from Black Mill. Own image fig48 Film still from Black Mill. Own image fig49 Photograph of the print rack. Own image

fig34 “Obelisk on a Horizon” etching print. 103


nothing disappears completely  

lumière mystérieuse + the mytho-poetic basis of architecture

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