The beauty of diffuse light is that it softens the edges, creates an aura of peace and reflection. A little bit of mystery perhaps as it conceals or reveals, but certainly a delicate beauty.  I guess if I was an interior designer I’d be reaching for the grey fabrics and paints, however as an architect I’m looking at the quality of the light from an illumination perspective.  The mist and steam contrast, whether with a mountain, a rock, a nearby object, a shadow, it serves to highlight weightlessness and the delicate water particles that move and shift in the wind.

There are several ways this can be incorporated into architecture. The daylight house by Takeshi Hosaka Architects  in Yokohama, Japan is probably an extreme example where daylight in an urban city ‘valley’ was considered very precious, so to bring it gently into the home numerous diffuse skylights cover the ceiling and provide a beautiful natural illumination during the day. Of course the Japanese Tea houses and their Shoji screens are a wonderful example of a calm environment that helps you to retreat, compose, reflect, and again are contrasted with the gardens that are revealed when the translucent screens are opened.

Another way is to reflect direct sunlight off nearby surfaces.  The Kimbell Art Museum in Texas by Louis Kahn uses plexiglass roof lights at the top of a barrel vaulted space, then reflects the external harsh light off a curved diffuser so that it then softly illuminates the surfaces of the roof rather than the walls where the art hangs.

Steven Holl’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art  is based around a concept of diffused panels on the wall that create a sense of intimacy, an internal illuminated  ‘feather light’  space  that contrasts beautifully with the solidity of the existing stone building and the extensive external gardens.

These of course are all large examples, but the effect can be equally replicated in smaller spaces where  intimacy and calm and peace are required. Sometimes we all need just a little of that!


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