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WORDS THAT BUILD: Communicating Architectural Edges
Tip #21: Write about meaningful circulatory patterns of light by personifying the interplay of architecture and light.
By Norman Weinstein
December 3, 2009
Editor’s note: This is the 21st in an exclusive series by Norman Weinstein focusing on the overlooked foundation of architecture: oral and written communication.
What could be more complex than to convey in words the dance of light through architecture? Yet what could be more crucial in communication with clients? As Le Corbusier famously proclaimed, “Architecture is the skilful, judicious, magnificent play of volumes against light.” The problem with this profound quote is that your clients aren’t contracting with you to create anything as remotely abstract as “play of volumes against light.” Clients are focused upon a multiplicity of specificities, some of which will involve light, increasingly daylight, as it moves through structures. You can draw or use flash animations of light circulating through your designs on a monitor – but words will inevitably need to supplement graphics. How can you shed light on light?
While recently walking through Steven Holl’s extension to the Nelson-Atkins Museum, I thought of how exactly Holl’s description of the building to an interviewer caught my experience:
“The light is working in this building like sound does in music.”
Initially, I thought Holl was simply substituting the concept of light working as a slightly nuanced contrast to Le Corbusier’s notion of light playing, a subtle nod to the American work ethic writ large. But then I realized that Holl’s design could actually be verbally evoked in terms of how its architecture makes light an active partner in an ongoing dramatic story located at the interface, the edges between architecture and the world beyond the building.
To say this simply and practically: the edges of your designs are where interior and exterior energies – light, air, the sweep of the biosphere – engage in cross-talk. Your architecture engages in a conversation with its surroundings parallel, in significant ways, to your conversations with clients (and engineers and contractors). Because the interactions of architecture with light, not to mention the rest of the environment, are so difficult to verbalize, why not personify architecture and light as partners in conversation?
Light can work, play, saunter, deceive, seduce – the list of personality attributes can be extensive. The same verbs apply to your architecture. When Holl explains light working in his design, he is simultaneously projecting an image of himself as alchemist and technician. The 17th century alchemist Thomas Vaughan referred to light as “the house of matter,” and implored seekers of beauty and truth to walk into the house of light where light walked in before them. In today’s high-tech world, light is “engineered transparency” – energy that can be bent, curved, lassoed and thermally mined for architectural purposes. You need not resort to the filmy poetic mysticism of Louis Kahn (“We are made of light which has been spent”) in order to discuss the roles light plays in your designs. Just suggest that light can be thought of as a working partner to talk with, no more ethereal a shape-changer than concrete. Talk about how light plays and works throughout your design, using the light flows in your own office space for meeting with clients for examples.
Keep the conversation light – but shimmering.
Norman Weinstein writes about architecture and design for Architectural Record and The Christian Science Monitor. He consults with architects and engineers interested in communicating more profitably. You can reach him at email@example.com.
Also by this author:
Op-Ed: Life After Ada: Reassessing the Utility of Architectural
WORDS THAT BUILD:
Offer an Opening Statement That Frames a Broad Vista
WORDS THAT BUILD:
Communicate to Clients an Evolving Perspective Rather than a Fixed Clarity
WORDS THAT BUILD: Introduce Words that "Float"
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WORDS THAT BUILD:
Work with Clients to Develop Plans That Place Human/Spatial Relationships First
WORDS THAT BUILD: Faster! Deeper! Broader!
WORDS THAT BUILD: Translate Images Into Touching
WORDS THAT BUILD: Emphasize Words with Lasting Resonance
THAT BUILD: Re-invent Green Communication
THAT BUILD: Taking Advantage of Interruptions in Architectural Communication
THAT BUILD: Faceting Architectural Communication
THAT BUILD: Use Space Creatively When Designing Your Client Communications
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WORDS THAT BUILD: Initiate Conversations with Designs
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WORDS THAT BUILD: Creating a Site Analysis That's Out of
THAT BUILD: Learning How to Persuade Through Learning Variations on a Theme
THAT BUILD: Respecting Key Words as Materials for Building Durable Structures
THAT BUILD: Steering Your Client in the Appropriate Direction
THAT BUILD: Playing with the Flow of Communication
THAT BUILD: Clarifying Presentations to Clients through Rhythmic Emphasis
THAT BUILD: Coping with chaotic communication challenges
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(click on pictures to enlarge)
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