Religious architecture and light. Part IV
First of all, a quite obvious one but not less important, is that the change in the use of light can derive from different aspects or sources.Through all this analysis we have found changes related with spiritual beliefs, climatic reasons, specific building situations, artistic and philosophic periods, technical innovations and personal spiritual positions. What is clear is that the use of light doesn’t stay the same, it varies over time in different ways, not only in the religious buildings but also in all architecture purposes.
However, if a general observation had to be obtained from the historical overview, it could be stated that architecture, in general, has developed from a more monolithically composition to a lighter one. This general change has a clear reflection in the use of the light, that evolved from a more controlled treatment to an open one or, in other words, from the complete darkness of the interiors toward the complete opening of the façade.
This absence of light income restriction, derived from the last technology possibilities mainly related with glass and frames, has also originated a problem of lack of control, which has usually been addressed with the development of different kinds of filters. Even if this different way of addressing the issue of daylight income can be also perceived in the religious architecture of the present time with, for example, the Cathedral of the Christ of Light, the interesting observation is that this specific kind of architecture is one of the few that has preserved a more accurate treatment of the light. This situation is probably due to the possibility of using it as a tool to create a spiritual atmosphere, a kind of ambiance difficult to achieve with a non-treated light income.
Going back to the religious point of view of the matter we can also observe that the use of light is nearly always deeply linked to the aimed atmosphere in the religious space and, therefore, to the meaning and spirituality of religious architecture in general. However, although we have not discussed that many religions in the study, limiting ourselves to the evolution in the European area, it is possible to observe that the same religion can change the use of light through time for a lot of different reasons. These alterations can be related either with a change of conception inside the religion or with aspects not directly linked with the spiritual field, like social or technological ones. In any case, it is clear that the spiritual conception is not the only influence in the shaping of light in the space.
Another observation we can obtain from this time study is the continuous role of the central and perimetral use of light, which can be found over and over again through time usually linked with other space configuration aspects. The central use of light is usually related with the plan configurations with a circular shape or a polygonal shape without one prominent direction. They are also often related with the presence of a dome, like in the Pantheon or Hagia Sophia. On the other hand, the linear configuration of the light is usually related with either a compartmentalisation of the space or the aim to induce a movement in the individual. The first case could be related with the Egyptian temples while the second would fit with the Romanesque churches. As it has been discussed before, the capacity of light to produce motion has been deeply exploited in different kinds of public buildings and, specifically, in churches.
In any case, the general conclusions obtained regarding the design are multiple and complex. As we have seen while exploring the main strategies used and its applications in different periods the tool of light has been exploded in different ways to achieve several atmospheres. However, we could obtain some general aims and strategies used to achieve these objectives.
Firstly, in some cases the light is used to create a focus in some part of the building, as, for example, in the Byzantine churches where the focus is placed in the main dome by creating a main entrance of light in this point. On the other hand, in some other architecture expressions it is utilized to induce movement on the observer, like in the Romanesque period, when the lighter part attracts the individual with a transitional area in between from darker to lighter.
In some other examples the purpose is to create a feeling of being “overwhelmed”, which could be the case of the gothic cathedrals or also the Byzantine churches. This sensation is mainly fulfilled by the introduction of a great amount of light in a spectacular way, like the use of stained glass, or the exploitation of the contrast between light and darkness, as in the case of the Baroque period. The opposite of this architectural expression would be the intention of achieving an atmosphere of withdrawal, an ambiance easily recognisable in the example of Kahn’s church discussed before. This character is usually achieved by a general lower level of light in the space and more importance given to the way the light is introduced, with studied reflections, shapes or interesting indirect ways.
This reflection brings us to two main general uses of light in the design of the space: the direct and the indirect introduction. As it has been stated before, the direct way is usually more linked with the procuration of an overwhelming atmosphere, while the indirect alternative is related with a more serene, and maybe abstract, feeling. However, the sensation also depends on the reflection design and the surface in which the light is reflected. In some cases the reception of the direct light and the indirect one happens together creating as a result an overwhelming sensation, enhanced even more if the surface has a specular reflection. )On the opposite extreme, if the individual only receives the indirect light the feeling is more subtle and serene, a sensation intensified if the surface produces a diffuse reflection.
After all this research, it is clear that the use of light has been a central tool in the design of religious architecture through the years. Different aims and strategies related with them have been recognized and studied. However, the main conclusion that is possible to withdraw from the investigation would probably be that the design of light in architecture is capable of changing the atmosphere of the space in a very successful way. This capacity has been mainly used in religious architecture but it would be probably very interesting to be able to apply the same strategies in other kind of architectures. The meeting of some spiritual atmospheres with uses not directly related with religion could be an interesting direction to take in the present time, when the needs for spirituality of the human beings are changing from a religious based society to a more secular one.