The 'Holl' Picture - A Light Study of Steven Holl

Explorations of light - a charcoal representation of direction and atmosphere

“Space is oblivion without light. A building speaks through the silence of perception orchestrated by light. Luminosity is as integral to its spatial experience as porosity is integral to urban experience.”

Being such an intangible and elusive element to design with, light plays an important part in illuminating not only our day to day lives but our architecture too. How can natural and artificial light sources be combined and manipulated to create evocative and atmospheric architectural spaces? It is rare to see both natural and artificial light communicating together, and where atmosphere is concerned, Steven Holl explores the relationship between both sources in a thorough and dynamic form. This thesis focuses on a few of Holl's methodologies in order to challenge the design of light and its incorporation within architecture. 

Initial concept models that played with light - both natural and artificial produced different patterns and qualities depending on perforations and intensities.
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Above, On, In, and Below the Ground - a personal categorisation and representation through watercolour of a few of Holl's existing buildings.

Supported by his background of phenomenology and the golden ratio, one of Holl's design processes involves creating interior spaces before shaping the exterior. Through watercolours Holl examines interior atmospheres and how light can inspire users to explore the building to provide an ‘enmeshed experience’ and enhance movement, as the paintbrush allows him to shape volumes, cast shadows and indicate light direction.

Holl states that there are only four types of architecture and how they exist with the ground - Above, On, In, and Below; by defining this quadripartite relationship it allows for thresholds to be created and for light qualities to change between each category. This becomes the second vehicle to explore light conditions within the interior spaces created from the initial watercolours, and how the ground level can affect a given moment in relation to the luminance of either a natural or artificial light source.

By utilising the process of designing from the inside to out, and incorporating a consciousness of the ground and the quadripartite definition, interior moments were placed on Constitution Hill to challenge the difference in light qualities between the four aforementioned categories. 

1. Andrew Caruso. “Steven Holl: Not A ‘Signature’ Architect (And why that’s good). National Building Musuem. 20 July 2017.

Small Site Map
The locations of these designs are kept relatively close to the existing path to allow for users to wander into the gallery but also provides alternative walkways across the site.
Focus circles display the interventions made with natural and artificial light, while the embedding of the structures embody the Above, On, In and Below categories.
1. "Above" ground section explores the large amount of natural light available and how the height can bring the light closer to ground. // 2. "On" ground utilises a large skylight and begins to incorporate lighting from below. // 3. "In" ground becomes a quiet space where natural light is gathered from the top but artificial light from below becomes more prominent. // 4. "Below" ground is predominantly artificial but the colour of this light changes to reflect the atmosphere of the natural light outside.

"Even inside a building, you need to be able to feel the passing of the day and to see the sun setting." 

— Steven Holl

At this stage, renders were captured within each of the moments highlighted by the focus spots in the above site plans to investigate the light quality at different times of the day. The idea of this thesis is to question how we design with light as material, and to challenge and master a few of Steven Holl's methods on how to combine natural and artificial light so they can co-exist with a complementary relationship. In an architectural world where installations are explored using artificial light, and daylighting is a prominent issue within existing structures, this thesis aims to provide a technique in which both sources can co-exist and complement each other. Not only can they enhance a space by evoking emotions or memories, but each source can inform the users of how the space can be used, or how the building comes together.

An interior moment captured in the Contemplation Space located in the "In" ground structure. Underwater lights reflect the artificial light further into space as the natural light fades away.
"Below" ground - where natural light does not exist underground, artificial lighting is made to mimic the conditions outside.