Sunlight and Socks


  Next time you’re trying to match a pair of dark socks and fold them up into one of those little balls, go to the trouble of holding them next to each other in direct sunlight.  Don’t be surprised if two first thought to be mates turn out not to be when smiled upon by the sun.

  Sunlight of course is a natural cause of degradation – stuff fades.  But it also is by far the best source of illumination with which to regale an object’s reflection toward perception by a visual system human or otherwise. 

  That quality is behind the motivation of some architects to go to great and expensive lengths to incorporate natural light into special spaces by means of skylights and elaborate translucent roofing systems.

Though such design elements can be problematic (leak), their effects upon objects below can be magnificent.

  Italian architect Renzo Piano established his career with series of museums exploring such possibilities with first the Menil, then Twombly* in Houston, the Beyeler in Basel, and lately the top floor of the new addition to the Art Institute in Chicago.

  Andy Sedgwick of Arup was the engineer of several of those solutions and it is his sketch of the light boxes for the Figge Art Museum that you see above.  Though rough, it is conceptually demonstrative of the finished product. 

  Their several components begin with the glass lights (panes) on top, then mechanical louvers to allow for modulation, then on the sides supplemental fluorescent tubes (cloudy days, night), and finally “stretched diffusing fabric”.  This last, in the end, turned out to be special scrim imported from France.

  Louvers opened, the finished product exudes the sort of generosity that Abbott Suger referred to during the early stages of gothic architecture as the “metaphysics of light”.  Standing below one once on a sunny summer afternoon, I looked down from Chase’s Mrs. Chase in Pink **to watch shadows of huge Midwestern cumulus roll across the floor.  Sent shivers up and down my spine.

*The light in the Twombly reminded me of a near death experience: cf 3/4/11 below.

**And Mrs Chase and I go way back: cf 4/10/09

One Response to “Sunlight and Socks”

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