I think a lot about light. It probably all started with learning to see Lake Michigan.
I spent a long time after we moved here being annoyed with the Lake for not being an ocean. No tides. No saltwater smell. No pounding breakers. It seemed static and uninteresting.
When I started running along the lakefront I realized that the real drama happens around sunrise and sunset when light interacts with lake and sky. The lake is essentially a blank canvas for light projections.
I see light is at peak performance when motion is involved…waves and light give us mesmerizing glimpses of splashing, shimmering light.
We’re designed to tune out sameness and to notice difference. Light creates change and difference that helps us notice not only the extraordinary (sunrise) moments but also the everyday, over-looked views.
A stand of grass goes unnoticed until it’s strung with 1000s of droplets catching light.
Or a scraggly weed at the lakefront is transformed into a stunning and intricate line drawing by a layer of ice, shimmering in morning light.
Light adds another layer of information to the natural world. It overlays another cycle of transformation over the constant change ongoing in the natural world.
Sometimes it’s the absence of light that’s compelling. Backlit objects give us an abstracted form, a silhouette. Without the distraction of 1000s of individual leaves, we see a tree in a new way, as an outline or contour. We can process this abstracted view quickly and easily.
I started to think about how light interacts with our cityscapes. Concrete provides a perfect surface for projected shadows…crisp line and forms reduced to their essence. Our brains are drawn to these visual puzzles…we fill in details, calculate the angle of light source…we read light and shadow as information.
Urban environments are information-rich in a different way from nature. Cities are composed of repeated segments and predictable transitions. Light animates and varies these predictable segments and together with our movement activates the cityscape.
The City functions as blank canvas with unique potential for connecting with nature.
My focus on concrete + architectural surfaces lead me to think about how glass works in our cityscapes.
We all understand the paradoxical qualities of glass as being both strong and fragile…giving us brilliance and fluid movement.
The introduction of glass curtain wall technology by the modernist architects radically transformed our cityscapes. For building inhabitants: huge step forward in balancing strength+stability with view+light.
From the streetscape perspective: glass mediates the interaction between nature and city. Again, glass becomes a blank canvas for projection of images.
But glass also has the capacity to catch and refract light…to transform reflections into distorted, fluid, organic forms. In this way, glass parallels water. Buildings clad in glass function as light-catchers bringing us another version of the world around.
Newer buildings in the Chicago skyline, like Aqua, have gone as far as encoding wave and undulating curves into the building structure, offering a stunning new approach to connecting nature and city.
Light and glass interact in any lighting conditions. Glass catches and reflects back even the smallest amount of natural light. Low light conditions give us a different experience. At night, buildings are activated by interior light…emphasizing the segmented nature of facades and offering glimpses of the patterns and randomness of human activity inside the building.
How can we bring this vibrancy that we see around us into our living spaces and working spaces?
Architectural photography captures built world moments in spectacular detail. But we also know that photography captures + freezes light.
From years of working with glass in many forms, I realized that glass is the perfect medium to capture this experience of light interacting with city.
I’m interested in using glass to capture and play with light. Glass gives me a way to echo the experience we all know of moving through the city and seeing light interact with buildings. I’m drawn to the geometries distorted by the perspective of looking up.
Ironically I’m using photographs to show my work with glass. It's difficult to convey the infinite variability in glass+light interactions in photographs …glass needs to be seen in person. It’s about the viewer and light co-creating a fully unique perspective.
I love capturing the vibrancy I see in our city…creating pieces that rather than needing protection from light, thrive with light…echoing the geometries and rhythms of architecture together with the perspectives and distortions that are part of our human experience of the cityscape.
We live in cities…filled with form and line; repetition and chaos; pattern and information. Let’s keep re-imagining beauty. Keep connected to the natural world. Keep catching light.