Made of Light: The Art of Light and Architecture By Mark Major and Jonathan Speirs. Birkhäuser, 2005. £32
The Made of Light project is the product of the distinguished lighting designers, Mark Major and Jonathan Speirs. First seen in 2004 as an exhibition at the RIBA and also available on line, it's now a handsome book.
Major and Speirs both trained as architects, which leads to an approach that, in their words, 'deliberately focuses on qualitative, ephemeral and abstract considerations', rather than the quantitative emphasis of lighting engineering. The result is a document that both beguiles and frustrates - but mainly the former.
The method combines words and images to illustrate 12 'themes' that represent common bonds between light and architecture: Source, Contrast, Surface, Colour, Movement, Function, Form, Space, Boundary, Scale, Image and Magic. These are represented by narratives that combine historical examples with cases from contemporary practice - frequently the authors' own work. These are informative, with frequently lovely images, but the history is often schematic and sometimes inaccurate. For example, it's incorrect to assert that Palladio's Quattro Libri doesn't deal with light - see Book I, Chapter 25, 'Of the Dimensions of Doors and Windows'. There is also much more to be said about the significance of light in the works of architects as diverse as Soane, Labrouste, Le Corbusier, Kahn and Ando than the soundbites offered here.
But, in compensation, the book offers a number of special insights. It begins with an eightpage 'timeline' that traces important steps in the development of the light of architecture from 32000 BC - the torch of the Chauvet-Pontd'Arc cave in the Ardeche - to the present. This deals nicely with both natural and artificial light, a balance that is maintained throughout the book. I found it fascinating to note, as a kind of measure of the evolution of the subject, that the timeline travels from the cave to the birth of Christ in about a quarter of a page, then takes three quarters of a page to reach the beginning of the industrial revolution. Five pages are needed to present the 19th century, with its frenzy of invention, before another two traverse the 20th and bring us to the present. In addition there are two series of comments by other contributors on the themes of 'Light and. . . ' and 'My light', the first including thoughts on, for instance, 'Light and Music', and the second offering ideas from a pilot, an actor and a welder (among others).
This should not be your only book on light and architecture. The achievements of architectural science and lighting engineering in quantifying the behaviour of both natural and artificial light in architectural space and in understanding how light provides both utility and meaning to the human mind are as important as the subjectivity on offer here.
But this is a long-awaited counterpoint to the scientific and engineering tradition and deserves to be in every serious architectural library.