MSADA 2018 Cultural

Experiencing light | Amarnath Raghunathan

Media Student Architecture & Design Award 2018
Third Award | Category: Cultural
Architect: Amarnath Raghunathan
Country: INDIA

EXPERIENCING LIGHT: This is a design through which people are going to experience different dimensions of light as a continuous travel with regular breakpoints. So before going into the dimensions, what is light? Something that enables our vision? Visible light or colours?

Okay so let us consider a prisoner who is kept inside a dark room for a week with mechanical ventilation.. he comes out..gets the sunlight. His eyes alone doesn’t feel the sudden light, his body will feel the light. That’s why light is not just visible light or colours, it is sensory.. it is far beyond our imaginative perceptions. Thus, the first dimension is that we are ignorant and have a myopic view on light, maybe as we don’t get the time to celebrate light or as we know light won’t die before we die. So celebrating light is the first dimension. When we will experience something, is in its absence, which is darkness, the second dimension. The third dimension is the dark side of light which is the over exploitation of light (a.k.a) Light Pollution. I see this as the dark side of light as this wrong use/overuse of light and its pollution causes a huge amount of damage to us and our ecosystem. Some are the damages done to the nocturnal birds, sea turtles, nocturnal reptiles, mammals, and us humans. There are statistics that says in one night 50,000 birds died clashing on a high rise building with lights bright as moon and stars as that is what they use for navigation in the night. Likewise 10,000 birds on a building in Ontario in 1981. Every year 100million birds die just because of building collision. It’s the same worst case for sea turtles and all other nocturnal species. The only affected species which are not nocturnal are humans. Due to the loss of true darkness, we are prone to prostate cancer and hormonal imbalance problems. So my design will take the people through an experience of all the three dimensions of light.

[Before getting into the design, let me show you the case studies and inference of the research I have done for understanding the play of light and architecture. Please find them attached in the Google drive link]

Design Part

The zoning line of my design experience starts with the dark side of light, absence of light and then celebration of light leading to relaxing spaces. The space also has an open exhibition space for light artists to put their installations in there and an Open air theatre for entertainment shows to happen along with a food court.

Dark side of light

Before taking the users into the absence of light, they should be prepared gradually to get into a pitch dark space. This gradual travel will include the experience of the dark side of light or light pollution.

  1. Dark towers – This is the tower of real darkness. This space will be active at both day and night.

At daytime, the tower is the first step towards darkness as there’s not going to be any extra light other than the pores which appear like stars. A star gazing experience.

At nighttime, the tower will show the difference between the real darkness and the darkness now. When the pores of the tower are glowing inside to the user’s eye due to the light pollution outside the tower people will think how this happens..

This tower leads to the next space underground which is “the flicker” through a staircase as well as a ramp in 1:12 ratio to the basement.

  1. The flicker – The roof of the basement which is the floor of the pathway at ground level will have pores covered with glass on it. The underground space will have fog machine hidden which creates a foggy atmosphere enabling people to be able to see the light rays falling through the pores. When people walk on the pathway above to reach the food court or oat, they step on the pores which create a beautiful flickering effect in the basement passage. At nighttime, the light sensors located along with the glass cover turns off when the people step on the pores.
  1. The shy lights – Now the stairs/ramp we climbed down will rise as a ramp in the slope of 1:12 for comfort. This space will have light fixtures on its ceiling which will swing left to right to left adding up a spookiness to the travel before reaching the dark space and leads to the next space called “Your diminishing stars”.
  1. Your diminishing stars – This space will have stars on both the walls of the pathway which will diminish as we walk through and climb up the slope. The roof will be of mirror fully for an infinite effect of stars. I metaphorically convey that, ” As we climb up in our life, we are letting the stars to diminish from our eyesight ” This space reaches to the next space on the ground level which is pitch dark.

Absence of light

  1. Void of light – This space is pitch dark and lightless, but.. you see a ray of light at a distant which makes you move towards it. The user goes towards the ray of light and touches it, but it’s not the ray of light but a mirror which is reflecting the light from elsewhere. The user moves forward with this hand on the wall for support. As he walks he feels a rough stone texture on the wall giving an earthy feeling. Basically this space is a void of light on earth which has everything other than light. As the user moves towards the next ray of light, he hears some natural sounds ascending and tries to touch the ray and realizes that this one is also an illusion . As he continues, the same happens but the ray of the light appears stronger. Then he feels an ascending natural fragrance adding up to the experience. This time he sees a more vibrant ray of light, walks towards it and catches it like he has achieved something or like he has got light after a struggle. The user cannot be taken to the bright outside suddenly from the darkness, thus, the absence pathway connects to a passage called blink out which has light and dark meddling in and out, like how it does when we blink our eyes while we are exposed to light after a longtime of darkness. This space leads us to the outside gradually with lots of green.

Celebration of light

  1. The Rays – This space is a pyramidal form having pores on its surface in a random manner. Its sharp side is aligned to the north as the sun moves from east to south to west theoretically. Each side of the rays space has a different coloured glass covering the pores which will be intense at varying times. The space is separated into two parts, one being the movement space and other being the interactive space. People who keep moving will flow through the movement pathway, and the ones who wants to stand there and experience more will use the interactive space. This space leads to a glass passage which will maintain the environmental conditions as same as inside the rays space but disconnects the user from the surprise emotion.

Form justification :

Its sharp side is aligned to the north as the sun moves from east to south to west theoretically. The pyramid having 3 faces creates distinct experiences when the sun is at each direction of its faces at different time periods.

The slanted walls of the pyramid create an effect as if they’re bent towards the user to create these light rays.

  1. The Shadows – We get into this space normally from the glass passage to a pathway which will be foggy and changing colours while we walk through it, is the first level of surprise. Then this leads us to the shadows space which is a bigger surprise. The colours we walked through seem to have exploded into our shadows of the respective colours in this space. (Primary experience and secondary experience). This space then leads to a passage which has random slits on it.
  1. The light slits – This space shows us how light passes through a structure by a slit opening and as well as it creates a dynamic effect.. the slits throw a solid ray of light when the sun is intense and creates a glow when the sun isn’t. This space is in a zig zag manner so as to capture all the dynamism of the sun. This leads to an open landscape which is open for any artist or architect to put up their own exhibition or light art installation.. if something is put up people will experience that and then continue onto to the mirror lights..
  1. The Mirror lights – This space has mirrors on the ceiling walls and partially on the floor in a parametric pattern. The lights reflect on these mirrors and show the space as infinite destination but in a small box. The parametric pattern of mirror places on the floor distorts the reflections in human eye view… which creates confusion for people.. after the light slits the user goes out for a break.. when he/she returns to the experience journey he sees something totally contrasting to what he saw till then which creates confusion.. this Also acts as a precontext for the next space… this space then leads to a passage way in which lights guide you through after the confusion created by light..
  1. The Guiding lights- This space has pores on the wall in an angular position which casts rays of light away from us in forward direction which guides us. Before seeing these rays there is a portion called light tubes area which acts as a visual obstruction for the guiding lights.. this is the concept of hide and reveal before a surprise and this is the third type of surprise I have explored. The passageway rises in slope by 500mm at its mid turning and slopes down again which is indicated by the guiding lights.
  1. Water glow – Water and light have a great combination. This space will have a small water body at the centre of the hemispherical dome with a spotlight inside the water. This will scatter the light rays along with water caustics on the curved wall of the space. This natural reflection creates a sense of life in the space. Adding up to this static life, the glowing algae growing in the water body creates a glow when the water is agitated by the user which is also reflected on the curved wall. From this space we can see few steps extruded from the floor slightly which will lead us to the outside…
  1. The Water steps – These steps continue with the introduction of water beneath it which creates a feeling as if the stones are floating on water and as if the user is walking on it.. These steps connect to a tunnel which is closed with only one opening which is the entryway.. As the user walks inside it, the environment becomes darker while the stones and the water starts to glow. The stones used are glowing stones and water glows because of the bioluminescent algae being cultured in there..
  1. The Mist Rainbow – Before going into this space there is a colourful passage similar to that of the shadows precon. This takes the user through the colour palette of vibgyor one by one in a foggy atmosphere and leads to an open space with a fluid wall alone. The mist spikes and poles present at its centre sprinkles water into fine droplets of mist which creates a rainbow at certain angles..

(when the sun is behind the user and the viewing angle is at 40-42 deg. with the sun rays). This experience makes people to move in the circular orbit in the find for a rainbow. This space then leads the user to the next space called the prismatic maze through a passageway.

  1. The Prismatic Maze – This space starts from the Mist rainbow space. Entering the pathway from there, the user sees the pathway becoming foggy and red. The user gets into it with a visibility of 5m. While walking through the red colour, the blue colour is the visible destination. Reaching there, the user gets two options, left(blue pathway) and right (no colour – dark). Those who try the dark one, return to the blue pathway and continue walking left from the junction. Now they see pink colour as their destination. They reach the next junction and they have three options this time, left(yellow pathway), straight(pink pathway) and right(royal purple pathway). As the combination of purple and pink are more attractive than yellow, most of the users will tend to go straight or right. But sadly it’s a trap, both the passages are looped. They have no choice other than yellow now and the users will be alert hereafter. While walking through the yellow passage, they see red again. They get slightly confused because of the repeated red colour light as they are in a state to doubt everything. They keep walking and get into the red colour light pathway. The users again see the same blue colour light after red. As things appears to be repeating, the users believe it’s a trap again and gets ready for another loop trap but the twist in the story is they end up in a calm retrospective space.
  1. The Retrospective – This space is the final space of the experience. It is the biggest space in diameter compared to all other experience spaces in the design. This is to create an uncertain feeling in the user’s mind. After all the light experience spaces right from the dark side to the celebration through absence, when the user is left into a calm space which has nothing other than a horizon view like how the earth will be seen from the outer space, the experience acts as a retrospective medium for the users. The space is also dynamic as the colours of the horizon keeps changing like how the earth has different colours of light created. The floor slope in the ratio of 1:12 which creates the feeling of the earth’s curve.

We end the experience of light here but not the celebration, light will be celebrated always by its people. Let us all understand as light lost its importance amongst us, we lost our true darkness..continued by our health, stars, millions of nocturnal species and the nocturnal life of the existing species. Let’s stop the exploitation of light and celebrate it in a sensible way. Thank you.


  • Before the experience starts, the users will be given an option at the ticket counter to whether start the travel from either the dark side of light or the celebration of light(skipping the pitch dark spaces for those who fear of it).
  • All the doors of the experience spaces open/close automatically with sensors.
  • Spaces that are air-conditioned have floor concealed ac units with false flooring to avoid the visual disturbance in the experience.
  • No façade lighting is used in this project so as not to contribute to devastating light pollution.
  • No street lights are used for the same reason. As an alternative, light fixtures which will have sensors to switch on/off with human activity will be installed on the ground in a manner that the light doesn’t scatter 180deg. and add up to the light pollution.
  • For a sense of approach and bound, the pavement will be built with glowing stones which absorbs natural light in the daytime and glows in the nighttime.
  • In places of darkness such as the absence of light and the walls and roof of retrospective, Vantablack paint is used which will absorb all the light emitted in that space and doesn’t reflect it to the human eye. This doesn’t reveal the form definition to the human eye and makes the concentrate on the experience alone with a surprise feeling.
  • Some videos taken live with the physical model are attached along with this mail. I have used incense sticks(agarbathi) for fog(for the light rays to be visible) and captured the video with a mobile phone from its door hole. Please check that.