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8 Fascinating Examples of Light as Architectural Concepts

The elegance of the design and the material’s texture, illuminating and glowing in the presence of natural light (sunlight), creates the first impression.
In this article, we present you with examples where light plays a primary role in the design.

“Architecture appears for the first time when the sunlight hits a wall. The sunlight did not know what it was before it hit a wall.”- By Louis Kahn.

1. Khogod courtyard in The Smithsonian Institution.

Norman Foster is fascinated by the light from above, for instance, the roof. Large public buildings benefit from the vast amount of direct daylight entering from above, creating exaggerated, dramatic, and enjoyable spaces. In his projects, terminals, and museums, natural light is a principal source that lets the light from the ceiling illuminate the surfaces below.

  • Project: Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery.
  • Style: 19th-century Greek Revival architecture
  • Architect: Norman Foster


Smithsonian American Art Museum – Image source: fosterandpartners.com

This undulating glass and steel roof rests on eight aluminum-clad columns within the courtyard. A thin rubber seal connects the glass canopy to the original roof-top. The rainwater drains down from the covering to the center of the columns.
Here the articulated and elegant roof canopy emits direct sunlight enclosing the courtyard’s walls and floors with light and shadow. The varying sun angles and weather effects create dynamic visual patterns that transform throughout the day. The plaza itself transforms into a work of art with its striking designs with shadows.

2. Notre Dame du Haut

Le Corbusier has said that “… light for me is the fundamental basis of architecture.
I compose with light …”

  • Project: Notre Dame du Haut in Eastern France
  • Architecture: 20thcentury religious architecture
  • Architect: Le Corbusier

Le Corbusier designed a few buildings such as churches where the orientation, openings, and thick walls act as a hierarchy when natural light enters, transforming spaces and creating illuminated spots and focal points.

Natural light
Notre Dame du Haut – Image source: archdaily.com

The lighting from the clerestory windows is indirect and reflects off the concrete walls. A spatial complexity increases with the flood of sunlight deep into space, illuminating the floors and walls to produce expanding spatial experience, creating delightful points. Rectangular apertures of window frames create intense daylight, captivating the form of the surface.


3.Sainte Marie de La Tourette

The church with a concrete structure comprising high walls with rectangular apertures as the source of natural light.

  • Project : Sainte Marie La Tourette,1960
  • Modernist , International Style
  • Architect : Le Corbusier
Natural light
Natural light

The spaciousness escalates in the sanctuary/work areas, and natural light animates itself as we can visualize the moving light from one point to another creating illuminated focal points throughout the day. The surface textures are highlighted, not only with the effects of light and shadow within the sanctuary but also a wide contrast is seen between the brighter and dark areas.

4. Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth

Kahn designed the Art Museum, where light is the principal concept and theme. The space under the smooth, concrete vaulted ceiling of the Art Museum is transformed into a moonlit, pearly shining surface subtly articulating the glowing on the surface.

  • Project: Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth
  • Architect: Louis Kahn
Natural light

Here, Kahn introduces indirect natural light to illuminate the art gallery spaces through skylights located between the shells of concrete so that direct light does not cause any damage to the artwork. The sunlight entering from the skylight is reflected upward on the ceiling with the help of aluminum reflectors placed beneath the skylight.

5. Chapel of St. Ignatius

Steven Holl uses “daylight” to inspire souls. When daylight integrates into architecture, the buildings are orchestrated by the perception of light and casting shadows at varying angles creating impressive spaces.

  • Project: Chapel of St.Ignatius, Seattle University (1997)
  • Architect: Steven Holl

The primary concept is “Seven bottles of light in a stone box.” The light emerges from distinct volumes of the roof from different directions distributing light in varying qualities and quantities: north-facing, south-facing, east, and west-facing.

Natural light
Natural light

The volumes of light in each direction correspond to the programs of Jesuit Catholic Worship. For instance, the south-facing light corresponds to the procession. The primary worship place receives light from the east and west. The varying sun angles and the weather conditions create smooth and dramatic transformations in the interiors.

6. Zollverein School of Management and Design

The natural light that enters the school building is direct, creating visually dramatic and ventilated spaces. The school is an expression of a massive volume of a cube with numerous perforations of the window in three different sizes placed functionally.

  • Project: Zollverein School of Management and Design
  • Architect: SANAA/Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa



The interior is well-lit: creating large patches of rectangular, bright spaces, and these punctures filter the light transforming into generous and spacious rooms. The views of the surrounding landscape areas subtly diminish the transition between the exterior and interiors.

7. Church of Light

“In all my works, light is an important controlling factor,” says Ando. The volume of space is defined by the light. The profiles of the apertures from where the light introduces into the interior also convey religious meaning next to its physical presence. As an instance, it is indicated in the church of Light by Tadao Ando.

  • Project: Church of Light(Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church)
  • Architect: Tadao Ando
  • Architectural Style: Modern Architecture

The natural light enters the chapel by the crosscut apertures of the concrete wall. The horizontal opening perfectly rests with the joints of concrete blocks, and the vertical one runs from the floor to the ceiling, creating a strong contrast between light and dark. Light acts as a focal point due to its significance, as the rest of the space is empty.

8. The Phillips Exeter Library 

Kahn’s concern for Natural light for the library met the specific principles of the Academy, which creates an ideal environment for study. The main floor with 70m height immerses itself in natural light from clearstory windows at the top. The massive cross-concrete beams diffuse light and reflect into the atrium that provides exaggerating and dramatic effects.

  • Project: Phillips Exeter Library, New Hampshire
  • Architect: Louis Kahn
photo credit: Xavier de Jauréguiberry
photo credit: Xavier de Jauréguiberry

The reading spaces are arranged at the periphery of the room to receive ample daylight. Here significance is given to each cubicle space to receive natural light by providing sliding windows at desk height that can adjust and control lighting. It also helps the students to experience exterior views while they relax.

Do you find the article interesting? Please mention the names of projects where light is the primary concept to design!

  • Written by
  • Sahithi (Architect and Interior Designer)

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