Think About Thinking About Light: A Phenomenological Investigation of Lighting in Built Environments
This Major Paper is a phenomenological investigation of lighting in built environments. As a work in phenomenology, there is no thesis guiding the inquiry. Instead, the paper is framed around a set of questions, and a search for insights through experience. Research is focused on the relationship between experiential and theoretical understandings of light, and the implications for ecological design. Much has been said regarding the varied history and theories of light. Likewise, quantitative concerns over lighting are prevalent in environmental literature. However, few works explore light from a qualitative perspective. As such, a new avenue is opened here for exploration – investigating the philosophical presuppositions informing understandings of light and their significance for environmental thought. The underlying thematic focus is a consideration of light’s ability to either foster or hinder notions of connectedness between humans and the more-than-human world, specifically in built environments. After introducing the topic of light as an area of inquiry, the larger theoretical framework, namely ecological design, is addressed. An argument is made for a deeper questioning of beliefs informing design theory, and the usefulness of environmental thought for progressing this goal. Phenomenology, and specifically embodied architectural phenomenology and Merleau‐Pontian ecophenomenology, are introduced as a more focused methodological and conceptual framework, merging architectural theory and environmental thought. Utilizing this framework, a research methodology is developed that combines hermeneutic and first person phenomenological analysis. Following the establishment of a conceptual framework, a phenomenological investigation of light is undertaken. The argument is made that, due to light’s unique nature, it cannot be experienced as an isolated phenomenon. Hence, metaphorical interpretations are used to describe and understand light. While some conceptual abstractions (discussed herein) can be useful, they also disregard the experiential light informing their existence. A proposed understanding of light through relationality, akin to Merleau‐Ponty’s notion of flesh, is made. From this new vantage point, a contemporary interpretation of light is explored. After establishing a relational conception of light, the tension between experiential and interpretive understandings are explored in three case studies: Dundas Square, The Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, and St. Gabriel’s Passionist Parish. A chapter is devoted to each site, designed as phenomenological descriptions with inserted historical/philosophical touchstones. The format is meant to further discussion concerning the relationship between experiences of light and metaphorical overtones, as well as how understandings of light manifest in built environments. Throughout each case study, several insights are uncovered regarding light and lighting’s ability to enhance or shadow the connectedness between humans and the more‐than‐human world. The conclusion briefly summarizes case study findings, and offers future directions for related research.