Reflections On Light

A winter’s day. I was up at our farm in the Victorian high country. It was already a pleasant winter morning, but then a beam of light radiated across the mountains, across the lake, through the intermittent cloud cover and lit up everything with a golden glow. It was magic. A magic moment where nothing moved but everything changed.

In the moment I couldn’t directly see the source of the light, the winter sun rising east of north-east—that’s a view from outside and on the front deck—but because our living room is glass on three walls I could see its effects spreading 270º around me. Light is magic. Glass brought the magic inside.

I love light. I love watching it. I love thinking about it. I love maximising it. I love the contrasts and illumination of natural light. I look for every chance to embrace the quality of light in my own world and to paint other people’s worlds with light.

I’m a forty-something. That means I’ve been around long enough to supersede my youthful exuberance with plenty of experience, the kind that only comes from trial and error, some failures along the way, but also completing hundreds of glass building projects, always discovering and striving for new ways and world best standards. I now have a quarter century of design and construction experience behind me. I’ve had time enough to build a team who can always deliver to my standards. More than that, I’ve had time enough to work out what’s what.

What really matters? Light matters! Everyone loves a room with a view. Integral to that view is the amount and quality of light that enters the room.

I venture to say that the quality of the light in every life is the measure of the quality of that life. I believe that is true in the physical sense and also in the metaphysical. The mood and the measure of virtually every human experience is inextricably linked with the quality and nature of the light conditions.

I understand the science of light, somewhat. But I am not a scientist. I understand the mechanics of light and materials and engineering principles but I am not an engineer. I am an artist and a creator. My art is building to enhance the availability of light and maximise the experience of light, especially natural light.

My canvas is glass. My mission is dramatic, exciting, inviting living landscapes that enhance lifestyle and familial relationships.

Some artists use paper or linen canvas and the medium may be oil paint. Some are watercolorists. Other “painters of light” use photography. Some sculpt with clay, stone, bronze, iron, stone, steel, aluminium or some other material of choice. Even solid objects such as sculptures which achieve aesthetic appeal primarily from shape are still absolutely dependent on the play of light for the experiential outcome. Some artists paint with film and project to the big screen or televisions or to computer or mobile screens. Whatever the medium, whatever the experience, light is always the central player.

I use timber, steel aluminium, stone, brick, colours and mechanical effects to shape, sculpt and embed the lifestyle canvas—and I paint with glass.

I use the light of the sun to bring outdoors indoors, and project the indoor experience to the outdoors, regardless of weather. I don’t make the design fit with my predetermined product catalogue—that’s a terrible starting point for any design. My focus is to shape and enhance the available light and therefore the mood and lifestyle experience, using the available budget with materials and design suited to the task.

At the most routine level this translates into simple structures such as pergolas, porches, sunrooms, alfrescos and home or office extensions. Attractive. Practical. Utilitarian.

But give me space in which to create and an owner, builder or architect with whom to engage, someone with imagination to wonder what is possible, then the canvas takes on a life of its own. Magic happens.

Think about the inspiration of the world’s great conservatories, magnificent traditional structures such as Kew in London, the botanic gardens of Buffalo New York, Adelaide South Australia and Golden Gate Park San Francisco, or the modern inspiration of Gardens by the Bay in Singapore. Each is a stand alone case study in artful design, functional form, structural prowess and above all, the importance of light in the human experience.

With such a context consider the possibilities that could be dreamed into existence in visionary traditional or futuristic domestic settings.

Plenty of people can build “stuff”. There are almost as many millions of builders as there are millions of amateur and professional photographers. Getting straight lines or framing up an image isn’t hard. It’s easy enough to tell the difference between shoddy workmanship and good solid workmanship. But it takes discernment to plan for the difference between good enough and truly beautiful. The difference is in the subtleties, details that must be envisioned before a project begins and during the journey, not just after the fact. It is also in the focus. Designing with light not just space can add meaning, dimension, purpose and fulfilment to what may have been formerly archaic, rundown, under-utilised, plain, empty or merely functional.

If someone wants to choose a product from a supplier’s standard range with a few personalised adaptations then fine, there are plenty of such providers. If the goal is to do something amazing, full of artistry and skill, then the focus has to be right; it takes more than just commissioning a tradesman so you can end up with straight lines.

Of course, at the end of every project we do need to end up with a physical structure that fulfils its functional purpose. But in the process of achieving that end it helps to contemplate possibilities, to be informed but he best minds, to explore the world of art, ideas, architecture and material so that the “world best practice” is brought to bear—even if the structure is a suburban sunroom. Everyone is entitled to an original.

Einstein revolutionised the world of science when in 1905, before achieving his doctorate and while still working as a lowly patent clerk, he published a paper hat flew in the face of all known science. His idea that light consisted of particles not waves was the first in a series of revolutionary hypotheses proposed by him.

So what? What might Einsteinian physics, cosmology or quantum mechanics or light as finite particle quanta rather than waves have to do with the quality of light and the way in which light shapes the quality of life in your home or workspace? Does it actually matter to you whether the light streaming into your conservatory or orangery is a wave or a particle? Or the Lord Kelvin is the namesake for the scale that defines the temperature of colour and the range of thermal motion? Or the subtle differences between the Newtonian and Einsteinian universes? Probably not, but such things do matter to me simply because I’m always looking for the slight edge to improve the built outcome.

A homeowner may not want to trouble themselves with technical terms and physical world realities such as refraction, reflection, diffusion, absorption, radiation, convection or thermal conservation. Or the laws of thermodynamics and the principles of civil and mechanical engineering. Or the molecular properties and manufacturing processes of the many types of glass and companion materials such as timber, steel, aluminium, concrete, brick and stone.

Whether you are an architect, builder, engineer or homeowner, you want me to think about those things and understand their consequences as well as syncing the geography, location, orientation, local weather patterns, seasonal arc of the sun and colour of light and optimal temperatures. They are all elements of my artistic palette.

Two key ideas have emerged from my journeys with glass and light: (1) The idea discussed earlier that the quality of light in our lives is a key measure of the quality of our lives; and (2) despite its long functional history as a viewing medium, glass is only at the beginning of its structural possibilities in the great architectural adventures of the future.

Rather than fill this page with scientific theories, abstract science or even modern construction tricks, on our Global Inspirations page we take a journey around “my world” to look at the best of the grand designs with glass. My real purpose there is to stimulate vision and imagination, to help people reflect on what they want, which often begins with knowing what they don’t want.

Whatever it is ultimately, wherever you find that “ah-hah” idea for your indoor outdoor lifestyle adventure, I’ve either done it, many times, or worked with the principle that makes it work, many times. Either way, let’s begin our journey towards the light.