‘There is Darkness Inside’
Our shunning of dark interior space is based, at a fundamental level, on a sensual fear: we cannot define dark space with vision, our dominant sense, and therefore it becomes an unknown space, a question that we fear to answer.
The literature shows that there is a widespread acceptance that fully lit interiors provide functional spaces in which work can be done. Per Olaf (1983) states that like every other twentieth century person, Fehn accepts the convenience and pleasures of artificial light. Tanizaki (1991), on the other hand, is more philosophical in his understanding, saying, ‘If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty.’ However, Tanizaki’s (1991) opinion of the Western approach to lighting strongly contrast with Fen’s acceptance. ‘But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light – his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow.’ Tanizaki’s attitude is arguably out-dated: in fact Japan embraces artificial lighting. While the two theorists differ in their interpretations of artificial lighting, they agree that there is a danger of excessive use in modern day culture.
This paper summarises the benefits to be had from dark interior space and the negative effects that excessive artificial light has on our surrounding environment and ourselves. It will focus on how dark interior space not only affects our sense of interiority, but also the way in which we perceive space and experience the ambience of an interior. Although this literature review presents these themes in a variety of contexts, it will focus primarily on their application within interior design.
The unnerving feeling we often experience when we enter a dark space is a result of our reduced ability to locate ourselves within our environment. Juhani Pallasmaa (2005. P.40) suggests that our bodies and movements are in constant interaction with the environment, that the world and the self inform and redefine each other constantly. Similarly Groz (Rice. 2006. p.51) argues that space is not a pre-existing container into which the body projects itself. Rather, it is formed around the reflection of an imaginary anatomy. Dark space reduces the interaction in a visual sense and denies the reflection of the anatomy in an interior sense. Dark space removes the ability to project our identity onto the space we inhabit; it creates a world in which introspection is the main experience, an experience with which we are no longer comfortable.
Introspection is an experience with which we are increasingly unfamiliar in a world of constant interaction with others via social networks. And yet the experience of introspection is of great significance in relation to a sense of wellbeing. Alicia in her web article ‘Dreaming in Darkness’ (2011) questions what it is about darkness that we try to avoid with constant light during our waking hours. Is it the introspection that darkness invites? Why is it only in darkness that we give ourselves permission for that self-exploration? Perhaps in darkness it is easier to see the parts of ourselves that we keep hidden. Similarly Foucault (Vidler. 1994 p.168) suggests that such a spatial paradigm was constructed out of an initial fear, a fear of enlightenment in the face of ‘darkened spaces, of the pall gloom which prevents the full visibility of things, men and truths’. It can be said that because darkness clouds out vision it opens up a new level of understanding, and offers a means to explore our inner identity without the concerns of an exterior world. In this sense darkness has much in common with meditative practices.
There is one place where you will often find dark interior spaces: religious buildings. As Taylor and Preston (2006. p.335) assert, ‘Instead of being bewildered by the lack of clarity or visibility, shadowed interiors provoke a sense of harmony based on faith in effect rather than truth in light.’ However, Theodora Antonakaki (2007) argues that light in religion, not shadow, is used to attract the worshippers and to guide them all the way towards the revelation. It creates a mystical, transcendental atmosphere; inspiring worshippers to look for the light, look for the truth of the apocalypse. The importance of a religious space’s ambient and spiritual qualities lies in the space between light and dark. The qualities of both come together to create a sensual and philosophical space for meditation.
The ambience of an interior is created through various factors but in this case I will be focusing on the affects of light and shadow. As Bollnow (Norberg-Schulz. 1985. p.89) Said, “Mood is the simplest and most original form in which human life becomes aware of itself”. It is in darkened interiors that we find emotion most forthcoming, that we are able to feel the space around us. This could be due to the affect it has on our senses as Arthur Zajonc (1993 p.12) said; “the light of day makes way for the light of night, of blindness, of inner sight.” Implying that within the darkened interior space we are better able to understand our surroundings to sense the atmosphere. Plato (Zajonc 1993 p.12) also supported this line of thinking saying “the minds eye begins to see clearly when the outer eyes grow dim.” Suggesting that in brightly lit interiors we are able to see the form of an object clearly and to locate it in relation to our self. However this conversely means that we become less capable of picking up the ambience of the interior space, less able to read the material qualities and narrative of the interior and the objects that fill it.
The material qualities of darkness are not something we are used to anymore, and it is rare for us to explore the qualities of materials themselves in a darkened interior. The Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki (1991. p. 52) described darkness as if it were a material itself:‘the darkness seemed to fall from the ceiling, lofty, intense, monolithic, the fragile light of the candle unable to pierce its thickness, turned back as from a black wall.’ Equally, Sverre Fehn (Fjeld, O, P. 1983). questions, ‘does there exist a greater loneliness than that of a catalogued Egyptian mummy in foggy London, lying in the shadowless world of fluorescent light?’ Darkness adds a tactile, tangible quality to space; it turns space itself into a material that moulds feeling.
Darkened interior space allows materials to show off their qualities, picking up the limited light and providing a true contrast between light and shadow. Tanizaki (1991) speaks of rooms as having charm, repose and ethereal glow brought upon delicate distinctions between material surfaces that glimmer, glint, lustre, gleam or shine within a darkened interior. Speirs and Major, meanwhile, argue that the manner in which surfaces are rendered by light reveals their very nature. The angle and direction of the light as well as the nature of the surface govern appearance. Light arguably defines objects whereas darkness hides them. But it is clear that the two work together in a more complex way than this: it is not simply light and dark that govern the appearance of materials but also the material qualities of the object or interior.
So used are we to brightly lit interiors that we rarely consider the qualities that a darkened interior space can give to the texture, form and ambience a material creates. Tanizaki (1991) suggests that materials such as gold, silver and diamond would once have sparkled with just the smallest touch of light, holding much greater awe than they do in today’s garish light, under which every plastic coffee cup can glitter. Similarly, Sverre Fehn (Olaf, P. 1983) discusses his profound unease with the spiritual and cultural consequences of modern technology saying, “when man conquered darkness the latent generosity of night ceased to exist”. Both men show a deep understanding of the way that darkness can affect interiors and the objects within them, that there is a quality to be drawn out of materials when you catch a glimpse rather than totality and that this is what creates the ambience of an interior, feelings not facts.
How we perceive an interior is integral to our understanding of it, it allows us to make judgements and decide on how we will approach or interact with it. We are able to perceive an interior space far better when it is a darkened one than if it is a brightly lit one. Christian Norberg-Schulz (1996. p.6) while talking about the light qualities of Norway said that ‘our fundamental tenor is dread, but a dread that also conveys a kind of freedom different from the South’s conditional acceptance.’ Here he suggests that the ‘dread’ (darkness) allows freedom of interpretation whereas the ‘South’ (light) dictates your perception. This supports what Pallasmaa (2005. P.46) said about the sense of sight. ‘The eye is the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of nearness, intimacy and affection.’ It is only when we are in a darkened interior that draws us into it, that we are able to truly perceive it. When we flood the interior with light we are actually distancing ourselves from it. It is this tangible quality of darkness that allows us to feel it, to perceive it through our sense of touch, taste, sound or smell.
When we are able to perceive a space through the qualities of darkness the world around us becomes less defined and more unified. Norberg-Schulz (1996. P.6) states that it is ‘where things cannot appear individually but are interwoven… In such a place, it is not a things eidos that matters but its veiled relation to all others.’ This way of thinking allows you to perceive the world in its entirety rather than in its detailed differences, it lets you place yourself within your environment rather than apart from it. Pallasmaa (2005. P.46) suggests ‘homogenous bright light paralyses the imagination in the same way that homogenisation of space weakens the experience of being, and wipes away the sense of place.’ He clearly defines that excessive light can displace us within an interior, that it removes our ability to imagine and therefore perceive that which cannot be seen.
Perception does not just lie with the sense of sight, and it is our other senses that allow us to imagine, to create and explore. In Norberg-Schulz’s book ‘The Concept of Dwelling’ (1985. p.89) he quotes Bachlard who says, “before he is thrown into the world, man is put in the cradle of the house,” and comments that, ‘in the house man becomes familiar with the world in its immediacy.’ The emphasis is on the interaction of the senses and the comfort that it provides. Much like the womb of a mother with child, it provides a dwelling that is encompassed within darkness, an environment that provides one with only the immediate sensory experiences. The senses of touch, sound, taste and smell.
Norberg-Schulz (1985. p.89) asserts that, “the answer is simply that the purposes of human life are not found at home; the role of each individual is part of a system of interactions which take place in a common world based on shared values. However, we withdraw to our home to recover our personal identity. Personal identity, thus, is the content of private dwelling.”
So the true power of dark interior space is its ability to draw on our sense of identity, and that brightly lit interiors make us feel distinctly separated from the world we live in. What we require is a small amount of darkness to help us find ourselves within the world, to give us a moments respite in a world of separation through light.
It can be said that there are numerous qualities to artificial light and that it provides us with a practical and often enjoyable experience of interior or even exterior space. But there is shared concern that it is increasingly becoming an excessively used quantity within our lives.
Darkened interiors provide us with the opportunity for introspection rather than projection of identity, but with increasingly few experiences of darkened interiors we grow uncomfortable with them, unknowing.
Dark interior space provides us with an environment in which we can meditate to think clearly without the distraction of sight, it allows our mind to run free without the boundaries of a visual world.
The ambience of a darkened interior is far more emotive than that of an artificially lit one. It suggests moods rather than dictates them, allowing the understanding or misunderstanding of the word around us. Artificial light is a mood killer it has no subtlety no inconsistency.
Material qualities take on far more meaning in darkened interiors, allowing an interpretation of the object and encouraging us to approach and touch it. Darkness provides us with a tactile environment that encourages perception of space over visions definition of space.
What is needed is a re-balancing of light and dark, of Ying and Yang, as at the moment there is a false god of light a god of artificial light.
Alicia. (2011). Dreaming in Darkness. Retrieved from the website http://reflectionsmassage.wordpress.com
Antonakaki, T. (2007). Lighting and Spatial Structure in Religious Architecture. 6th International Space Syntax Symposium. Istanbul. Retrieved from the website: http://www.spacesyntaxistanbul.itu.edu.tr
Fjeld, O, P. (1983). Sverre Fehn: The Thoughts of Construction. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc : New York
Major, M. Speirs, J. Tischauser, A. (2005). Made of Light: The Art of Light and Architecture. Birkhauser : Basel, Switzerland
Norberg-Schulz, C. (1985). The Concept of Dwelling. New York: Electa/ Rizzoli
Norberg-Schulz, C. (1996). Nightlands. London: The MIT Press
Pallasmaa, J. (2005). The Eyes of The Skin: Architecture and the sense. Wiley-Academy : Great Britain
Rice, C. (2007). The Emergence of the Interior: Architecture. Modernity, Domesticity. Routledge : Great Britain
Tanizaki, J. (1991). In Praise Of Shadows. Vintage books : London
Taylor, M. Preston, J. (2006). Intimus: Interior Design Theory Reader. Wiley-Academy : London
Vidler, A. (1994). The Architectural Uncanny: Essays in the Modern Unhomely. MIT Press : Massachusetts
Zajonc, A. (1993). Catching The Light: The Entwined History of Light and Mind. Australia: Bantam Press