MEIER'S WORK AT THE GETTY CENTER
The keynote speech by architect Richard Meier illustrated his use of natural light in the design of the Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA. Although artwork is best viewed by natural light, it eventually causes fading. Therefore, Meier designed a rotating louver system for the Getty Center that would redirect the consistently strong Southern California light throughout the day. As a result, the museum space is lit entirely with natural light without direct light ever touching any of the paintings.
Meier explained how the concepts he used to design the Getty Center relate to the importance of light in the home. "The quality of light is experienced as one moves through the house . . . and impacts how one sees the works (or objects) within a house. So it becomes necessary to think about how the elements that one uses affect the way in which one sees and experiences things."
UV RAYS—THE INVISIBLE ENEMY
Another panel member, conservator Steve Weintraub of Art Preservation Services in New York City, went on to describe how both an incandescent lamp and natural daylight are full-spectrum sources with a full range of wavelengths.
The big difference is the amount of blue (cool light) in proportion to red (warm light). While an incandescent source has very little blue in proportion to red, blue predominates in natural daylight. That is why incandescent light appears much yellower than natural daylight. That also means that natural daylight has a lot of ultraviolet (UV) in it. "You have to filter it [UV] out. Its short wavelength is very active, and it causes a tremendous amount of damage," said Weintraub.
THE THREAT TO FURNISHINGS
We've all seen the effects of sunlight on upholstery, carpets, walls and artwork. "The most light-sensitive things, generally, are things fresh from the studio. And that's because they haven't faded yet, and the first step of fading is the most obvious. Oftentimes, the newer it is, the more susceptible it is to light damage," Weintraub noted.
"Another consideration with paintings," he went on, "is that there are a lot of colors that have been produced over this last century that simply are not light stable. [Abstract expressionist painter, Mark] Rothko, for instance, bought paints at the hardware store, and his art is gone because the colors he used are not light stable.
"In short, the light that enters the interior of a home will do damage unless controlled," said Weintraub.
Hunter Douglas product design expert Wendell Colson, another member of the panel, then examined options for light control and how to temper harsh, raw light.
LIGHT CONTROL OPTIONS
Colson explained the three ways to control light at the window:
•tinting the windows
•deflecting and diverting the natural light
•diffusing the light
Although tinting blocks the heat and ultraviolet rays while maintaining the view, nothing is done for privacy. More importantly, because the light is still coming through the tinting, nothing is done to alleviate the harsh shadows caused by the sun's direct rays.
Blinds and shutters make light very manageable, as these are louvered products. On the other hand, the overall ambiance created is harsh because of the light/dark banding of these products, both in the shadows of the room and in the shadows on the window itself.
Diffusion, the third method of controlling light at the window, bends the light coming into the space, causing it to scatter in multiple directions without shadows. In window treatments, the goal of diffusion is to mimic the soft, shadow-free effect of clouds. Because the light is diffused, we can see the real detail and structure of the objects, as they aren't lost in the harsh shadows that accompany bright daylight.
HOW LIGHT DIFFUSION WORKS
Colson demonstrated the effects of a diffusing layer on a window by using an ordinary bed sheet hung over a window with the bright light streaming through. With this single layer, he created a diffusion with a shadowing on that sheet from the mullions in the glass. This is a result of the light hitting whatever is outside and creating light/dark points in the window.
"If you merely add another layer of diffusing fabric about an inch away from the first one, you immediately create a soft light at the window without any shadows, which in turn creates a warm, diffused light in the room," Colson continued. Now, light coming in through the window hits the first layer, lands on it and creates shadows, but the light then diffuses outward to create a uniform glow on the second layer.
Colson then explained how honeycomb or cellular shades and shadings accomplish the diffusion and softening of natural light. "If we look at the construction of typical cellular shades and shadings, you'll see that the rear layer of materials acts just like the first sheet in the earlier demonstration, projecting light onto the front layer, muting that light and eliminating shadows."
DIFFUSION WITH WINDOW COVERINGS
Fortunately, cellular shades and shadings not only diffuse light, but are fashion-forward as well. Hunter Douglas has many such window coverings on the market that work by double-air diffusion or multiple-fabric-layer diffusion of light. The newest product from Hunter Douglas—Serenette™ SoftFold™ Shadings—offers patented woven fabric louvers that catch, diffuse and soften light through their teardrop shape.
"It's not a new idea," Colson concluded. "Two layers of diffusion is something we've been using ever since artificial lights have been around. (The first layer is the frosting on the bulb itself; the second is the shade.) It's just become a new idea for us in window treatments because we've only recently come to realize how it enhances the light coming in through the window."
Penny Steyer is manager of marketing communications for Hunter Douglas Window Fashions, Upper Saddle River, NJ.