Contextual Study Point 1: Light

What “experience” is James Turrell trying to create and what specific techniques is he using in his designs?

Can you describe them and propose ideas of how and why they might be effective at engaging the viewer?

Can you draw any comparisons to James Turrell’s work and a design visual of an interior design?

Using your learning log, along with pictures of James Turrell’s work, discuss these ideas and reflect on how you might incorporate these ideas in your visuals. Keep the post to a minimum of 200 words.

James Turrell is an American artist who trained as psychologist and is an avid pilot. He was born in 1943 and created many light installations or other works of art and architecture that use light and empty space as medium. He often gets his inspiration from the feeling of space and light while he is in the air, piloting a plane. His artworks are spread around the world and since 1977 he has been involved in the ongoing creation of Roden Crater – a large scale artwork – a fruit of his lifelong research into visual and psychological perception. He is in the process of creating a unique destination, occupying a dormant volcano crater in the middle of Arizona Dessert.

In my opinion through his designs he is trying to make people being in thought, to contemplate, to consider the environment around them. He wants people to stop and look, just look, perceive, and feel, perhaps feel surprised while they see a lit space that may appear to be in a different dimension than it actually is. An example of this could be a frameless opening in the roof (Fig. 1), that looks almost like a picture (and at night a dark rectangle contrasting with the lit room – Fig. 2); or light shining on a corner in such a way that it looks like a 3D object that shares the same corner and at the same time like a flat object whose front hides the corner (Fig. 3).

His artwork engages the viewer through contrast between light and shade (or darkness) and through perception that is different to reality.

Interior design visuals where outside is brought inside use similar techniques to some of James Turrell’s work. These visuals would have large windows with beautiful scenery, landscape or urban visible and being a focal point of the interior (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4 Modern kitchen overlooking the ocean as it flows into the timber deck outside

Visuals with skylights showing the sky especially on a beautiful day (Fig. 5) use similar technique to J. Turrell’s too. I think these features make user stop and contemplate and hopefully feel happy.

Fig. 5 Fabulous contemporary dining room offers a stunning window to the sky

Other visuals especially hand drawn can incorporate the contrast of light and shade by highlighting the light from lamp or window in a light or yellow colour (or perhaps even in a different colour). (Fig. 6)

Fig. 6 Visual 1 / Panoramic View

If I was designing a space with a beautiful outside, I would try and incorporate it within a design, try to bring it inside in my visuals, make it a feature. Also, when sketching I could incorporate light patterns cast by daylight or lamps (similar to my drawings in perspective exercise 3.3 where I tried to capture shade cast by the shutters).

Some interiors designs feature led strips along edges of dropped parts of the ceiling or above it (Fig. 7) or under steps.

Fig. 7 Kitchen LED Strip

I am not a fan of the lights highlighting the ceiling in that way but perhaps lighting whole wall or just artwork on it may be a good idea. It would all of course depend on the interior and the clients wants and needs too. On the other hand James Turrell created something similar to what in theory I’m not a fan of – I’m talking about his Inner Way piece (Fig. 8) It has strips of light by the ceiling but I think it’s brilliant. It only shows that you (or a client) need to see something to be convinced – right visuals highlighting the right features are so important.

Fig. 8 James Turrell’s work: The Inner Way

In commercial or public spaces using light to highlight architectural or other features adds sense of grandeur (Fig. 9).

Sun tunnels bring daylight into an otherwise dark space (Fig. 10 ) in a similar way to James Turrell’s light veils (Fig. 11) providing natural, bright and dispersed light. With the difference that light veil include both natural and artificial light. In both instances the user cannot see the light source. I stayed in house that had a light tunnel and I remember the surprise I felt every time I entered the room. The amount and the quality of light was astonishing.

The bottom line is – we need light in our interiors, preferably different sources at different brightness and concentration but light is needed for human (and other creatures) survival and wellbeing.

Reflection on the task:

As usual with contextual studies the hardest thing was to get started. I read about James Turrell and his work on the internet and then needed a couple of days to dwell and get the information in order. Then I sat down and noted most of the facts from my head. So in the end I enjoyed it, I just worried about what to include unnecessarily.

I learnt from this exercise that light plays vital role in the interior design, particularly how natural light enters and travels through the space, but also design and placement of artificial lights have tremendous impact on the atmosphere and usability of the space as well as on the experience of the space. Light also facilitates sense of movement in a space as seen in Fig. 9. Moire pattern visible there along with vivid colour sheer sheets intersected with lights and rounded, repeated shapes create movement. Without light the effect would be rather flat.

List of illustrations:

Fig. 1 Nakamichi, A (2004) Blue Planet Sky (daytime) [Photograph] At:×1819.jpg (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 2 Nakamichi, A (2004) Blue Planet Sky (at night) [Photograph] At:×1819.jpg (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 3 James Turrell Studio (1970) Raethro II Peach [Photograph] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 4 Decoist (no date) Modern kitchen overlooking the ocean as it flows into the timber deck outside [Photograph] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 5 Decoist (2015) Fabulous contemporary dining room offers a stunning window to the sky! [Photograph] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 6 Partida, E (2014) Visual 1 / Panoramic View [Drawing by hand] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 7 Bright stores (no date) Kitchen LED strips [Photograph] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 8 Holzherr, F (1999) The Inner Way [Photograph] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 9 Hu, Y (2017) Gallery of Metal Rainbow-Zhongshu Bookstore in Suzhou / Wutopia Lab – 1 [Photograph] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020]

Fig. 10 The Skylight Company (no date) Sun Tunnel [Photograph] At:–guide.png (Accessed 09.06.2020)

Fig. 11 James Turrell Studio (1974) Virga [Photograph] At: (Accessed 09.06.2020)


Enrico (2010) James Turrell: Skyspace Piz Uter At: (Accessed 06.06.2020)

James Turrell (2020) Work (Type) At: (Accessed 06.06.2020)

Skystone Foundation (2020) Roden Crater At:  (Accessed 06.06.2020)

Stott, R (2012) Deer Shelter At: (accessed 03.06.2020)

Swenson, E (2016) James Turrell : Shards Of Color At: (Accessed 06.06.2020)

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