Translucency (An Architect's Guide)

Translucency (An Architect's Guide)



hi Erik you're 30 by 40 design workshop today we're going to be talking about translucency it's hard to overstate the role light plays in architecture the great modern architect Steven Holl noted light is to Architecture what sound is to music light renders the extents of space and controlling light is the perpetual occupation of an architect's mind at the two ends of the spectrum of light control and transmission stand transparency and opacity translucency inhabits the broad middle ground between those two the word translucent is derived from the Latin trans which means through and lucha ray which means to shine translucent surfaces permit the passage of light while visually obscuring what's behind it historical examples of the use of translucency and architecture abound the poetic sliced alabaster window above the main altar in st. Peter's Basilica in Rome the Shoji screens at the Katsura villa in kyoto the stained-glass rose windows at the great Chartres Cathedral in France and there are countless others translucency promotes ambiguity a sense of mystery and a complexity that allows multiple understandings of what a space can be the following examples illustrate the magic of this ambiguity perhaps above all the use of translucent materials enables a kind of uncertainty of vagueness this translucent glass connector inspires wonder it hovers above a pathway mysteriously linking two places while carefully controlling what the homes inhabitants see both into and out of the connector the deliberate slot of clear glass at eye level reinforces the mystery and the need to seek it out the light filled volume contrasts the neighboring solid walls and begs further exploration because viewing angle and lighting both natural and artificial have such dramatic effects on translucent materials they naturally establish dual perceptions depending on the position and time of day this duality not only marks the passage of time between day and night but it's often visually transformative viewed at night the translucent walls of this barn appear lantern like they emit a warm glow from the interior and highlight the timber structure within rendering it in an enigmatic box the barn forms suggest solidity and weight but the exterior skin is ethereal and light by contrast viewed from the exterior by day the shell appears solid and planar while remaining light in color and weight viewed from the interior by day the walls are luminous and patterned by shadowed silhouettes used in urban environments where privacy and natural lighting demands often intersect translucent glass satisfies both requirements note the subtle reflections in the glass which give away the fact that this glass is etched or sandblasted on one side only positioning the unaged or polished face of the glass toward the exterior allows it to be easily cleaned in an environment that's sure to see lots of dirt and grime an entire glazed wall in a bathroom is made possible by translucency a simple horizon line marks the boundary between edged glass and clear glass demarcating a private zone a ribbon of trees and sky become a natural clear story while the translucent wainscoting provides privacy directly contrasting the transparent and translucent reinforces the inherent qualities of each controlled views used here to call attention to a very specific view framed almost like a painting the modulation between clear glass and channel glass is striking channel glass is a molten glass that has been rolled and formed into a C shape and can be used on exterior walls as a structural wall panel the shape lends it the strength to support itself over greater distances than plate glass alone entire walls of translucent materials can be used to dramatic effect used in this space to illuminate an otherwise dark entry at the centre of the building mass a translucent wall also enlarges the perceived size of small spaces translucency creates depth by exploiting the natural assumption of a destination Beyond and behind the surface the pattern on this etched glass wall was abstracted from an image of water and cut into a stainless steel screen in the adjacent room the entry space shown here is shielded from the main bedroom on the opposite side by the glazed surface preserving privacy and bringing light into the arrival zone the stainless steel screen can be seen here overlaid on the glass panel the glass wall viewed from the bedroom appears notably more solid as the ambient room lighting of the adjacent room is lower than the bedroom as day turns to night and different interior lighting is used the perception of the wall will change floors are typically very heavy elements in architectural compositions translucent glazing in floors lightens this once weighty element a natural fit to allow light through while maintaining privacy for those passing above this translucent floors also lit from within further reducing its mass by day and night the floor brightly marks the vertical circulation zone and reinforces the openness established by the adjacent windowed wall this unique translucent floor treatment permits light from above the only available source into the depths of this London home via the stairway glass sandwiches in aluminum honeycomb decor creating a soft pixelated effect by using laminated materials such as this or others that have grasses or geometric patterns sandwiched inside translucent surfaces can be transformed into integrated arts installations transparent opaque and translucent surfaces work in concert to provide a richly layered complex space within a relatively simple geometry the eye is drawn toward the view at the end of this space but judiciously placed pools of light provide waypoints and establish a rhythm that breaks up the elongated volume the walls are sheathed in translucent acrylic that clearly expresses the structural support system the bones of the house a reference to traditional Japanese washi paper the translucent interior skin has a sheen that further reflects and softens the space the drapery is another element in the palette of gauze-like translucent materials translucent surfaces reflect absorb and refract or bend light passing through them this causes the spaces they conceal to be illuminated by a diffuse scattered light translucent screens are paired here with light flooring walls and ceiling to reflect the diffused light making for a bright interior the hallway of the same house also employs a complex layering of volume and material the freestanding translucent screens seen here are neither wall nor scrim they permanently define the hallway space as a layer without blocking it completely from the light the extremely thin elements are part of a larger play on spatial layering made possible by using translucent elements the primary component of glass is silica silica often contains iron oxides and the color of glass is affected by the amount of iron in the silica low iron glass such as this is white in color as compared to the greenish tint of standard glass low iron glass however is more expensive because the silica is of higher quality here it blends with the white in the overall composition allowing the wood to become the primary contrasting element I'll close with this project which speaks eloquently to the possibility of translucent materials and is proof that translucency can transcend merely the utilitarian the architect here devised a storage solution for the owners collection of preserved marine specimens at first glance it's a translucent wall separating the family room from the study interspersed with clear rectangles of varying sizes upon deeper inspection we can see a striped edged pattern which correlates with the image of the DNA sequence of a harbor seal the more one gazes at this wall the more one sees a simple concept for storing objects against this wall is elevated to an archive like museum piece at once both precious and accessible overlapping layers of glass bottles and the objects they contain along with the interplay of the etched DNA sequence make for a complex and interesting story revealed in different phases from family room to study layering meaning in an apparently simple gesture makes for wonderfully engaging architecture


7 thoughts on “Translucency (An Architect's Guide)

  1. My first thought was "I don't like translucent screens or even worse bricks" but you have shown me variations on "translucency" can be really nice 😀

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