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The use of Natural Light in the Art Gallery

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Jonathan Thompson
Queen's University Belfast Belfast UK
The manipulation of light goes to the heart of the architectural endeavour, but in art galleries this is tempered by technical concerns for viewing and conservation. A greater understanding of the principles involved in deterioration due to light offers a fresh insight into the extent and form of control that is necessary.

We learn in the environment of our childhood, how forms are revealed in light. We learn what forms mean, from the small objects of our playthings to the large shapes that shelter and protect us. We do this in the light of the particular place or places where we grow up, whether they be our home or in the public buildings we visit.

This dissertation is an effort to discover the significance of natural light in the art gallery and to investigate its characteristics and uses in the display and preservation of works of art. The art gallery is an institution which seeks to introduce people to art: visiting an art gallery could be looked upon as being purely a visual experience. It is therefore essential that the lighting, which allows us to view the art, does not disrupt this encounter, but rather, enhances it. This dissertation considers the history of gallery daylighting, from the 1600’s to what is considered current best practice. Even though natural lighting is a now a more important element of building design; the issues of the damage it can cause to works of art still leaves the architect with a complex problem to solve. Therefore, a large section of the essay has been devoted to the study of seven case-studies in an effort to discover the techniques which different architects have used from early days of gallery design to the present day - reflecting on the respective failures and success of each through visits to the gallery, interviews and research into each building’s lighting strategies.

Jonathan Thompson


This is an excellent study, combining historical and technical background about the subject with interesting casestudies of contemporary galleries.

Central to the discussion is an appraisal of the control of natural lighting, and the factors affecting the quality of light available in viewing works of art within the gallery environment. The technical review in chapter two makes understandable a complex subject.

He has visited many of the galleries that are case studies, including a visit to London for the purposes of assessing the Dulwich picture gallery and other spaces such as the National Gallery Sainsbury wing, and interviewed the curator for fine art at the Ulster Museum.

With a good bibliography, well written, this is an accomplished piece of work.


Andrew Cowser
Lecturer and BArch 1 coordinator
Dissertation Tutor to J Thompson

2003
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