Posted in practice on July 31, 2017 10:21 am EDT

The Redemption of Natural Light

No longer the bane of the video screen, outdoor light makes a comeback in worship space design.

Rock Church's City Heights campus, San Diego. Images courtesy of Sommers Architecture and Clark.











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TAGS: architectural design, led, led panels, light, natural light, video,


By Chuck Hulstrand

The use of light as an architectural element has a long, rich history. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the design of worship spaces, from the Pantheon in Rome to Ando’s Church of the Light in Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan. In today’s worship centers, however, new technologies have emerged, and the treatment of light depends almost entirely upon worship style.

Natural light vs. black box spaces

Contemporary worship centers favor a black box design in which all elements of the worship experience—including light—are controlled for the desired effect. Traditional churches tend to incorporate natural light into the worship space to maintain a connection with nature, to provide a sense of uplifting reverence, or as a metaphor for the divine. Both types of congregations may come with deeply held convictions about the best use of light in worship; the role of the architect is to listen deeply, understand the congregation’s unique worship style and vision, and help determine the best design solution for the space. Often, the best solution to the question of light blends controlled natural light with strategies to accommodate video screens and special lighting effects.

Is natural light beginning to make a comeback in contemporary worship spaces? The answer is a qualified “yes.”

The design of black box spaces requires careful consideration of the type, number and position of video screens for optimal visibility, and the control of light and sound entering the space through openings. “Control” is the key word. Filtered natural light or views to nature during parts of the worship service may be welcome. Glare, natural light competing with screens, or an unexpected wash of light from doors opening during the service, however, are distracting and will dissipate carefully designed AV effects that help to create the atmosphere for a contemporary service.

Natural light, glass, and video co-exist at Rock Church's City Heights campus, an adaptive reuse of a car dealership.

Designers manage light in these spaces through layered shading devices that allow worship leaders to control the amount and direction of natural light at all times during the service—and through light and sound locks with vestibules to prevent unwanted light from intruding into the worship service as people come and go. This blend of artificial and controlled natural light may provide the right balance between avoiding distractions while maintaining a connection with the outdoors.

Designing for natural light + LED technology

Improved technology is creating new options for contemporary congregations wishing to combine video capabilities with limited natural light.

New LED screen technology ... allows for excellent visibility, even in well-lit spaces, and the cost of large-format screens is becoming more competitive with projection technology.

While the familiar front or rear projection screens are affordable and work well for completely enclosed black box spaces, these screens may be washed out, even with controlled daylight. New LED screen technology, however, allows for excellent visibility even in well-lit spaces, and the cost of large-format screens is becoming more competitive with projection technology. With LED screens, the designer can achieve a large screen size that is composed of smaller high-powered screens that appear continuous. With these crisp, high-resolution images, the architect should ensure that natural light doesn’t wash directly over the screen, but the presence of natural light is otherwise not a hindrance to visibility.  continued >>