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Balkan Light 2012



Ivana Luki

University of Belgrade, Faculty of Architecture


The subject of the paper is exploration of possibilities for improvement of aesthetic quality of
urban open spaces through creative and appropriate using of daylight, that is, sunlight.
Considering the inability to influence on the existence of this light, this paper explores the
best ways of its utilization and creation of aesthetically pleasing and stimulating urban
spaces, which offer much more to their users than fulfilment of basic human needs. Models
of application of clever distribution of daylight and shadow could be found in fields of painting
and sculpture, interior design, nature, as well as in existing public spaces. General
recommendations for high-quality shaping in aesthetic sense and organization of urban
spaces could be drown from analysis of successful examples. These recommendations are
filtered through modern urban transformations and aesthetic principles of shaping which
result from them, for example, fluidity, interactivity, changeability, presence of multimedia,
dynamics, multi-sensoriness, heterogeneousness, principles of importance of every
component of the system and connection between them, availability, transparency With
help of systematic directives, the effects of daylight and shadow in urban spaces could be
planned and controlled.

Key words: daylight, aesthetic quality, modern aesthetic principles, urban open spaces

1. Introduction
Modern urban environment is in the process of transformation which is primarily caused by
globalization and sudden growth and development of cities which is imperative of it. Existing
urban spaces of city are being transformed into dynamic models of the 21st century
urbanism. Cities are fighting for their recognition and better position on global scene. Current
urban concepts are directed towards improvement of identity of the city. Creative forces of
global society find driving force in number of modern human needs. At the beginning of third
millennium, one of them is of aesthetic nature, that is, emphasizing of visual and aesthetic is
considerably present.
Aesthetic dimension is part of every urban space; it offers favourable conditions for
development of people and their experiencing of bloom. Considering that, fields of urban
design and urban aesthetic represent the main entry of this paper. Aesthetic and visual
approaches to urban design basically aim at improvement of aesthetic quality of urban
environment. To the contrary to the artificial light, its various kinds and possibilities of
manipulation, sunlight represents state of nature, and, inherently, larger challenge to the
professionals to use it to achieve attractive effects in public spaces.

Balkan Light 2012

2. Aesthetics of urban open spaces

2.1. Aesthetic quality
Quality represents value. Value is not an isolated entity which could be measured or
counted; it is classification characteristic of a certain object according to certain standard
which represents minimum below which should not be gone. Certain quantification must be
established. Usually, the level of value is estimated and, in aesthetic context, stronger
preference towards something is often expressed or that something is more or less
beautiful, elegant or ugly than something else (Goldman, 1995). Aesthetic value is
transformed by object into message and its power over us depends on how well we are
tuned to receive it.
Aesthetic quality could be defined through two oposite paradigms: objectivism it exists
independently from percipient and is determined by objetive characteristics, while, according
to subjetivism, judgment about aesthetic quality is something relative and exclusive for
perceiving subject, and is a result of the manner people perceive, value, attribute or create
meaning to urban environment. In this paper it is examined according to objectivism.
''Public spaces need to have a certain character and an aesthetic value'' (Weiner, 2010).
Their aesthetic quality is in relation with their ability to create the feeling of mental satisfaction
or attraction, which is based on perception of its aesthetic characteristics, those related to its
space organization, shape characteristics of built form, as well as those in relation to the
activities, motion, presence of sensible symbolism and associations, meanings, etc.
2.2. Modern aesthetic principles
Modern aesthetic principles are consequence of adapting to modern times and modern
urban transformations. ''In modern dynamic environment, the traditional forms of aesthetic
perception, valorisation and judgment of an urban formation are not valid anymore, at least
not in their entirety. There are new sensorial effects in work demanding for new aesthetic
approaches, according to which they can be perceived and understood'' (, 2011).
Traditional aesthetic views on experiencing urban environment are substituted with modern
aesthetic principles. The most important are:
Principles which originate from application of digitalization in urban environment, and could
be applied on dominion of influence of daylight in urban open space, and they are: fluidity,
interactivity, changeability, dynamism, multimediality key words of informatics
Dynamism could be singled out from group above for being important and often
mentioned in professional literature. Dynamism of continuous change in modern city causes
new aesthetic communication based on system of constant change. Principles of motion and
energy emanation manage dynamic perception of modern environment. Object becomes
instantly active part in continuous process of change of perceptional values of city. That is
type of changeable aesthetic influence. (, 2005) Various ideas which are realized
through shaping urban spaces complete this principle.
Multi-sensoriness is based on overlapping of multi-sensor activities, experiences,
sensations, which are usually perceived and estimated as one connected totality. In creating
aesthetically fulfilling urban environment, it is necessary to go further then contemplating
about visual perception, and include other dimensions of an experience. Authentic aesthetic
experience means plurality of senses (Kurtovi-Foli, 2011; Sepnmaa, 2007).
Heterogeneousness - with accent on different types of urban diversity, which does not
indicate only diversity of urban form (volume, spaces, applied materials...) and sensual
pleasures connected to it (views, light, colours, sounds...), it has wider meaning which is
connected to present state of urban environment and the way how it could develop and what

Balkan Light 2012

it offers (Pauline von Bonsdorff, 2007). It is important to maintain balance between various
components of urban environment.
Ecological principles of aesthetics of human environment are based on analogy with
natural ecosystems. The first, and main, idea is that all objects must be emphasised, not,
only magnificent and exceptionally designed ones. It is necessary to attribute importance to
every component, which should represent integral part of natural human environment.
Ecological principle emphasizes also connection between components, so it could be defined
as a principle of importance of every component of the system and connection
between them (Carlson, 2007).
Availability (physical, socio-cultural...), permeability are main principles of modern
cities and cities of future, i. e., all their parts, old and new, public and private.

3. Search for model

Models of application of clever distribution of daylight and shadow could be found in different
fields, and certain recommendations for application in exterior city spaces could be drown
from them (italic style of text).
3.1. Models of application in field of painting and sculpture
1A. Problems of casting a shadow could be well studied in painting. Although various
effects with cast shadows could strain ones ability of visual understanding, they are useful
because they dynamise space and stimulate thinking (which shadow is from which object)
(Arnhajm, 1984).
1B. Monet had painted in series which were various types of his obsessions (Haystaks,
Poplars, Rouen Cathedral, London Parliament, Water Lilies, Saint Lazare Train Station) and
presented same subject during different kinds of lighting and atmosphere (Narboni, 1995).
All parameters are absolutely dependable on time of a day, because daylight is changeable
(intensity and distribution of light radiation, colour and reproduction of colour) (Djokic, 2007).
Knowing what king of lighting is most dominant during the day or a year in the region where
urban space, which is being shaped, belongs, we can manipulate with the light exploiting
different materials, colours and shapes, all for the purpose to use the most dominant
lighting in the best way, to point it out when is favourable or to minimize its negative
1C. Monet often use motif of water because nothing changes its colour as often as water,
that chameleon of light (Regattas at Argenteuil, Landscape at Vtheuil) (Narboni, 1995).
Motif of water in city exterior space, from the aspect of dance of light and shadow, is very
important. Effect of Chinese Shadow, that is, inverted and multiplied reality, is possible
because of light. Water (open pools with water, fountains,) is used to emphasize and
reflect important elements of space for example water near very important faade or
sculpture amplifies an accent on them.
1D. There are many good examples of application of light and shadow in History of Modern
Sculpture (Read, 1966). In work of Lszl Moholy-Nagy there is no limit to his cleverness
and inventiveness. That brought him to mobile sculpture and, since he wanted to replace
colour with light, he had to dissolve solid mass into defined space. Using new material,
plexiglass, he created dynamic and interesting sculptures. Exploitation of hanging mobile
elements in space enables mobility of shadows, which gives new dimension to the space.
Characteristic impression could be get if transparent materials, plexiglass and alike, and
others, with high radiance, for example, metal, are used and accompaning to that, if they do

Balkan Light 2012

not create solid mass, but non-homogeneous and loose structure, consisted of large number
of elements.
1E. To the contrary to the example above, sculptural compositions of Duan Damonja
possess classical plastic sensibility. His sculptures are often created repeating the same
element or by variation of similar slice, pillar, parallelepiped and composing them into
basal mass, which is dynamic, full of concave and convex parts (Damonja, 1976). Using
sliced structures, created by repeating same or similar elements (same or different sizes),
enables penetration of light inside the composition, pointing out its interior structure, not only
silhouette, and in that way achieving sharp contrast between light and shadow, which
emphasizes better the shape of composition.
3.2. Models of application in nature
2A. With penetration of daylight through clouds with different density and shapes, the same
effects of directed reflecting artificial lighting could be noticed, the best when the weather is
grim. Effect of directed lighting could be used in exterior space in the case we want to
emphasize the contour of some object or to achieve certain level of mystical. It could be
achieved with placing non-transparent walls, with one or more small cuts, towards source of
light (the Sun). Through openings the light will pass into shaded space, so that directed light
is visible. That shaded space, where the object, which has to be emphasized with directed
light, is, could also be realised by non-transparent partitions or it might be closed structure,
for the most part, placed in space.
2B. To be sure that urban open spaces offer well aesthetic, visual impression, in every
weather condition, we must be well informed about effects of fog, snow and other
weather conditions.
2C. The influence of light and shadow on trees, which are often present in urban open
spaces, is very interesting. In order to achieve desired colour of green (trees and bushes
with leaves) we must know what tone effects sun and air give to leaves. If, by concept of
project, trees are very important, we can use its circular shadows, which are placed on the
ground in particular grid.
2D. Grassy areas have very small, almost invisible shadow, especially in the places where
grass is low. Shadows can not be created because large hemisphere encircles small blades
of grass. That is the reason why these areas are used as excellent neutral foundation for
various elements of exterior space, especially if we want to emphasize their shadows or if
they are meant to create special message.
2E. Reflection of sun on the water is more impressive if the surface of water is covered
with various plants (water lilies,), or surfaces, from which the light will reflect with lower
intensity or which will react differently on light, so that the contrast is created between radiant
and opaque surfaces. In that way completely different and more interesting then standard
impression is created.
2F. When the amount of light reduces in the period of sunset, we can see only
silhouettes of the shapes in front of us. That is why we must consider the shape of
skylines of observed city spaces, which is visible and especially emphasized in early
evening. That sight, observed from distance, to a great extent influences on perception and
estimation, memorability and aesthetic experience of a city.
3.3. Models of application in field of interior design
3A. Walls made of various transparent or translucent materials (plexiglass, various
types of glass, paper and textile) have double function in some way they are connecting
the space, still dividing it. In city exterior space this type of partition (wall) could be placed
single or criss-crossed with other partitions alike, with openings for users to pass through

Balkan Light 2012

them or holes for clear light to pass on the other side of space; they can be movable and
used when needed or part of faade of the objects which encircle certain space and partly
indicate which content is behind them, then, there are panels for directing users towards
certain aim, which dont burden the space because of their transparency.
3B. Stained glass, once used only for windows of Gothic Cathedrals, today it can be used
much broadly, even in the urban open spaces, as partitions mentioned above. Since
elements made of stained glass already posses certain amount of complexness because
they are composed of three colours minimum, it is the best to use them in simple spaces
where they can stand out. Tone scale of space on which is acting must be simple so that
coloured elements with its mlange of colours (coloured with light and shadow) could create
good impression.
3C. Various house objects, usually with net structure and made of attractive materials,
could inspire for shape, structure and materialization of objects (sculpture) which could be
placed in city exterior space and contribute to interesting distribution of light and shadow on
horizontal areas, vertical areas of facades or freely placed walls in space. They could be
aesthetically improved if we consider of what materials they are made of.
3D. Curtains made of vertical, usually canvas strips, roller blinds (Venetian blinds) made of
horizontal strips, vertical folds of common textile curtains, chromed vertical elements on
walls, - all cast shadows in the space, which are sliced horizontally or vertically depending
on the effect needed to be achieved (if we want space to look wider or longer, lower or higher
it depends on whether shadows are cast on horizontal or vertical surfaces). Inspired by
that, various panels, eaves, elements for sitting with a structure of horizontal, vertical
and diagonal elements could be used for shaping or correcting (widening, enlongement)
of city exterior spaces. Shadows of elements mentioned above could overlap and create
grids (rectangular, square) made of shadows on projected surface.
3E. If a floor or ceiling of an interior has smooth and shining surface (marble plates,
water, polished surface), which could be used in urban open space, too, mirror effect is
obtained (projection of one surface on another). Materials with polished, glowing surface
attribute to overall impression of elegance, radiance, festiveness and luxury in space where
they are applied. They are usually used when a certain space need to visually look enlarged,
or to point out some element in it multiplying it (already mentioned effect of Chinese
3.4. Models of application in existing public spaces
4A. Movable stick-like structures could be exploited in city exterior space (they could be
curved, brought down and pulled up, not changing the position of their base; preferably 1.5-2
meter high, made of elastic material which enables moving with the smallest breeze) to
create dynamic distribution of light and shadow in sunlight. Beside that, they create
interesting dance on the ground if they are made of glowing material, shining when moving.
4B. Excellent effects could be achieved with play of masses in space, which, with support
of light and shadow, establish total fullness of space and its dynamism, maintaining
hierarchy. Distribution of masses and its influence on relation between light and shadow in
space could be noticed observing from higher space levels city, parts of cities, to lower -
groups of objects, single objects or even sculptural compositions or other elements which
complement city space.
4C. Shaded spaces like enclaves, halls in ground floor of objects with colonnades,
passages offer pleasant atmosphere for people gatherings and other activities (shopping,
relaxing) especially in the hot summer days (Kullen, 1990). These spaces posses certain
level of mystical, because of the shadow inside them, which makes contrast to intensive light
from outside.

Balkan Light 2012

4D. Projecting shadows of branchy trees, or some other elements, onto the simple,
light coloured faades, to increase their distinction and complexity. Shadow on faades is
always changing. If the faade of the object is smooth, made of shining material, whole
environment reflects on it.
4E. For the last few years ''increasing medialization of the communication processes in the
public spaces'' is noticeable (Weiner, 2010). As pendant to contribution of media
architecture' and artificial lightning at nights, a role of daylight and print (or some other)
media in daylight could be used in order to reconnect people with the space, to create new
possibilities of use and to create new atmospheres (Weiner, 2010). Example of public art
project 'The City as a Collection of Poetry could inspire for imaginative exploitation of print
on plexiglass just because of daylight (Hatt-Olsen). City was transformed into a collection of
poetry, with a poetry roads created with stickers on the ground and poems printed on
transparent plexiglass on pillars, walls, hanging down from trees and placed in large pots
filled with soil like small poetry trees at every square in the area. People would, together with
the printed words, see spaces in the making, reflected, on the other side, in front of them and
shadows of the words. Perception of words and spaces would change through people
movements, through the wind moving plexiglass plates hanging down from trees and the sun
moving the shadows of words during the day. Project, with its interactivity, attracting attention
and the involvement of people influenced on people who were living - as poems and writers
themselves - in a collection of poetry, a poeticized urban space.
4F. Using light and shadow, we could recognize easier all parallel surfaces placed in
same angle as one totality, because same amount of light falls on them.
4G. Eaves made of various materials create diverse effects, which occur as a result of
relation between light and shadow (larger, smaller shadows; rather stabilized amount of light
and shadow; geometric or free distribution of light and shadow on the ground or faade).
4H. Different textures of materials which are used in city exterior spaces differently receive
light and create different distribution of light and shadow. The more diversified its surface is,
filled with convex and concave elements, more diverse is mixture of light and shadow.
4J. If we need to, observing from some shaded space, emphasize object or part of the
space which is enlighten with daylight, we can do that positioning it well in the reference
of the opening in space in shadow, marking it with opening on shaded part, like placing it
into dark frame.
4K. Stairway in exterior space reveals dynamic relation between light and shadow in
parterre as well as on facades, if they lead up to the faade. Treads of stairways are almost
always lighted (except if some shadow is cast on them), and risers only if they face the sun.
Alternating arrangement of lighted and shaded parts emphasizes stratification of staircase
and that relation airs order and regularity. Zigzag line of stairways is more pointed out if cast
shadow passes through them.
4L. Levelling of parterre areas, in combination with stairway or ramps, with or without
special content creates interesting exterior space. In this case, light and shadow enables
better impression of space and orienting in it, grouping of content, better plasticness. They
lead us through space.
4M. Rhythm of faades enables vertical or horizontal changing of light and shadow, certain
order and sensible stability. Even when exterior urban space by itself is not likable, dynamic
facades could considerably improve visual impression. If the faade is flat then playfulness
could be achieved with cast shadows of eaves, bacons, shallow plastics on faade
4N. City exterior spaces must be shaped and materialized in the way that they are equally
attractive in daylight and under artificial light.

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4. Conclusion Filtration of recommendations

Stated recommendations are filtered through modern urban transformations and stated
aesthetic principles of shaping which result from them. To be more exact, a connection
between established modern aesthetic principles and adapted recommendations for their
realization could be established, and, implicitly, for obtaining aesthetic quality of modern
urban open spaces.
Recommendations such as usage of water or the effect of Chinese shadow (1C), placing
walls made of various transparent or translucent materials (3A) and staircases (4K) in
exterior space, contribute to attaining fluidity. Interactivity could be achieved through effect
of 'directed' daylight (2A), imaginative use of print on transparent materials, which attracts
attention just because of daylight and engages users of space (4E) or, for example, using
movable stick-like structures (4A). About changeability and dynamics could be stated that
they are permanently present because of the changes of parts of a day, year, weather
conditions, intensity and radiance of daylight, its spectrum (colour), but they could also be
created using effect of cast shadows (1A), then, hanging mobile elements in urban open
spaces (1D), using sliced structures (1E), effect of directed lighting (2A), also, (transparent)
walls which direct, change the direction of users passing through and dynamize it (3A),
further more, movable stick-like structures (4A), play of masses in the space (4B), stairways
(4K) and rhythm of faades (4M). Presence of multimedia in dominion of influence of
daylight is achieved through projection of shadows of different elements of urban spaces on
faades or entire environment on shining, glass faades which frame open spaces (4D), as
well as, through, already mentioned, usage of print media on transparent materials in urban
space (4E). Multi-sensoriness is accomplished not only through absolute satisfaction of
sense of sight, but also with sense of touch and application of various textures of materials
(3C, 3E, 4H) and, in very minimum, sense of hearing, through, for example, application of
water and its possible agitation and loudness (1C). Heterogeneousness, includes
recommendations which are related to multi-sensorness, supplemented with different effects
of reflection of light on water with surface irregularly covered with various plants and other
surfaces (2E), diversity of shapes of skylines of observed compositions of city areas (2F),
play of masses in the space (4B), achieving different atmospheres with screened spaces
enclaves, passages (4C), eaves of various materials (4G), levelling of terrain (4L), different
atmospheres of space under daylight and artificial light (4N). Principle of importance of
every component of the system and connection between them is achieved through
imperative of use of green (trees and bushes with leaves) (2C) and grassy areas near
constructed elements of urban space (2D), then, perceiving all paralleled areas, laying in the
same angle, as one totality (4F), marking certain objects or spaces with opening in shaded
part of space, emphasizing that an accent is as important as 'frame' (4J). Availability and
transparency are stressed by sliced structures, which enable penetration of light into the
urban composition (1E), effect of directed light (2A), using walls made of transparent or
translucent materials (3A), exploiting horizontal, vertical and diagonal elements (3D), shaded
spaces enclaves, passages (4C), eaves of diverse materials (4G), using staircases (4K)
and levelling of terrain (4L).
Aesthetic potential of aesthetic object (urban open spaces) depends on space lead events
and carefully planned effects. Using help of systematic directives, effects of daylight and
shadow in urban spaces could be planned and controlled, which are, otherwise, susceptible
to constant changes depending on the part of a day, year, intensity and radiance of light.

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Authors address

Ivana LUKI, MSc of Architecture

Faculty of Architecture, University of Belgrade
11000 Belgrade, Bulevar kralja Aleksandra 73/II
Tel.: +381 11 3218 718