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    Designing Shadows


    By Laura Taylor, Lighting Innovation, Philips Lighting

    Are shadows merely an absence of light? Or are they actually central to creating an entrancing lighting experience?


    Japanese author and novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki wrote in his essay In Praise of Shadows that “were it not for shadows there would be no beauty.” The idea obviously resonated with design consultant Jane Withers, who curated an exhibition of the same name for the London Design Festival at the Victoria & Albert Museum. In this exhibition, Withers showcased work that explores the potential of new lighting technologies and alternative energy sources.

    Several installations displayed as part of London Southbank Centre’s Light Show, explored interactions with light and shadow. Anthony McCall’s installation of ‘solid light’ is a compelling experience where you cannot resist touching or standing in the rays of light and creating ‘beams’ of shadow. 

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    In a similar style, Conrad Shawcross’s kinetic sculpture Slow Arc Inside a Cube creates dynamic abstract shadows on the walls, ceiling and floor, which gives a disorienting feeling of relative movement when you stand or walk through the space.


    Making creative use of shadows is not new in commercial lighting either. The Philips Metronomis street lighting can project aesthetic light effects onto the ground below, creating ambiance and blending lighting into the surrounding environment. For example, a lamppost in a park could project a pattern of light and shadows, giving a feeling of sunlight through trees.


    With the evolution of LED technology, things have become more interesting than ever. Designer Dennis Parren has given a glimpse of what is possible with his CMYK lamp, which casts multi-color shadows onto walls and ceilings from a white light source.


    There is now greater design freedom because shadows are not simply treated as an absence of light, but instead as decorative, playful elements that significantly enhance the overall effect. Ultimately, modern lighting is changing shadows into an actual material in itself for creating art and design.


    What’s your take on shadows? Do you see them as a valuable addition to the designer’s toolbox, helping bring depth, texture, contrast and form? Have you already seen examples of how the interaction of light and shadow creates a richer experience?

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