Detective Note

Vol.008 – Waterscapes with Light


Interviewer: Misuzu Nakamura

Thme:Waterscapes with Light

Nakamura Ok.  So, today I thought we could talk about waterscapes with light.  I just got back from a trip to survey the urban lightscape of Bangkok.   The scenery along the rivers and surrounding waterscape, such as the Chao Phraya River and the floating markets in outlying areas, was very impressive.  The river water was very murky, but the reflection of lights on the surface at night was so pretty.   Right now, I am also working on a project where the waterscape is a very important feature of the project.   So I have been thinking a lot lately about what is so charming about waterscapes with lights.




Mende Water and lighting design are deeply rooted.   In terms of urban lighting, the most prominent cities that underwent development long ago were surrounded by water.   In terms of Bangkok, the lighting along the waterscapes is not especially good, but the illumination of Wat Arun and the elevation along the riverside reflects beautifully in the water.

Nakamura Upon reflecting in the water the lighting then becomes beautiful.

Mende In lighting design glass and water are two very important materials.  Their properties are also very similar.  Both are not very easy to work with, but very interesting.  Frosted glass or textured glass is very good at replicating light, but clear glass is not.  It doesn’t reflect light at all.

Nakamura Glass will uniformly receive and transmit light, but the surface of water simmers, creating dark sports.  I think this gives more depth to waterscapes.  Glass does not move, but water can.

Mende Yes, glass and water are very similar, but the biggest difference is whether it moves or doesn`t move.   Because water is difficult to deal with, it takes the know-how of a sorcerer of light.  I live in a high-rise condominium along the Sumidagawa River in Tokyo and draw great solace from the various expressions of light on the water, morning, day, and night.  It must be the light reflecting on the simmering surface, or something.  Just watching the river idly can make all of life`s noise just seem to fade into the background.

Nakamura The river is blacked out at night.   Hopefully, the comfort found in the river during the day can be transformed into something different with light.   However, I think it needs to be more than just a reflection of the immediate surroundings.

Mende Yes, it is a good idea to want the nightscape to be even better than the daytime waterscape, but the river during the day is so very relaxing!   I think it is because there are more expressions of light during the day.    The flow of the water, the angle of the sun, the color of the sky.  There are so many factors!!

Nakamura That is probably right.  There is no way to compete with natural light.   In terms of fixtures, we always try to select glare-free fixtures, but when reflecting on the surface of the water, these fixtures actually might be very pretty.

Mende Getting back to Bangkok, my friend is a photographer and he prefers the city on rainy days.   He especially recommends the lively area of Khaosan Road on rainy days.

Nakamura Oh, yes.  The reflection from neon signage must be spectacular.

Mende When we did a light-up project at the Edo-Tokyo Open-air Architectural Museum we sprayed the pavement with water.   The result was spectacular.

Nakamura I think a  sparkle from below really adds a sense of animation.

Mende Why do you think that?

Nakamura Well..

Mende Well, I don’t think positioning is the concern, instead, the increase of lighting elements in that space has more emphasis.  Also, it is not a perfect mirror, so slightly different elements are reflected back compared to the lighting above.  This might be a very important factor.   Light is not only increased, but the reflection from above is warped.

Nakamura Well, it sounds like something different really came alive.   Lighting is very controlled, but sometimes unpredicted elements appear and it is very beautiful

Mende The possibilities are infinite in terms of water and light.  This is a very interesting point.  However, we as a people seem to have a longing for the sea or Mother Sea, so there is a familiarity, physically and visually, with bodies of water.   Some people find water scary, but water shows us so many different expressions.  I really find it interesting.  Sunlight during the day is also diverse and the reflections are equally diverse.  It really surprises me how the expressions of water can change.  As a lighting designer,  I really miss these expressions of water after dark.   So, when water meets up with a light fixture, not sunlight, we have an opportunity to create more expressions that are again varied and diverse.

Nakamura Yes.  We should not just recreate reflections of sunlight, but use fixtures to create expressions of light only experienced at night.   You have given me a lot to think about.