Detective Note

Vol.002 – Home office, “Half light” and Solstice


Written by Lisbeth Skindbjerg Kristensen 
Lighting Designer

In my/Lisbeth’s native country, Denmark, people gather to celebrate summer Solstice, also called St. Hans, with bonfires and singing

Since spring last year the pandemic has drastically changed our daily lives, and I, like many people, have had to work from a home office.

My desk is by a window. After working from home for some time, I realized something interesting: I rarely felt the need to turn the ceiling light on. Even on a dark winter’s day, a simple desk lamp provided ample task light and enough reflected light to take the gloom from the space around me, creating a perfect balance between the room and the objects I needed to focus on. A sense of calmness somehow filled the space. This made me think of the Mexican architect Luis Barragan’s notion of the human need for “tranquility in the half light”[1], and of the beauty of shadows described in the Japanese author Tanizaki’s book “In Praise of Shadow”.

In contrast, the lighting in most of our indoor work environments is designed to be constant and stable, with very uniform and relatively high illuminance levels. And in many offices, room lighting and task lighting are provided by the same luminaires to ensure flexibility, efficiency and perfect environmental control.

The architect Louis Kahn once stated: “Artificial light is only a single little moment in light (…) I can’t define a space really as a space unless I have natural light (…) because the moods which are created by the time of day and seasons of the year are constantly helping you in evoking that which a space can be if it has natural light and can’t be if it doesn’t.” [2]

As lighting designers are we missing a point? Could we try harder advocating the use of natural light, so it becomes more present in our built environment? Think about the tranquility of the “half light” or the subtle flux of natural light – Would it be impossible to incorporate that in the spaces where we work? Isn’t it often the unexpected, subtle changes in natural light, which sharpen our senses and raises our awareness of the moment?

A dear friend recently sent me a disco ball. Instead of hanging it from the ceiling, I put it in a window. It now spreads joy in my home every time the sun is shining. Simple, unpredictable, beautiful.

Currently we are in the month of June, the month of Solstice. It happens twice a year in June and December on the days when the Earth’s axial tilt is at its greatest. In one hemisphere it is summer and in the other it is winter. It is a mark of natural contrasts, and it is a time of celebration in many cultures. As humans we have evolved under the ever-changing rhythm of light and dark. In true Lighting Detective spirit, let’s remind ourselves to enjoy and celebrate the variations in natural light, not just at Solstice, but every day of the year.

Happy Solstice!

[1] Banford-Smith, C. Builders in the Sun: Five Mexican Architects.
[2] Kahn, Louis I. Louis Kahn, Perspecta 7, The Yale Architectural Journal.

Lisbeth Skindbjerg Kristensen
Lighting Designer

Danish architect, lecturer and lighting designer living and working free-lance. She has extensive experience in lighting design practice, research and teaching.