Green Design: Our Future Is Bright





The interplay of natural light and architecture is what creates great spaces. In Tanizaki’s essay, he goes on to make the case that modern spaces with electrical lighting are psychologically exhausting—that the eye and psyche are drained by modern environments. Recent studies agree, stating human beings need exposure to the full spectrum of light in order to thrive, and in retail environments, the use of natural light has been shown to not only warm the often times sterile spaces, but also increase sales due to higher energy levels in consumers .

In these dark days of commercial and retail development, we are all looking for a little illumination.

We have a great opportunity to adapt and create spaces that connect us to the quality of light we are designed to thrive in—to draw life back into retail spaces, and to banish the dim or glaring places of our traditional daily commerce. Through the creative use of transparent materials—like crystal clear glazing combined with passive and active shading devices, new technologies—like energy efficient lighting and ambient light level sensors, and sustainable design techniques—like climate-sensitive orientation, we can break down the barriers between inside and outside and between nature and urban life. We can enliven the previous dead zones of our streetscapes and bring transparency to our retail spaces by flipping the inside out, putting core building functions in the center and selling spaces on the perimeter.


I have been fortunate to test these ideas over time with various clients across the globe. My clients Seibu and Sogo—two of Japan’s largest department stores—are a great example of transformation through natural light.


At the beginning of our relationship, a typical store in Japan was designed to 1200 lux and a cool 4000-4500 degrees Kelvin, comparable to shopping in a refrigerator, or morgue that is lit like a supermarket—not exactly a romanced display of high fashion, beauty, accessories and home décor.


These overlit, glaring, narrow spectrum environments create sensory overload to the eye, decreasing perception and creating exhausted shoppers who simply want to get out as soon as possible. Over time we made great improvements on the quality of light in their stores, creating a clear distinction between their stores and the competition – with elegant, layered lighting effects that change from day to night, diffuse lighting effects that removed glare, and creating the opportunity for more dramatic effects in highlighted areas. 


The inception of our design (currently under construction) for the Chengdu Landmark development in China was developed from the dramatic landscape and water features of the historic Dujiangyan area, and includes 490,000 square feet of retail at the base.  The exterior is oriented toward the adjacent streets, activating streetscape and outwardly- focused retail, entry plazas are created for public gathering, along with interior focused gardens and public plaza community spaces.  Light and nature are being brought back into the urban city center.



As Tanizaki notes “..the truth of the matter is that Japan wastes more electric light than any Western country except America.”  Now we can do even more with less – through careful use of materials, technology, planning, and sustainable design – we can break down the barriers between inside and out, between nature and urban life, for the enhancement of the quality of life for the individual human spirit and the communities we build in.  Now is the time to realize a vision of the new world, our bright future.


Junichiro Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows” is one of the more powerful writings on light in architecture. He writes, “Find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing another creates.”