Latitudes : Light : Retreat

Presented by: Judy Theodorson

This short project is developed as an introduction to a third-year studio grounded in theories of place. Students are concurrently taking an ECS course with a major emphasis on lighting and a minor emphasis on climate informed design. The objectives of the project include understanding of light, color, materiality and place; development of knowledge around cultures and climates with emphasis on light and place response; and the ability to conduct creative research and consider theoretical foundations. The project begins with an inquiry into light and place; these outcomes are leveraged to provide inspiration for a small retreat space for introverts in an open office environment.

Teaching Pedagogy
The underlying pedagogical foundation is Spiro’s Cognitive Flexibility Theory. This framework builds on constructivist learning, recognizing that increasingly complex knowledge domains require “the ability to adaptively re-assemble diverse elements of knowledge to fit the particular needs of a given understanding or problem-solving situation” (1992, p. 169).  As design students grapple with ill-structured problems, they will benefit from multiple and varied opportunities that will help them develop original constructions and applications of the material. This studio project, grounded in constructivist activities, intentionally intersects with the learning environment of the lecture course which primarily consists of foundational knowledge that is well structured and objective. 
Secondly, this project recognizes that light and lighting in the interior environment has multiple dimensions beyond functional provision for visual tasks. These “other dimensions” include the aesthetic (compositional, color, texture) and the psychological (memory, mood, experience, culture). This project takes the position that light has a specific aesthetic circumstance and resulting human experience related to place: students are challenged to consider this idea through conceptual and experimental investigation.    

The project is unveiled in two parts. In Part 1, students are introduced to the idea of light and place and directed to theoretical readings (Millet, 2012; Tanizaki, 1977). Subsequently, they are assigned a geographic location proximate to a latitude line at 15 degree intervals and asked to uncover materials (literary writings, visual arts) that yield a palette of light of place and human / cultural responses. Next, they build an object (5”x5”x5” cube) that creatively communicates these findings. Finally, they build and photograph abstract light models that probe conditions of light in response to the aforementioned place findings. 

Part 2 is presented as a one-week design charette that builds off Part 1. It is a small retreat space for introverts in an open office.  Again, students are directed to research and theory as a point of departure (Cain, 2012; Steelcase). 

The pedagogical intent of this project is to promote an understanding of human experience and place through perspectives of the luminous environment.  Through a fast paced project, student have multiple and varied constructivist experiences in creative research around light and place. This knowledge is applied to a problem where success is dependent on the quality of the luminous atmosphere. The process supports a process that builds skills (light photography, modeling) and broad conceptual understanding (theory, literary readings) that is necessary to grapple with design issues that range from the functional to the aesthetic to the experiential.


  • Spiro, R.J., Feltovich, P.J., Jacobson, M.J., & Coulson, R.L. (1992). Cognitive flexibility, constructivism, and hypertext: random instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In T. Duffy (Ed.), Constructivism and the technology of instruction (pp. 57-). Hillsd
  • Millet, M. (2009, Spring). Light and Place. Daylight and Architecture, 9-13.
  • Tanizaki, J. (2001). In praise of shadows. Random House.
  • Cain, S. (2012, February 1). The Power of Introverts. Retrieved August 11, 2014, from
  • Steelcase. (n.d.). Susan Cain Quiet Spaces. Retrieved August 25, 2014, from

Appendix File 1
Appendix File 2
Appendix File 3
Appendix File 4

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