Daylighting design in other dimensions: Emotion and Time (M.Arch Thesis 2016)


Daylighting Design in Other Dimensions: Emotion and Time
M.Arch Thesis
SUTD Architecture & Sustainable Design
Spring – Summer 2016
Thesis Advisor: Sam Conrad Joyce


View my thesis prep document here at  🙂

I am typing this on the night before my final review – and honestly I’m tired, and this post is not a requirement for my thesis – I woke up this morning thinking that it would be a nice time to record my personal thoughts and my design process before I present to the panel early tomorrow morning. Having slogged through this penultimate thesis project, of my formal education and in SUTD, I would say that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my family – my parents, my sister, grandparents and relatives – for paying attention to my health and for always believing in me. To all my friends, you know who you are, who have been patiently listening to my ideas, thoughts, complains and for all the great dialogues, thank you for constantly reminding me that I am not in this alone. (Yes, doing thesis is extremely isolating) Last but not least, I would like to thank my mentor, Sam, for being the first to take interest in my project, for bouncing off ideas every time we meet, and for all the encouragement and interesting conversations. I would also like to specially thank Alstan, Carlos, Naree and all ASD faculty or injecting ideas, direction and possibilities into my thesis, and for taking time to advise and push me on each time. The fab lab has been fabulous too – thank you for all the extra lasercutting slots and 3d printing madness.

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This thesis investigates and focuses on the emotion and time dimensions of daylighting design of an experiential architecture, going beyond performance-based metrics. 

Okay, now for my personal reflections… I am glad that I chose to be honest with myself, on choosing the topic of interest to research, then design on. After a bit of fumbling about in the theme of energy+form, I finally came face to face with the fact that I’ve always been interested in light, the way it reveals architecture, makes us feel in certain ways in different conditions and spaces. The strong interest has motivated me through the highs and lows of the entire process. So yes, Light. and Emotion. and then how it changes in Time.

Roden Crater, James Turrell

The capacity that light has, to interact with our senses and innermost perception, is indisputable. Some even make it the centerpiece of their art, such as James Turrell did for each of his art; he chooses each location and type of light to the finest detail, then frames it.

But I think the first time I started being interested in daylight was when i visited La Tourette (by Le Corbusier) in 2014 – I stayed there for a night and experienced the isolation, contemplation and social aspects of living in the monastery. What really captured me was the various lighting conditions in the chapel – where each lighting quality was carefully designed and constructed to achieve a certain intention – for focus, contemplation, peace in self, refocusing on what’s important through the sculpting of light. It was designed in a time where daylighting simulations didnt exist, nope, no DIVA, no photoshop even. It was through an accumulation of construction experience, and understanding of the local climate, and where design brilliance was conceived purely through the architect’s intuition.

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La Tourette, Le Corbusier
Various lighting qualities within the chapel in La Tourette

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Even earlier back in 1788, Etienne Louis Boullee, in paying homage to Sir Isaac Newton in his Essay on Art, also demonstrated his creative approach to architecture. He rejected the Vitruvian notion that architecture is the art of the building process, construction methods. Instead, he states that  “In order to execute, it is first necessary to conceive… It is this product of the mind, this process of creation, that constitutes architecture…”

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In this cenotaph, he poetically expressed Newton’s research on planetary motion and gravity, artistically into a conceptual piece of architecture, to emphasize his approach against the neoclassicism approach during that time. He created an inversion of the exterior and interior conditions, between night and day, through the manipulation of daylight and artificial light to create contrasting moods. I’m not exactly sure but was the lightbulb only invented in the 1800s? The use of artificial light here would be considered amazing here. Anyway, here we start to see the beginning of fusion between art and science; I do believe that architecture lies at the intersections of the two, where creativity starts to emerge.

The articulation of the intent should be able to be perceived through the senses – seeing on a superficial level, and feeling a emotion or engaging sensations on a deeper level. This is no easy feat by any means, and this is the reason why we seek tangibility.

Firstly in seeking an objective view of light, I started by understanding the source, which is none other than the sun! Below are some images in which I used to first define and view daylight by its definitions and truths we know from science.



Generally, there is direct and diffuse light from the sun, caused by the combination of type of sky, and it varies from climate to climate.


Under direct and diffuse light, we can see that produces different shadowing and accentuates different forms and details of objects. In my initial research, I experimented with different types of daylighting qualities and observed how they changed over a day, within a 10x10x10m space:

time3 time1 time2

I then quickly created a 3d sunpath generator on grasshopper and DIVA to observe how the sun positions change throughout the day and over the months. This proved to be quite useful as I embarked on my research.

3dsunpath3 3dsunpathgenerator


From here, I explored 3 different ways of thinking about designing with the sun positions as illustrated below. In an inverse ray tracing way, I experimented with using the floor as a matrix grid to trace rays back to sun positions, a single point with changing sun positions and a roof grid combination grid.

3 types

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Study Model #1 – Matrix Grid Roof

In this simple study, I wanted to explore the possibilities of reverse ray tracing, by setting up a monthxtimeofday grid from the floor, it resulted in a roof that was generated from the direct sun positions as in the matrix grid.

diagram_matrix0102 Asset 12 study


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Study Model #2 – 3 types of light in 1 space

In this second exploration, I tried to create 3 different types of daylighting qualities in 1 space over a day. In a 2 hour interval, the lighting condition transits from one to the other. The first being a combination light, second a filtered light and third a diffuse lighting.

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These are some of the common daylighting metrics and their units, used to measure the amount of light.


It is only till recently that we have access to more visual simulations of light, amount of useful daylight, lighting distribution and even urban daylight analysis used in urban planning and massing studies.


These are indeed useful tools and in taking daylighting and urban sustainability courses with my prof, Alstan, we have learnt how to use them and designed with these tools. But instead of focusing too much on these metrics, will focusing on emotive lighting intent and going beyond these performance-based metrics, can we surface an unprecedented design process?

What is happening now in the industry is that architects tend to love glass domes a lot – yes, I get that people love the paradox in creating a cool climate in the hot and humid tropics – but is this really sustainable? What i am concerned about here is also that the design process is disparate from the execution of the environmental aspects of daylighting, as the latter are then pushed to environmental consultants instead. Instead of thinking of daylighting and sunshading only in the later parts of the project, is it possible for us to start thinking in a more integrated manner?


I then chanced upon several artist’s impressions (not actual designs) of the upcoming Singapore Science Centre, about to be relocated from its old site to a new site within the up and coming Jurong Lake district. I found the program and site to be very interesting, and although the first thing that attracted me to this was the proposal/visions of glass domes, it was interesting to think of how daylight can affect a science centre gallery space through a curation of emotive lighting.


So the program brief I set up for myself was to design a Science Centre visitor gallery that immerses visitors into the world of science through curated exhibitions within a synchronised emotive lighting experience. 

Here is how the site looks like – there will be a future integrated Jurong Lake Gardens, as well as a new masterplan for a new “CBD”, taking over the current golf course. The new developments are exciting, especially with the new high speed rail to KL in the works.

juronglakegardens-01-01-01 1km-01-01


Through the curation of natural daylight, the aim is to evoke emotions in the visitors through a transformative learning experience, in the quickly transforming landscape of the Jurong Lake District.

How do we then match daylighting conditions to emotions, and vice versa?

I was attempting to sort out the different lighting conditions but to no avail, I couldn’t seem to be the one classifying the emotions to the lighting conditions myself.



Hence, I decided to conduct a survey to observe if there are trends of how daylight qualities affect people’s emotions. (Thank you, btw, if you were one of the 280 responses I got!) Here are the results I got:



I guess the most important outcomes of this survey was that firstly, each emotion had a distinct distribution and even each individual daylighting condition has its own distribution. The emotions do have a correlation to each other too – for example amazement and serenity are total opposites. It then boils down to these two following diagrams, showing how we can translate the 4 emotions to different daylighting qualities and vice versa, depending on how you approach it.

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I then looked at a case study – the Louvre, Abu Dhabi – specifically regarding its lighting design process. Basically, the architects specified a lighting intention, which was to let light fall through the dome roof in a surreal rain of light. Using an inverse lighting model the lighting intention map on the ground level was mapped onto the roof and that determined the size of the apertures through the layers of geometrical structures. The most recent pictures on Archdaily showing the final phase of construction of the roof is amazing and quite beautiful.



However, the process was something like this, where the inverse lighting model was only brought into the project after the preliminary design:


This is what I sought out to achieve – a design process where the lighting intentions and inverse lighting model works together to reveal the subsequent steps of design, in a translational method.


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As I had mentioned earlier, light has the capacity to make us feel and perceive spaces on a deeper level, abeit subconsciously. And it is indeed intangible. By attempting to turn subjectiveness into objectiveness through an empirical science method, through my research, it was in the end how the two comes together through creativity, bridging art and science.

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From translating each step of “what i know as truths” from research, and starting from a programmatic plan, the experience was slowly sculpted from program, to emotion, to type of light, orientation and to the final form. Instead of curating the gallery by topic, a multi-topical exhibition themed by their basic science process skills was adopted, and each theme has its own emotional lighting intent.

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I tried to make the process as parametric as possible, so that i could easily iterate using different parameters. For example, I could change the section frames and the massing would change accordingly, and so would the structure.

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Emotive lighting intentions, geometries of the apertures, views towards the surrounds and the overall picture:

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Continuing from the seamless experience of the gallery, the supporting ground floor programs were arranged in a way inspired by Matisse’s painting, the Snail. (yeah can you see the eyes) Basically there is a basic spiral that is created from overlaps and hinges.

And this is how my inverse ray tracing method works. For direct light types, the sun positions are traced from the intended floor plane, and for more diffuse light types, the rays are traced from the roof itself. Below describes the one traced form the floor.



In the end, this is what we get inside the space.

01 ticketing area (amazement)
(10:30 – 12:30)

These are timelapses of visualizations generated using DIVA over a time period.

08library-interestserenity 04interest 09galleryshop

Okay here comes the final set of renderings and drawings we have all been waiting for… showing the interior spaces and how the building works. I’ll update with photos of my final models in due time!

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01ticketing-amazement 02observe 03observatory 04interest 05anticipation1 06interestfinal 07classroom1 08library 09galleryshoptest1

Asset 2 1st storey plan groundfloor siteplan




And with that, I’d like to thank you firstly for reading this and I should really be going to sleep, final review is in a few hours’ time. I hope this post has been informative enough and actually this is the first time I am posting here with a full narrative. If you have any questions or comments feel free to drop them down below! Would love to hear from you.

And to all my ASD M.Arch friends, congrats on finishing this marathon and happy graduation!


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