Natural Light: Understanding Its Aesthetic Affect and Value on Various Materials Used in the Designed Garden and Landscape Through Specular and Diffused Reflection

Here's a paper which was due this past Monday - I forgot to post it...although I am not so sure you can read my text because it is so small? Maybe I will do something about that....

This has got to be my longest blog post title ever. 


Here we go....text only.

Natural Light

Understanding It's Aesthetic Affect And Value On Various Materials Used In The Designed Garden And Landscape Through Specular And Diffused Reflection
Lorien Hall

The Origin of My Love for the Affects of Reflected Natural Light

Natural light, specifically light which is emitted from the Sun, has been in existence for as long as life has been in existence, for it is a giver of life. Human life, animal life, and plant life cannot grow and develop without it. My purpose is to explore the aesthetic affect and value of reflected light, specular and diffused, as it relates to landscape and garden design.

As a young girl I was taken to art exhibits by my Grandmother. Once there was a visit to a particular museum where I first saw a certain painting which I've never forgotten. Every time I go back to that same gallery (it's a part of a permanent collection), I find myself moving quickly past the other paintings, giving them a quick scan of the eye before resting my gaze upon William Bliss Baker's Fallen Monarchs. It simply enchants me. There is something about how the light plays and reflects off the standing water, how the brush strokes depict fallen leaves and wings – how the late afternoon light moving through the trees creates a somber and moody atmosphere. As I review this painting as an adult, and analyze it with more seasoned eyes, I understand so much of the atmosphere created is the result of reflection, both specular and diffused.

Experiencing the Affect of Reflected Natural Light in a Space

Years later I would find myself walking barefoot on the verandas of a Japanese temple looking out into the garden. The heavy architectural overhangs leave the viewer in a shadowed and diffused light. The ambience is a powerful one and compliments the strength found in the rocks, moss, and pine trees out in the open air. The wooden flooring of the verandas subtly echo the colors of the surrounding space and sky as it has been worn to a soft polish by the residual oils of bare skin pressed against it time and time again for hundreds of years. The timbers now have an old leather quality to them; wabi-sabi.

In the late evening and into the night the shape of the gardens can still be discerned...even traveled through. For the pale granite chips which coat the soil in many temple gardens reflects the light of the moon and the stars. In times past this reflective quality of the granite mulch was not only for beauty, but was also used in the Emperor's residence as a protection against intruders, as they would become more visible in their stealth black apparel.

It is in Japanese temple gardens that I physically and emotionally feel the aesthetic strength of reflected natural light when used well and for purpose. There is a feeling of wholeness and a sense of connection to the natural world that I have only found in nature itself. The spaces which employ the use of natural light have a depth and a resonance to them. It gives a space a distinct atmosphere, form and presence

The Law of Reflection: Specular and Diffused

Light reflects off surfaces in a very predictable manner – in accordance with the law of reflection, that is the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection.

Reflection off of smooth surfaces such as mirrors or a calm body of water leads to a type of reflection known as specular reflection. Reflection off of rough surfaces such as plants, wood, stone, or an asphalt roadway leads to a type of reflection known as diffuse reflection.

Specular reflection creates a mirrored image, diffuse reflection moves color and mood around in a more gentle, less defined manner. Both may be employed into the garden and landscape to create stunning spaces. Understanding how the natural light affects certain materials, be it hard or soft, can give purpose and strength to the designer in the play of creating atmosphere and depth.

Applying Reflected Light into Garden & Landscape Design

The first-hand experiences I have had in regards to light quality in it's reflective state have lead me to believe that as a garden and landscape designer, I can consciously use light reflection to create powerful outdoor atmospheres.

Stone, timber and metal products can either be used in their natural state, which will most often result in a diffused reflection – or they can be polished or lacquered to as dull or high a shine possible. Choosing your finish for these materials will have an overall effect on the final atmosphere for your garden space.

When it comes to plant material – it may be less obvious what the reflective qualities are...but if you pay attention you will soon be able to make planting decisions based on their reflective possibilities. Have you ever walked around a garden after dusk and noticed how the white petals of Leucanthemum and the golden petals of Rudbeckia have a certain glow? It's enchanting and transforms a garden after the sun has gone down. During the daylight hours the choices only increase with leaves that have a naturally waxy and shiny cuticles vs thin and papery ones. Each will produce it's individual mood and ambience.

A popular element for most any garden or landscape is water. It is visually, emotional- ly, and physically refreshing and restorative. And just as the materials discussed above, all designers must make a choice about their finish for water. A completely still pool will have the ability to create the mirror-like, specular reflection, which can produce powerful images and enlarge a garden visually. Appropriately, these still waters are oft times referred to as reflecting pools.

Add a waterfall, a water jet or anything which causes movement – and now you have a water surface with diffused reflection – bouncing color and light around every which way possible! The movement can be as subtle as a single pipe gently allowing water to flow in, to the crashing of a 10 meter waterfall, never giving the surface a rest. Either may be desirable, it all comes down to what atmosphere are you aiming to achieve as a designer.

And this is just a scratch on the surface of such a malleable design medium!