Nadoln Narongdej

Semiotics of Light

This research aims to explore the transformative power of light in the built environment through the lens of architectural staples such as Tadao Ando and Louis Kahn together with renowned author Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. For instance, Khan designed his proposed plan for the Hurva Synagogue with the perception of his “self professed religion of light” (Orozco, 2004) These individuals in the architectural realm displayed and expressed the importance of light in adding to the aesthetics of buildings and defining spaces, while giving merit to the symbolisms behind its presence. In line with this, Ando’s work, the Church of Light, is a representation of his “mastery of light and lightness” (Campbell, n.d.). Illuminations in structures, to them, play a focal role in deriving meaning especially in religions. As discussed in this paper, Llight , for these experts, as discussed in this paper, holds a deep connection with religious deities for these experts. In the same manner, theis element of light contributes greatly to designing structures specifically built for praise and worship,; illustrating its cruciality in holy architecture.

A descriptive analysis of the Thai Buddhist temple Wat Na Phra Men illustrates the utility of light in bringing forth aesthetics, function, and symbolism. An in depth look at the ‘ubosot’ exemplifieswill give an exemplary model of how light is manipulated and built into a sacred structure. Taking into account traditional design processes, the said building will showcase how light was used; from deriving a focal point to the sun’s orientation in regards to the ‘ubosot,’ to the interplay between light and shadow. This will give emphasis to the centrality of light in architecture wherein it creates a hierarchyheirarchy of spaces by bestowing either brightness or dimness to a certain aspect of design in the structure. Aureli describes this phenomenon as a causal effect of the boundaries that light creates within an area (Aureli, p 153-168, 2014). Furthermore, above these qualities that it imbues on space, this paper gives mentions to intrinsic implications that light has on individuals’ moods and emotions, as these are important considerations when talking about holy spaces.
Additional insights were included via interviews with Thai Buddhist monks who provided their views on the implication of light in regards to the meditation practice. Extracting from their decades of experience, the monks gave detailed explanations on certain conditions in the surrounding that have influences on the quality of meditation that one can undergo. In Phra Phondet Duangthip’s view, light is a crucial aspect in one’s meditative journey as it can influence a person’s mood. Their verdict on the certain qualities of light such as orientation, intensity, and symbolic connotations were unanimous in a sense that they found that it had direct implications on their practice.

In analysing the interview, the presence of light, according to the monks, adds to the sacredness of the religious experience.

Another aspect that could potentially be explored are the effects of light on individuals’ neurochemistry on individuals. This is an area that is mentioned under the limitations of this dissertation but was not analysed and researched as it would steer away frompast the main topic of the paper. The science behind how people react to light due to chemicals that are present in their brains during the absence or exposure to light could bring practical insight to designing an architectural space. This will give a holistic approach in understanding the built environment in consideration of the people who will be using the space.

The application of light goes beyond its aesthetic and functional purpose. Consequently, it also encompasses sacred abstractions and mysticisms. Its presence and absence can signify profound effects on both the environment and individuals; moulding and reconstructing the perceived architectural space. In Borys’ paper, he describes light in architecture as a “purposeful and active protagonist” (Borys, 2004). Therefore, the implications of this dissertation goes well over Buddhist temples and other religious structures. The ideas written herein have applications in designing other buildings due to light’s inherent ability to redefine spaces and human experiences. Further exploration of the multi-faceted material that is light can give spaces meaning, form, and function.


Aureli, P. V. (2014). The Dom-ino Problem: Questioning the Architecture of Domestic Space. Log, 30, 153–168. Borys, A. M. (2004). Lume di Lume: A Theory of Light and Its Effects. Journal of Architectural Education (1984-), 57(4), 3–9. Campbell, T. (n.d.) Master of light: Tadao Ando, Artland Magazine. Available at: https://magazine. (Accessed: 18 May 2023). Orozco, E. (2004) The Hurvah Synagogue of Louis Kahn and the semantics of nationalism, Available at: Louis_Kahn_and_the_Semantics_of_Nationalism (Accessed: 18 May 2023).