In Conversation with Takatoku Nishi: Architectural Lighting Design’s Emerging Talent
January 4, 2024
Takatoku Nishi, emerging winner of the 2023 LIT Lighting Design Award for Architectural Lighting Design, brings us to the magic of his creation, “Ripple.” On sunny days, sunlight dances through ceiling pipes, mimicking drops of water. Nishi’s design captures nature’s unpredictability, offering a unique experience with every visit.
“Ripple” was Nishi’s Ph.D. project, surprising with its location between the zoo and the university. Amid urban surroundings, it boasts lush greenery and wildlife. Nishi’s hands-on approach, considering sunlight, wind, and site shape, resulted in a masterpiece reflecting nature’s accidental beauty. This interview uncovers the inspiration, construction challenges, and the profound connection between “Ripple” and its natural surroundings.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
I am an artist and PhD based in Tokyo. As a constructor and phenomenon creator, I pursue and research spatial experiences with light. My long-standing focus has been on natural light. I try to reconstruct the phenomenon of light by using materials and structures to sublimate this natural light into artworks. Natural light is familiar to us and is the most beautiful and natural light. I believe that by passing this through the medium of architecture, a new spatial experience can be created.
Apart from pure architectural spaces, I am also interested in installation works that focus on the power and interest of nature. Looking at the power of nature and the beauty of light from different angles gives me new ideas.
Can you share your design philosophy or vision behind Ripple?
Ripple is for me the most ideal space of all the light spaces I have researched and created. In our daily life, “the wind blows and the light shines.” Just this everyday force of nature can create dramatic and beautiful phenomena. This idea is inspired by atmospheric optical phenomena. For example, when it rains and the sky is clear, you can see a rainbow. When light passes through clouds, it also creates beautiful sights such as an angel’s ladder. By manipulating these little coincidences in nature, I came up with a new way of expressing space. Therefore, light phenomena are not always present in the Ripple space. When it is cloudy and raining, light cannot be seen. Similarly, if there is no wind, the phenomena will not move. The spatial experience is also different depending on the wind speed. It is a remarkable day-to-day change. I designed this space to allow people to slowly experience the daily changes. The lighting of the space, the number and spacing of the pipes, the height and width of the space, the spacing, the materials and shades of the floor and walls – all have been calculated to provide a pleasant experience of the phenomenon of light.
Your design incorporates natural elements like the sun and the wind into the design. Can you describe the technical process behind the different light phenomena you’ve achieved through this balance?
The most time-consuming part of the research was the mechanism for directing the natural light. First, I tested more than 20 patterns for each pipe, including length, diameter, material and shape. Pipes that are too long or too short, too wide or too narrow do not make the phenomenon beautiful. The shape and material of the pipe is determined which can produce the most beautiful phenomena at a ceiling height of 4 metres in the room. The next step is to develop a mechanism to naturally direct the sun’s rays into the pipes. In Japan, the angle of the sun rises to 78°, almost 90° in summer, but in winter the angle drops by 47° to 31°. Therefore, light coming from the side has to be directed into the pipe at an angle of 90 degrees. A lot of research has gone into achieving this and it has been successful.
Finally, the lighting design of the room itself, where the light phenomena produced by the pipe mechanism are experienced, is designed to bring light into the room through louvred wall surfaces to prevent it from becoming too dark. The width, spacing and colour of the louvres are designed to reflect light into the room. The amount of light is also adjusted according to the architectural shape, so that the interior is dimly lit at around 35 lx. This lighting level is based on the darkness of tea rooms, which I have found to be comfortable.
Any project has its challenges, especially those that require the surrounding environment’s input. Which challenges did you face while working on the design and what did you learn from them?
During this project there was only one problem I could not solve on my own. That was the floor. Initially, it was thought that white gravel would be used due to the unfavourable ground level of the site. However, it turned out that it would have taken several tons of gravel to cover the equivalent of 95 square metres. It was impossible to lay that amount of gravel in this location, so when I was thinking about it a lot, I got advice from an acquaintance and got to know plastering. I learnt a lot about plastering, as I usually have a strong impression of plaster treatment for wall surfaces and had no idea about using it as a floor. I was also taught how to apply the plaster and really got to know how to treat and work it.
How did you incorporate sustainability into Ripple’s design?
My idea of sustainability is to know the beauty of the natural environment around us that we have now. When the sun disappears from the earth and the breeze stops, there will be no more ‘Ripple’. The driving force behind this work is literally the power of nature. As long as there are forces of nature, they will create beautiful phenomena.
Congratulations on winning the “ Emerging Lighting Designer of the Year 2023! What does winning this award mean to you?
I am very honoured to have been selected for this prestigious award. I believe that many people have shared in the possibilities of the light spaces I have worked on. This makes me very happy. Encouraged by this award, I will continue to try new things and find many possibilities in the future. I also want to create an architecture where the natural environment and people can become one through light spaces.
What does your future look like? Are there any specific visions or natural phenomena you wish to explore?
There are lots of big and small things I want to try now. For the big ones, I’m thinking of a space for light phenomena, reminiscent of the Northern Lights. I also have a lot of other ideas, such as using the sea or double glass. Another theme I’ve been interested in recently is the idea of a space where people can experience light even in a bright space.
I recently participated in an artist-in-residence in Finland, investigating Finnish light of architecture. I used to think that light could be experienced because of dark spaces, but I discovered that light can also be expressed poetically and beauty can be experienced in bright spaces. The architectural space of Juha Leiviskä taught me this. Thank you very much. I was very moved by it. Please allow me to take this opportunity to pray for his soul.
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