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My interest in urban lighting conditions first arose somewhat unconsciously, through taking photographs of dense, built-up urban centers at various scales, from narrow roji alleyways to commercial back streets. In Seoul Studio 2015 I was introduced to the urban fabric of Asian cities which was vastly different than any other type of city setting I had previously experienced. I had never seen layering of usage, space, materials, construction, and infrastructure at such an unprecedentedly chaotic level before. I was immersed in a smaller, more human scale attuned to a lifestyle of walking and navigating without automobiles – the exact opposite of the United States. The streets were filled with artifacts of their boundary spaces and programs in the form of advertisements, shared and make-shift utility solutions, power supply lines, merchandise, private property (now implied) and the city dwellers themselves. It was this environmental chaos which drove the investigation into the composition and treatment of Seoul’s sky plane, which resulted in a study into traditional Korean courtyards and into residual development from post-war Korea, the forms and layering of streets in the vertical plane. It gravitated me naturally towards the more unruly, darker, disordered interspaces of buildings and all scales of pedestrian alleys. This was my first architecturally driven tour of the characteristic smallness of oriental cityscapes. 

Upon moving to Tokyo in the fall of 2016, I would continue to explore this characteristic. It fueled an interest in Japanese urbanism, the layout and design of the highly organic and emergent city of Tokyo, the forces which shaped it and the results in built form. The first discernible centerpieces of this pre-thesis research were roji alleyways and so-called “shadow wells” in some of the densest, deepest parts of the city. The former are the most traditional form of Japanese urbanism you can find, Edo-era streetscapes at an immensely human scale, ebbing and flowing with the natural and artificial landscape, cutting pathways through dense, typically low-rise residential developments. They are not only a display of smallness but the transparency of private property from a Japanese standpoint, flanked by personal gardens, bicycles, furniture, and other belongings and instilled with a general feeling of comfort and safety. The shadow wells are merely the results of intense urban development and sky-high property values in the world’s largest city. A kind of urban terrain, they comprise the interspace of building volumes and can be so “deep” they begin to mimic the feeling of a trench or canyon. Together these make up the darker of the urban spaces due to their narrow scale and density, and as such they take on certain atmospheric qualities and ephemeral daylighting. 

The urban understanding of “proximity” combined with a Japanese mentality that fosters smallness as well as shadow and darkness (as depicted in Tanizaki). These forces are what create the dense urban regions of Tokyo that lack significantly access to light from the sun or secondary light from surface reflections. As an architecture student from West Texas, I have always believed strongly in the power of light in space create more hospitable environments, as well as both subtle and sublime atmospheric changes that can add extra meaning to places, as well as nurture emotion and delineate more meaningful memories. It is not merely high levels of light or even direct access to natural light in which we find these benefits, but more specifically the treatment of light in given conditions. Nonetheless, the problem in urban Tokyo is immediately clear: a distinct lack of natural light, overuse of electrical lighting, and overall darkness. The research seeks to discern the current protocol for natural light, coming in the form of urban regulations and laws, and moreover it seeks to establish the city inhabitant’s environment from a lighting and atmospheric standpoint. Health implications of light access, emotional responses, and cultural influences are all important sub topics. As its main step, the research explores the design implications of regulating light in the city and seeks methods to adjust atmosphere and light access in both existing spaces and new insertions. It will involve analyzing volumes of light in the form of 3-dimensional illuminance grids in urban void spaces in order to develop a strategy to intervene with and configure light around program in ways that are beneficial (health, perceptually, mentally). It is a human-centered attempt at better and more systematic treatment of urban light for future design.