In the age of minimalism, we give importance to the lighting of a space and often neglect the other part that is tied to it – the shadow. It is often ignored due to its characteristic of being dark. We fail to realize that the wall and space we design no longer remains plain. There plays a game of light and shadow daily. We already know the importance of light in a space, but the shadow, which is inseparable from it, is equally important in the perception and experience of space. These shadows create mood and interests depending on how we perceive them. It creates a desire to explore what is behind it – the darkness, depth, and wholly another world. It evokes our imaginative power to fantasize about the surface behind it.

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Louis Kahn did not design buildings to protect the users from the sun, but rather to protect the sanctity of the shadow – IIM Ahmedabad ©Alessandro Vassella 1978


A dramatic shadow is perceived by us as an abstract form on a surface. We try to define it with meaning that helps develop our imaginative power. We try to create a story and be a part of it. Every human perceives these forms differently. It also embeds as a memory in our mind that stays forever, thus making the shadow of architecture a wholly unique experience. We try to associate this story with every other place, making the space memory in our minds.

Take the example of an old Indian house that has minimal light. It creates deep shadows that minimally highlights the features of the house. Such shadows create a place in our minds forever due to the story we associate with it that we created. They highlight all the features – the material of the wall and detailing and depth of the space, which is otherwise hidden in the bright illumination. Similarly, in the other example, our mind perceives the dramatic shadow and we create a story. These shadows make the space an identity in our minds forever.

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Ancient homes of India showing material textures in shadow ©
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Asmacati Shopping Centre showing patterned- on ground ©

Few architects/designers use particular shapes and lines to create a sense of rhythm in the shadow – a pattern of light and dark that emphasizes the shape and its outline. Some shadows also create a sense of movement in the users’ minds.

Shadows and Spaces

Along with light and shadow, there is also a play of colors, which depending on the shadow cast, the color of the surface shows various gradients on the surface and a play of textures which fades in and out according to the time of the day. These things force us to observe the architectural space, giving us a wholly unique experience.

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“Emotional architecture” showing different shades of yellow in shadow by Luis Barragan ©Ramon Esteve- Emotional Architecture
Cast due to the textured façade – Rock on a slope ©Michael Heinrich

Shadows also create layers on the wall which try to communicate with us – communicate the language of nature through architecture – the cycles of dawn to dusk, and make us connected to a wholly bigger world. These cycles of nature make us feel more connected to nature. When we experience this cycle of nature, we feel balanced and calm. “The more visible nature’s cycles and processes, the more anchored are we in the truths underlying daily life.”– says architect Christopher Day. When we see our bodies synchronize with these cycles of nature, we feel peaceful. Shadows speak the rhythm of nature. Architecture becomes a medium to tell this story of the sunrise to sunset, which changes every day and every season.

Showing various patterns and depth, thus creating layers on wall and floor – Zen House ©Quang Dam

Interior detailing and ornamentation are also highlighted due to shadows. They speak of the depth of the form creating layers on the surface. These layers, depending on the number of forms or furniture placed create a dramatic play and composition on the otherwise plain wall according to the time of the day. Both natural and artificial light shape the spaces.

Importance Of Shadows Through Architecture 

Apart from that, the shadows cast on the wall remind us of the shadows within us. It gives us a chance to appreciate the darkness in our lives and teaches us the contrasts in our lives – struggles and peace, happiness and sadness, and success and failure – that changes like the cycles of nature. It gives us a space to sit and think in solitude and reminds us of the realities of life that in order to see the light, shadows need to be experienced. “Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy”-Juhani Pallasmaa. Uniform and continuous illumination seldom give us this time and space and a chance to peep into the darkness.

All our senses get engaged when we perceive the shadows through vision, providing a unique sensory experience. This creates a deeper spatial awareness of the space and keeps us constantly communicating with the space, making us feel the essence of the architectural environment. Every human perceives these shadows differently, either positively or negatively, which creates an impact on the emotional levels.

Church of the Light by Tadao Ando ©
Church of the Light by Tadao Ando ©

In order to experience the light, shadows need to be created. The cutout in the wall in the shape of a Cross is illuminated and the wall is in the shadow giving a spiritual experience to the users and making them more connected to cycles of nature. There is a well-balanced play of light and shadow, which highlights minimal features creating a sense of focus.

Today, we give more importance to lighting up the interior spaces and fail to create a balance between the lights and shadows and hence fail to provide users with a unique experience with the shadows. We tend to illuminate the entire space, which hides the details of the space, form, or furniture in the bright illumination of light, which makes the details and surface appear flat, be it natural or artificial illumination. We fail to realize that where there is light, there is also shadow.


Pranjali is a passionate artist and an architect who loves to blend her designs with nature. She designs meticulously and is always exploring the impact of architectural spaces on user's mind and body. You will find her lost in travelling, daydreams, books, and also on mountain trails.