Those of us who live close to the equator take a daily alternation of light and dark for granted. But in the far Scandinavian north, brief summers of blinding, perpetual sunlight alternate with months of bleak, S.A.D.-inducing darkness, punctuated with ecstatic bursts of Aurora Borealis. In the past few decades, Scandinavian architects have come up with some breathtaking ways to weave these extreme, mystical-seeming light conditions into the very designs of their buildings. In Nordic Light: Modern Scandinavian Architecture, architecture Henry Plummer showcases 50 of these elegant solutions throughout Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, in more than 500 radiant photographs.
“For me, light is the most ecstatic architectural experience there is, and in many ways the best architecture is a preparation for the experience of light,” Finnish architect Juhani Pallasmaa once wrote. To let the light in but keep the cold out, some Northern architects transform buildings into optical instruments: they’re shaped as funnels, aimed at the most luminous points of the horizon, and hollowed inside, directing light to the darkest rooms.
Pale materials are especially beloved of these Northern architects, as they reflect and magnify faint illumination like projection screens. The blond pine of Finland’s Turku Chapel, the 5 million yellow bricks of Copenhagen’s Grundtvigs Church, and the silvery-white walls of Finland’s Myyrmäki Church turn interiors into radiant havens. In Regnbeun Arkitekter’s Antvorskov Church in Denmark, pure, white light brightens gradually towards the altar, where a slit in the roof and side windows let light stream in. But all this incandescence isn’t just practical, Plummer writes: “This peaceful radiance, devoid of matter, touches a chord in the human soul.”