Unity can only be created from distinctness. This means, that every center is made from discernible opposites, and intensified when the not center, against which it is opposed, is clarified, and itself becomes a center.”Christopher Alexander, p. 200, Book One, The Nature of Order
“On a biological level, we see it in the contrast of male and female which exists in almost every kind of organism. It appears in the cycle of day and night, formed by a rotating earth in sunlight. It appears in the contrast of solid and liquid phase which provides the action and catalysis in chemical reactions.”Christopher Alexander, p. 272, Book One, The Nature of Order
My TKWA colleague, Allen Washatko took this image in 1972 while we were architecture students in a year abroad program with the University of Illinois. What is obvious to an excellent photographer like Allen is often lost on the rest of us. Contrast plays a fundamental role in our ability to perceive the world. It might seem obvious that contrast is necessary to see anything, but if one pays attention to both the quality and diversity of that contrast, what we see becomes richer and more meaningful.
Allen’s photo first reveals how the contrast of light and dark reinforce the open and closed rooms of the building. Beyond tonal values, contrast also defines the alternation between massiveness and spaciousness. Looking closer, one can also observe contrast where dark, soft and textured carpets are hung on cold and smoothly whitewashed walls. During the day, the contrast is created by sunlight entering through openings in the ceiling, at night a whole new structure of contrast is created with candles and oil lamps placed in niches carved out of massive walls.
Clearly, we are not only talking about the visual contrast of light and dark, but many aspects of the physical world that can be expressed in contrasting terms…warm and cool, busy and tranquil, loud and quiet, sharp and dull, textured and smooth, blue and orange, and on and on.
Once one’s awareness is sensitized to the presence of contrast in its many forms, its pervasiveness is overwhelming. As architects, we are constantly managing the many ways contrast participates in the life of a building.