Image: The spinning shadow of a big bird cage cast on a man’s face adds into the total atmosphere.  Ashes of Time (1994), director, Kar Wai Wong

Image: The spinning shadow of a big bird cage cast on a man’s face adds atmosphere.
Ashes of Time (1994), director, Kar Wai Wong

“What men call the shadow of the body is not the shadow of the body, but is the body of the soul.” – Oscar Wilde

There was a game my friends and I played back in China when we were kids. One of us was chosen to begin as the “ghost”, and he or she would try to catch the others. If caught, that kid would then assume the role of the “ghost” and the chase would begin anew. It sounds like a super universal kids’ game. However, there was a twist. The definition of “catching” in this Chinese version of this game of tag meant stepping onto another’s shadow. It’s interesting to realize our shadow is an extension of ourselves, yet sometimes it changes even as we stay still as the light around us changes.

Tree shadows cast onto a Pasadena, CA parking structure wall add texture. Photograph by Yiran Wang)

Tree shadows add texture to the wall of a parking structure in Pasadena, California. Photograph by Yiran Wang

Light is a given, shadow is just one of the results. Shadow is an important part of the Asian aesthetic and the one I’m most interested in. Many Chinese poems depict the shadow of trees, bamboos, and even humans. Traditionally in Chinese gardens shadows are considered when designing a scene, such as bamboo shadows swaying against a white wall or an exquisite window frame casting patterns along a walkway. Thus, when I walk along a street I like to search for shadows cast across surfaces. Even the shadow of a fence creates a rhythm in my eyes, playing a pattern between dark and bright, dark and bright.

Shadows on a topography study model. Photograph by Yiran Wang

Texture and shadows interplay across a topography study model. Photograph by Yiran Wang

Shadow gives depth, enhancing the texture of an object. Cast shadows can be an authentic drawing which turns a three-dimensional tree into an abstraction, a mysterious image onto the wall. The existence of any shadow is dependent upon the presence of both an object and cast light, an interdependency representing the heart of Yin Yang. There are many great natural and manmade landscapes and architectural masterpieces where beautiful shadows occur. And not only is the visual effect evocative, but also the physical feeling of coolness; a shadow imparts a space with its presence.

Architects play with shadows all of the time. It’s an art finding the perfect cut opening. However, for us landscape architects, perhaps the relationship between space and light is the other way around.

“A column and a column brings light between them. To make a column which grows out of the wall and which makes its own rhythm of no-light, light, no-light, light: that is the marvel of the artist.” – Louis Kahn

The National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, designed by architect, Louis Kahn 

The National Assembly Building of Bangladesh, designed by architect, Louis Kahn

Note: A version of this same piece translated into Chinese is available below…




光是一种赐予,影子是伴随他而产生的结果之一。但就是这“之一”使我深深着迷。或许是因为影子是东方美学中一个重要的意象。许多中国古诗都在竭力描绘她,斑驳树影,婆娑竹影,甚至是人的茕影 。这在中国古典园林中体现更甚,粉墙竹影,窗棂倩影等等。于是乎,当我漫步街头的时候,我喜欢寻找影子,哪怕是路边栏杆的投影在我眼中也像是一首明与暗的歌.





One Comment

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  1. May 14, 2015

    Reblogged this on Typefiend™ and commented:
    Are shadows negative space, or is light actually the absence of darkness, the predominant universal?


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