A couple months ago I took my students on a field trip, to the L.A. Cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. At some point, I would like to write a longer post on that building, as it is one of my local faves, and I have a lot to say about it. Today, however, we're just going to have a quick look at the way the sunlight and shadows move and play across the facade over the course of the day.
These were taken in early April, so the times given in my descriptions are PST.
Here is the Cathedral as it looked when I arrived, at 9:25 a.m. It's not first thing as the sun rises, but the sun is still relatively low in the eastern sky, and the building is getting a more or less straight-on blast of sunlight. You can see that the adobe-colored concrete is treated in 2 different ways: it has smooth, flat surfaces and horizontally banded surfaces.
Here is the horizontal banding up close, with a flat section also, so you can get a better idea about what it's like:
The portion of the building I am interested in for this discussion is this area above the main entrance. The right section is flat concrete, and has a recessed window very high up. The center section is horizontally banded and has a less-deeply recessed, larger window; the left section is also horizontally banded. Note also that none of these surfaces are related to one another by right angles. This affects the way the sunlight and shadows react with the building, as we shall see. The photo below was taken at 9:31, and the shadows are pretty much the same as the one above
Here it is about 30 minutes later, at 9:58. Notice how the flat surface is still in the shade, but it is no longer casting any shadow on the adjacent surface; the shadow line between the two surfaces has receded right into the corner. Notice also how the next surface over, with the larger window, is just barely being grazed by sunlight, so that the lower edges of the horizontal bands are subtly dabbed in light.
Now (below) it is a bit later, 12:21 p.m. Look at the fantastic play of light on the surface to the left! The sun is high in the sky, causing long shadows on the horizontal panels, and the glass of the window is reflecting sunlight back onto the wall as well. The flat surface to the right, by contrast, is getting a direct blast.
Here is a closeup, just a moment later, at 12:30. Another nuance you can see, if you click to embiggen, is the way the small concrete wall segment above the large window is also reflecting a small but noticeable amount of light onto the adjacent darker surface, at the corner.
And finally, about an hour and a half later, here is how it looks at 2:07 p.m. The surface to the left is in complete shadow, and the window reflection isn't doing its thing any more. The surface in the middle is just getting enough sunlight to make little triangular tips on the edge. One of the things I like about this building is that there are no right angles at all in the floor plan, and how that leads to this kind of richness and variety in the way the surfaces interact with the sunlight throughout the day.
It also leads to some really interesting things on the inside, but I'll have to leave that discussion for another day. Have you been to the Cathedral? Did you like it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments!