by Stephen Kite. Macmillan, October 2017. 360 p. ill. ISBN 9781472588098 (pbk), $33.95.
Reviewed March 2018
Shadows are compelling: visually tangible, yet tactilely intangible; atmospheric, yet volumetric; static, yet shifting. When resulting from the interplay of light and architecture, shadows delineate surface, define space, and create form. Their potency extends into the metaphysical as they affect mood and instill ambience. In Shadow-Makers: A Cultural History of Shadows in Architecture, Stephen Kite, Professor of Architecture at the Welsh School of Architecture in Cardiff, takes shadows from the shadows and presents them as a veritable subject of thought.
In the opening passages of the book, Kite uses the subtle shading of St. Peter’s Klippan in Sweden, a modern building invoking the primordial cave, to establish and define terms (e.g., cast shadow, attached shadow, shading) and to posit questions (e.g., is shadow the absence of light or the presence of shade?). Kite follows a mostly chronological path from a mostly western vantage, quickly moving from that primitive cave into the eighteenth century. Here he pauses to explore the graphic and built work of Hawksmoor and the evocation of the sublime in the chiaroscuro-infused works of Piranesi and John Soane. The nineteenth century brings ‘Gothick’ mood-creating, dark shadows cast in dream and ruin, countered by the careful draftsmanship of Ruskin where light and shade take on equal agency. After a brief dive into the Middle East with a discussion of urban shading, Kite returns to his western survey with the introduction of the subconscious powers of shadow as seen in the photography of Adrian Stokes. The concluding chapters focus on the work of Aldo Rossi and Louis Kahn in which the architects use light and shadow as readily as solid mass to create architecture. In the final chapter, Kite uses Peter Zumthor’s ‘Bruder Klaus’ Chapel in Cologne to look to a possible future where the shadow is both seed and fruit of the built work.
Noteworthy is the soft cover of the book, evocative of an enveloping shadow. The book is well-illustrated with 137 images, including many photographs and sketches by the author, and, to the delight of this visual resource librarian, all are carefully documented. Endnotes follow each chapter. The extensive bibliography gives evidence of Kite’s long engagement in the topic of shadows in architecture. Especially welcome is the detailed index referencing all architects, theorists, built works, and places mentioned in the book. Researchers, not only in the graphic and photographic rendering of architectural form but in the built form itself, will be the primary audience.