The Daylight Award 2020 for Lifetime Achievements

The Daylight Award 2020 for Lifetime Achievements

Henry Plummer is an architectural academic who has devoted his career to the research of daylight in architecture. Through extensive critiques and photographic investigations, he provides a thoughtful and evocative assessment of countless buildings through history.

Emeritus Professor Henry Plummer taught architectural history and design at the Center for Advanced Study, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He received his MArch from MIT, studied light-art with artist, photographer, educator and art theorist György Kepes, and was a photographic apprentice to Minor White.

He has published numerous remarkable books revealing the transformative power of daylight in architecture with notable publications including the early contributions to the Japanese journal ‘Architecture + Urbanism’, such as “The Poetics of Light” (1987), “Light in Japanese Architecture” (1995) and “Masters of Light” (2003). The latter is an extensive (420 page) catalogue of over 50 twentieth century architectural masterpieces and provides the first comprehensive and compiled analysis of daylight in projects by architects ranging from Aalto to Wright. This work was followed by books including “The Architecture of Natural Light” (2009), “Stillness and Light: The Silent Eloquence of Shaker Architecture” (2009), “Nordic Light: Modern Scandinavian Architecture” (2012) and “Cosmos of Light: The Sacred Architecture of Le Corbusier” (2013).

Jury reasoning

Henry Plummer’s unique approach to revealing the transformative, metaphysical qualities of daylight is to combine his power of narrative analysis, with his outstanding skill as an architectural photographer. In this way, his extensive body of work has inspired generations of architects to reveal and rejoice the experiential aspects of daylight in architecture.

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Plummer emphasises the role of these two forms of media: “Words examine ideas and thoughts, observations and analysis about light, while images present the phenomena themselves. It is with this in mind that the photographs are intended not as textual illustrations, but rather to form their own mode of enquiry, one that tries to carefully examine the metaphysical aspects of architecture whose significance lies, to a large extent, beyond the domain of words.”

As is evident from this output, Plummer is unique in having studied and photographed architectural light in varying cultural, climatic and geographic contexts. This cross-cultural engagement ranges from the role of light in Japanese architecture – complimenting Tanizaki’s classic book ”In Praise of Shadows” – to its significance in Nordic and Shaker architecture. In addition, he has succeeded in emphasising and mediating multi-sensory experiences – evident from his recent book ”The Experience of Architecture” (2016) – in his images and writings, especially the interplay of silence and light. Plummer’s studies catch the ephemeral, spiritual and metaphysical phenomenon of light for future generations.

In summary, Henry Plummer´s research is characterized by the humanistic, artistic, analytical and metaphysical. The depth and quality of his analysis is based on rigorous studies, embracing experiential and phenomenological as well as intuitive and artistic attitudes towards investigations of daylight. His photography is exceptional and his writing has brought a deeper level of understanding and appreciation of the quality of light to the academy and the profession.

His words and photographs are an inspiration to the study and practice of architecture.