Wendy Light

Story by Gemma Winstanley

Faculty of Architecture and Design, 2017

Global Roaming

Wendy Light was the School of Architecture’s first female senior lecturer. After 17 years working all around the world, Light joined the Faculty of Architecture and design in 1977, bringing with her a fresh perspective on the design of colour and light.

Light moved to New Zealand from Yorkshire in 1947. Here, she completed her Bachelor of Architecture with Honours at the University of Auckland in 1959 with a dissertation on colour.

With the help of a New Zealand University Travelling Scholarship she took her passion overseas, first to the Building research Station at Garston, Hertfordshire, England, working on lighting and colour.

After a three-year break, painting and designing in Kingston, Jamaica she returned to London in 1969.

Light returned to London "jobless and broke", but was able to walk straight into a consultancy position (Light 1982, 16). Consultancy and specialisation were in their infancy at the time. As the traditional ‘man of all trades’ architect was becoming increasingly more out of touch, Light found her specific skill set and experience becoming more and more in demand.

Her first taste of consultancy came with the concluding phase of the lighting for the Market Hall of the new London Stock Exchange, her second was the Tate Gallery Extension.

The Tate Gallery Extension

The Tate project would earn Light her highest recognition of international success. Carried out "periodically" and "spasmodically unpaid", concurrently with other work, the Tate Extension would go on for seven years between 1969 and 1976, not finished till 1978 and not officially opened until 1979 (Light 1982, 16).

The design was complex, and included detailed lighting and artificial lighting design. The new galleries were to be lit almost entirely by daylight, diffused by a dual layer system of louvres, which Light custom designed for the project, to avoid damage and deterioration of the art works.

In 1979, as the principal lighting designer on the project, Light was awarded the Edwin F. Guth Memorial Lighting Design Award. Called the ‘Art Box’ and the ‘Electronic Play Thing’, The Guardian (1981, 12) described the extension as:

"the best way to view the new Tate Gallery Extension is on your hands and knees. Put aside the illustrated companion to the collection and reach instead for an engineering manual and a cross section of the roof, rather like Christopher Wren’s dome at St Pauls, the Tate extension will appeal to those who relish the sigh of ingenuity overcoming problems and then hiding the solutions"

Light’s louvre design was considered the best thing the new extension had to offer – never mind the art work.

Wendy's Art

  • <p>Original artwork by Wendy Light. Title and date unknown. Image courtesy of the Faculty of Architecture and Design. </p>

Colour and Light

Here at Victoria, Light went on to impart her knowledge teaching and researching on design theory, colour, and lighting. She continued to paint prolifically, leaving much of her collection on the investigation of colour and light to the school on her passing in 1992 aged 54.

In 1991 she was awarded the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, National Bank Contemporary Art Award. Her presentation of her research ‘Entropy and Colour’ in June 1991 at the Conference of the Association Internationale De La Couleur in Sydney, Australia brought together all the threads of her work; art, architecture, colour and light.

It was a glass box of her passions and strengths.

Faculty of Architecture and Design

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