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Listen to the Light // Tanner Lopez


Written by Tanner Lopez

The eldo sledgehammer.

"Listen to the Light"


An architectural designer must become familiar with the surroundings of a project so that they might capitalize on its opportunities while preserving what truly makes a place special.  Learning the characteristics of a historic place does not come quickly. The most apparent factor that helps one attain this information of place is time. Spending time in a place to learn what makes it special is an invaluable foundation that is necessary before truly peeling back the curtain and seeing it for what it truly is.

A tuning device is an activity or identifier that can be manipulated to learn more deeply about a subject. In implementing the tuning device not only does the creator learn but others who observe or interact should also be questioning their experience and what they believed they once knew to be true.

With a time based foundation of getting to know a place set, we were pushed to learn more about the characteristics that make Volland and what opportunities it had to offer. Carlos Scarpa said he was “Controlling the execution and expression of details“ , when asked why he walks around the construction site at night with a flashlight. The flashlight is a tool by which is achieved an analog of both the process of vision and the eye’s movement in its perception field. (Frascari) Creating an environment that gives the investigator of place, total control over what the audience focuses on allows only the most important characteristics from the best perspective to be observed. It is in the act of investigation and creating this environment that one learns the most about a place’s true characteristics. What could be learned about a place through this exercise? What can be translated to a larger group of people to better understand a place? We didn’t know what we were looking for but we knew it would be a different experience from walking around during the daytime and in that we would discover something.

Abstract: A tuning device is an activity or identifier that can be manipulated to learn more about a subject. Using concentrated light in the middle of the night allows one to focus on a certain detail without the distraction of its surroundings. Walking a place with a concentrated light, in the abyss of night, one must listen and observe the surroundings as they communicate their true character. This exploration offers many sensory and thought provoking experiences that leads one to rethink what they thought they once knew.


Audience: This blog is intended to open the minds of those attempting to study a place or object deeper.

Photo by: Karl Ndieli

The dusty country back roads engulfed in darkness led us to our destination. With anxiousness and excitement building upon our arrival we exited the vehicle with open minds and open senses to the unfamiliar environment. Dark silence. An extreme of the two, created a calming sensory experience. As if the drive had prepared us to escape our everyday lives as students in Manhattan, and inhabiting this obscure environment forced us to be hyper aware of our immediate surroundings. Packs of howling coyotes in the distance caused our adrenaline to rise thus becoming even more receptive to the blackness surrounding us. The lack of cloud coverage lent us to see a stunning star populated sky, a wonder that is not observed by many due to the excessive light pollution in metropolitan areas.


Our first observations had been made and we had yet to begin the exercise. The flashlight was turned on and everyone’s attention was instantly focused to its beam and the object it was illuminating, the railroad. The ability to solely focus on the railroad without the backdrop of the flint hills was interesting. The railroad is the reason for Volland’s existence and growth over time as well as the town’s downfall, when trains were no longer being used as a major mode of transportation around the Flint Hills. We had realized the importance of the railroad before, but isolating it in darkness with only a small flashlight allowed it to exist in an eerie separation from the rest of the city. This isolation that was created successfully allowed us to observe the railroad in greater detail and further our understanding of its relationship to Volland, both spatially and hierarchically amongst its defining characteristics.

The evening continued in this manner. We slowly walked around the town controlling the concentrated light to focus on a detail that we were interested in or questioning. With a few more trips and a key factor of time spent in the place, it was in this manner that Volland slowly revealed its true characteristics to us through light and darkness.

This provocation is intended to inspire the activity of an alternative sensory experience that causes inquiry and certain moments of understanding. It is only in changing the light in which we see that we can begin to have a deeper understanding of what is thought to be known.

Photo By: Karl Ndieli

Photo by: Karl Ndieli

Work cited

Frascari, Marco. “The Tell-the-Tale Detail.” Semiotics 1981, 1983, pp. 325–336.

Photo by: Karl Ndieli

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