But if I learned anything from his brilliant photographs of Neutra’s Kaufmann house in Palm Springs and Pierre Koenig’s Case Study House #22 in Los Angeles, it’s that glass-walled structures with interesting interiors take extremely well to being photographed lit from within.

This is as true of Marywood University’s Learning Commons as it is of those great examples of domestic architecture in Southern California.

So, during the day, the building attempts to sympathize with the landscape and sky, and does a reasonably good job at it. It’s sort of like the ‘neutrals’ we were all taught by HGTV to want in our living spaces: minimally offensive to all (figure 1).

Figure 1. Learning Commons. Marywood University, Scranton, PA. Photo: author.

Closer up, it does more of the same (figure 2). It’s quite nice, isn’t it?

Figure 2. Learning Commons close up. Marywood University, Scranton, PA. Photo: author.

Its serried rows of windows with two and a half big horizontal bands and numerous rhythmical verticals shows off the best side of the architecture, not least when caught in a reflecting pool (figures 3, 4).

But at night, when lit from within, the structure takes on a warmth it lacks by day (figures 5-7).

At night, we still have the serried verticals, which are now more like tall verticals merely interrupted by a darker register, but much better, we have the rhythm of the lights and the play of the tones in black and white. In all three images (figures 5, 6, 7) the dead, blank wall of glass has fallen away leaving a wonderful, three-dimensional interior now visible with complicating forms of seats, and so forth. The black and white images cool the structure down, but in color, the warm tones are welcoming. It’s a library that would beckon to me by night.

By night from a distance the sense of the building being a lit refuge increases (the hot summer night made me think of air conditioning within, which reminds me of a certain scene in Soylent Green. If you know it, you’ll know it).

The landscaping frames the building during the day, though the little trees interrupt the geometry I like so much about it. But almost any weather will compete with the learning commons for attention—see the beautiful clouds, typical of Scranton, in figure 1—, just as the saturated greens of the immaculate lawn and trees do. But at night, the playing field is leveled, and the learning commons dominates the scene. Put another way, there was nothing pulling my lens up above the roofline of the commons, and the light sculpture now adds to and completes the picture by emphasizing—revealing, really—the geometries of the lawns and sidewalks.

if the low lights were shielded and cast their light down and not into the eyes, the effect of the light architecture would be heightened. That one pesky light closest to the camera in figure 9 was making metering hard. I should have had my wife, who was with me, sit on a mat in front of it to block it. But then, Julius Shulman was a genius, and I am no Julius Shulman!

I’m grateful to the meticulous Marywood groundskeepers, who never allow a landscaping hair to fall out of place, so to speak. And though the commons would take on more life with students in it, the pandemic had the not aesthetically unpleasing result of letting the architecture speak entirely for itself.

Published by gsb03632

A college professor living in Scranton, PA

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