James Turrell | Dorotheenstadt Chapel

James Turrell has long been a key inspiration for lighting designers. His light and color sensory experiences are well known and have opened a Pandora’s box for the lighting community. It has led lighting designers to question the role of light and color in our perception of space and void.
Today, I visited the permanent installation in the chapel of the Dorotheenstäd cemetery in Berlin. A good friend of mine had mentioned it to me and this morning, out of pure randomness, I decided to go. However, I advise not to go out of randomness. The chapel has specific opening times and tours and these vary from day to day and season to season. The times are available online so it’s better that you check before heading over.
For those that know me, deciding to do something out of randomness isn’t unheard of and of course, as you would expect, the chapel wasn’t scheduled to be open when I arrived. But luckily for me, a kind person who manages the chapel happened to be there and she open heartedly let me in to experience the chapel and installation in privacy and without interruption.
So even before entering, my luck at the door had started to set a certain mood of providence and exclusivity. When the door shut behind me, the chapel became very dreamlike and peacefully silent. The lighting was turned on and suddenly Turrell’s colours started to fill the void of space.
Lighting is as much of the architecture as the bricks, stone and wood that built the chapel. The void too gains importance as through the coloured light, it’s given a voice that allows it to express itself. Lighting designers have long known that the lit environment can help define the mood and atmosphere but Turrell’s use of pastel and saturated colours communicates this in an impactful yet elegant way.
At the time of my visit, it wasn’t a particularly cold December day in Berlin but the chapel was a bit chilly inside. Whether this was intentional or not, the cooler temperature played its part in the experience as it created in me a certain level of alertness to my surroundings and myself.
Through daylight, the inside of the chapel is deeply connected to the exterior. I would have expected that such a lighting experience would require a controlled environment but the use of frosted glazing allows daylight to enter and merge with the coloured lighting in the softest of ways.
Together, daylight and the coloured lighting become two sides of one project. Daylight bestows itself with an omnipresent and shadowless effort while the artificial coloured lighting gives the chapel a humanistic connection to desire, mood and disposition.
For those that live or visit Berlin, I highly recommend this experience. Allow yourself time to sit and contemplate the architecture and lighting. You’ll be surprised at how mind opening it can be.
Opening Times
Lighting Installation