No.1 / Top 10 lighting experiences: The Pantheon, Rome

April 06 2011 — by Jonathan Speirs
A wonder of architecture and light. It was commissioned by Marcus Agrippa as a temple to all the gods of Ancient Rome and rebuilt by Emperor Hadrian in about 126 AD. Two thousand years later, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. The proportions were designed such that if the dome continued down, it would touch the centre of the floor, a perfect sphere with a diameter of just over 43 metres. The coffering in the dome not only creates visual depth and form but reduces its overall weight.

The open oculus at the crown permits a focussed shaft of strong Roman light to pierce the gloom of the interior. The strong contrast of the bright oculus to the inner surface creates a sense of mystery that is revealed when the beam of light strikes the lower parts of the interior reflecting light back up. Sitting inside on the cool floor on a hot summer’s day for an hour or two watching the change in the interior as the beam steadily tracks through the space is a delight. I can only assume that this building must have inspired James Turrell’s sky spaces. I have visited the building many times over the years but have yet to witness the one day of the year when rose petals are sprinkled through the opening down onto the floor.

Jonathan Speirs