Stillness and Light

Stillness and Light

The Silent Eloquence of Shaker Architecture
Henry Plummer
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 08/11/2009
ISBN: 978-0-253-00778-0
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2009 ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award, Gold Medal, Architecture

Shaker buildings have long been admired for their simplicity of design and sturdy craftsmanship, with form always following function. Over the years, their distinctive physical characteristics have invited as much study as imitation. Their clean, unadorned lines have been said to reflect core Shaker beliefs such as honesty, integrity, purity, and perfection. In this book, Henry Plummer focuses on the use of natural light in Shaker architecture, noting that Shaker builders manipulated light not only for practical reasons of illumination but also to sculpt a deliberately spiritual, visual presence within their space. Stillness and Light celebrates this subtly beautiful aspect of Shaker innovation and construction, captured in more than 100 stunning photographs.

Author Bio

Henry Plummer is Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he is also an associate of the Center for Advanced Study. He is author of Poetics of Light, Light in Japanese Architecture, and The Architecture of Natural Light.


“Said to reflect the core Shaker beliefs of honesty, integrity, purity, and perfection, Shaker architecture focuses on the use of natural light and how buildings manipulate this light, sculpting a deliberately spiritual, visual and practical presence. Captured in more than 100 stunning photographs, this beautiful book reveals the ongoing admiration of this art form.”

“I have written that when an architect finds out that LIGHT is the main subject of Architecture, he begins to be a real one. How could a real architect not know about LIGHT? How could a good photographer not control LIGHT? How could a good professor not speak to his students about LIGHT? Henry Plummer, who is a real architect, a splendid photographer, and also a wonderful professor, does all of these things for us in Stillness and Light. ”
 — Alberto Campo Baeza, Architect and Visiting Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design

“This is a book that you will want to have open and in sight, turning its pages from time to time, absorbing the meditation its photographs evoke. The stillness is the stillness of concentration, a quieting of the mind that could be termed soulful. The light glowing from its pages is transformative. The words bring thought to place, echoing original intent, giving their own illumination to the qualities of Shaker life and thought. The quality of color and light indeed give “earthbound rooms a skyward inflection”. The photographs are masterful; their vantage, profound. Plummer’s work not only records Stillness and Light, it gives them.”
 — Donlyn Lyndon, Eva Li Professor of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley

“These images of historic Shaker buildings are stunning.”
 — Stephen J. Stein, author of The Shaker Experience in America

“These spaces . . . are mirages infused with a sense of reality and epiphany.”
 — Juhani Pallasmaa, Former professor of architecture at Helsinki University of Technology and currently Ruth and Norman

“[A] stunning color photographic essay ... Plummer's discerning photographic eye not only captures the feeling of serenity and peace that pervades these buildings, but also reminds us that for the Shakers, daily work was prayer and every space in their community was a chapel ... This book is a must for libraries and any religious group planning to construct significant spiritual space.Vol. 15, No. 1 August, 2011”
 — Nova Religio

“I highly recommend this book for anyone who is appraising Shaker items or Shaker architecture or for those who simply love high quality art photographs. A welcome addition to your book shelves. 9/24/2009”

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Table of Contents


Introduction: Shaker Light--Building a State of Grace

1. Simplicity--Pristine Light
Monotone Mass
Pure White Cavity
Framed Whiteness
Between Wood and Plaster
Wooden Cavern
2. Order--Focused Light
Mesmerizing Window
Concentric Tonalities
Double Helix
Twin Skylights
Flying Staircase
Tiered Skylights
3. Luminosity--Inner Light
Maximum Fenestration
Interior Shutters
White Kentucky Limestone
White-Painted Stonework
White on White
Yellow Light
Lustrous Wood
Clasped Light
Attic Dormer
4. Equality--Shared Light
Transom Window
Interior Window
Double Window
Enfilade of Openings
Lattice of Light
5. Time--Cyclic Light
Shadow Play on Limestone
Spectral Colors
Tree Shadows
Splashes of Sun
Coexisting Times States
Golden Cast
Revolving Light and Color
Crossfire of Sun I
Crossfire of Sun II
Light Orchestration