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Double Vision | House


The Double Vision effect was achieved in many of the California Case Study Houses with outdoor pools that reflected landscapes and sky-scapes into the interior.


Highly reflective smooth surfaces frequently result in specular surfaces and when these are hit by light they create an inversed image of objects that are adjacent and perpendicular to them. As a result the flipped image makes objects appear to be twice in the space creating the visual effect of Double Vision. Double Vision can flip objects in different angles depending on the orientation of the specular plane surface. If the specular plane is oriented horizontally, nearby objects will be flipped vertically and if oriented vertically, nearby objects will be flipped horizontally. For example a swimming pool--horizontal plane--duplicates a house in a way that it appears one house to be on top of the other--vertically mirrored--, and a bathroom mirror –vertical plan--duplicates a sink in a way that it appears one sink to be beside the other-–horizontally mirrored.

It is known that mirrors or specular surfaces make an inverse copy of the objects reflected, but still Double Vision is not always observed. For Double Vision to be observed and understood, objects being duplicated need to be close enough to the reflective surface so that the duplicated image is adjacent to the original recalling ones attention. Far away objects being reflected are not perceived as Double Vision as the distance prevents the eye to associate the formed image with the object being copied. Double Vision can be created by any material with reflective properties, such as water, glass, mirror, metal, polished stone, and plastic. Usually when these materials interact with light, their surface properties seem invisible as they disappear to the image being generated. According to Marietta Millet in Light Revealing Architecture, light can dematerialize form and when this happens “[t]he result makes it seem as if the form were created by and for light rather than by and for the heartier forces of gravity.”1 For a Miami residence, built in 2007, Angel Berisiartu specified a highly reflective polished floor that seems absent of the space. Instead of a horizontal plane, the floor is understood as an extension of the vertical plane--the surrounding colonnades.

Furthermore, reflective surfaces change with time and in time making Double Vision not always a permanent view but a temporary one. With time, reflective surfaces change according to the amount of light in the space; that is they change with daytime, weather, and seasons. For instance, during the summer when light is more intense specular surfaces are brighter and more susceptible to reflections than during the winter. In time, reflective surfaces change due to their aging. For instance, metals and mirrors can suffer from weathering gradually developing a patina that prevents them from reflecting images as clear as when they were shiny and new.

Spatially, Double Vision can create an accent within the space or become its main motif. It creates an accent, when the specular surface is small in relation with the space and thereby reflects small objects as for example a vase on a glass table. It becomes the main spatial motif, when the specular surface encompasses a large area of the space thereby reflecting a significant portion of it or its entirety as for example an entire wall or space envelope. This larger reflections cause confusion requiring users to be extra cautious when moving through the space. Both, Double Vision as accent and spatial motif occur in history, being this last effect the preferred one in contemporary settings.

Historically, Double Vision can be seen in the ponds of traditional Japanese architecture, but it did not enter the stream until the modern period when pools where in fashion and new materials where developed encouraging studies about reflectivity. During the Heian period, Japanese residences were accompanied by an artificially made pond that acted as a mirror duplicating the house and its natural surroundings. During modernism, large spans of glass and pools of water evoked the reflective qualities of the machine and duplicated adjacent building compositions in a celebration of pure geometry. Concerning glass as a reflective material, Mies van der Rohe developed several studies from which he concluded: “I discovered by working with actual glass models that the important thing is the play of reflection and not the effect of light and shadow as in ordinary buildings . . . I proved in the glass model that the calculations of light and shadow do not help in designing an all-glass building”.2

In 1929 Mies van der Rohe designed the German Pavilion in Barcelona, and it became a model for future houses throughout the century. In it large expanses of glass, polished stone and a pool of water create Double Vision. Specifically the pool of water was created to duplicate the pavilion in a celebration of its bold geometry. Previously in 1928, Richard Neutra achieved Double Vision when he incorporated a swimming pool into the Lovell Health House with the intention of using water as a purifying natural material. Similarly, Double Vision appeared in the form of pools in the majority of the Case Study Houses as a way to comply with the post-war intention of creating healthy environments for the American family. This time, the doubling effect was not a casual one but a thoughtful one. In the drawings of Case Study House #18, the Fields House built in 1958 and designed by Craig Ellwood, Double Vision appears sketched as a reflection on the swimming pool. In Case Study House #21 or the Bailey House, its designer Pierre Koenig explained that the intention was to use “water [as] an integral structure and landscape element.”3 In the house, built in 1960, pools of water surround the perimeter doubling its opened interior spaces as well as the exterior ones. Differently than in previous years, in the 1970s and 1980s Double Vision suffered retrogression as swimming pools were no longer a trend and the use of large expanses of glass were reduced to achieve greater privacy. As a result, Double Vision was mostly seen on reflections of small objects over glass and stone tables or similar.

Since the 1990s, how spaces are experienced has become an important design concept affecting residences. Materials in houses have been stripped away to achieve dematerialized environments in which reflective surfaces occupy vast architectural elements within the space, such as the floor, a wall, or other creating confusion. In the previously mentioned Miami residence designed by Berisiartu, a fluid stone floor disappears as it doubles the space underneath the walking surface suggesting the sensation of floating in space and requiring users to be cautious and slow their pace. The doubling effect achieved in this environment leads to question ones presence in the space. Am I here or there? What is up and down? How deep is the space? In the design composition, the reflective surface dominates the space and since the surface talks about the space, the design becomes a celebration of space achieved through Double Vision. More recently, pushing the use and impact of Double Vision, Michael Bell created in 2008 an experimental house in which the replicated view becomes a reality other than an illusion. He designed two contiguous corridors divided by a glass wall that when standing on one side of it appears to replicate the corridor on the other without one noticing that it is not a reflection but that other corridor really exists.4

end notes

  1. 1) Marietta S. Millet, Light Revealing Architecture (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996), 56.
  2. 2) Peter Carter, Mies van der Rohe at Work (London: Phaidon, 1999), 18.
  3. 3) Esther McCoy, Case Study Houses 1945-1962 (Los Angeles: Hennessey & Ingalls, 1977), 117-118.
  4. 4) Evidence for the use and the chronological sequence of Double Vision as a house archetype was developed from the following sources: 1980 Private House [1983] Milton Klein, Architect; Bruce Rabbino, Interior Design; Westchester County, NY in JGT, "Balancing Space with Form," Interior Design 54, no. 3 (Mar. 1983): 174; PhotoCrd: Mark Ross; Private House [1987] Juan Montoya; Westchester County, NY in Monica Geran, "Clean Sweep," Interior Design 58, no. 8 (June 1987): 256; PhotoCrd: Jaime Ardiles-Arce / 1990 Turos and James Gilleland, Turos-Gilleland House [1997] Glass Associates; Oakland CA in Henry Urbach, "A Delicate Balance," Interior Design 68, no. 8 (June 1997): 109; PhotoCrd: Timothy Hursley; Makoto Yamashina House, aka  "Water and Glass House" [1997] Kengo Kuma and Associates; Atami City, Japan in Monica Geran , "Optical Illusion," Interior Design 68, no. 10 (Aug. 1997): 118; PhotoCrd: Mitsumasa Fujitsuka / 2000 Glass House [2008] Michael Bell; Hudson River Valley, NY in Stephen Zacks, "Vanishing Point," Metropolis (Jan. 2008): 98, 99; PhotoCrd: Bilyana Dimitrova for Metropolis.

bibliographic citations

1) The Interior Archetypes Research and Teaching Project, Cornell University, (accessed month & date, year).

2) Mendez, Marta. “Theory Studies: Archetypical Practices of Contemporary House Design.” M.A. Thesis, Cornell University, 2008, 88-97.