Backlit Honey Onyx: Representation of Hearth?

 “the solar-heating functions of a building were essentially a replacement of the original thermal functions of the fireplace.  With its circle of warmth, the fireplace had once been the center of family life… what were the qualities of the hearth that made it so wonderful and so beloved?” – Thermal Delight in Architecture by Lisa Heschong

Honey onyx is probably the most common natural stone that’s specified into our projects. And while we’re always open to utilizing our more exotic shades of onyx or agglomerate stone, there’s definitely a reason why honey onyx is so popular as an interior material.  Honey onyx, particularly when backlit, emits a warm glow reminiscent of candlelight or a hearth.  Is it the appearance of the stone surface itself, the manner in which it refracts light, or some element in our collective unconscious that makes the warm-colored stone evoke deep-rooted emotion?

Psychologist Carl Jung outlined several archetypes, common representations of qualitative images that transcend culture and space.  While a central fireplace or hearth is not one of them, it is that exact collective unconscious that allows the concepts to appeal to designers, homeowners, building owners, and users of space.

Many interiors employ honey onyx walls for central spaces.  In the Tower Oaks high-rise office project, the freestanding honey onyx feature wall stands in the heart of the lobby as a main visual feature. 

Backlit Honey Onyx Lighted Feature Wall Lobby

But the wall does not flicker like candlelight or emit heat like a fireplace.  The building HVAC itself tempers the thermal environment, while the wall is merely a visual representation of that physical and comforting warmth.  Why do we rely on advanced technological processes to replicate something as primitive as fire or candlelight?  With advanced materials and technology, are we at risk of eliminating the hearth altogether?  

Such icons as the fireplace are derived from regional climates and the way in which buildings adapt to them, so I’d be interested to hear from designers in other areas of the world on how their material selections are driven by regionalism and thermal considerations.  What do you think?