Light Matters: Smart Flying Pixels Create a Floating Glow

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Imagine luminaires that could fly and visualise new buildings or individually guide you through space. What would happen if you could even interact with these flying pixels? These concepts could be realised in the near future as the first prototypes and experiments are being introduced. Software-driven LED pixels combined with drone swarm technology provide extraordinary possibilities for inducing new forms of spatial experience. These luminous pixel clouds emerge as digital patterns, but at the same time they emanate a romantic quality with their unique star formations twinkling in the night sky. The first projects have shared a playful note, but laboratories such as MIT’s SENSEable City Lab, ARES Lab and Ars Electronica Futurelab have shown an intriguing future in urban design for guidance systems or envisioning real estate developments, as advances in battery technology and wireless control have opened new perspectives for a life with smart flying pixels.

Light Matters: Whiteness in Nordic Countries

Dybkær Church, Silkeborg, . Architecture: Regnbuen Arkitekter. Image © 2010

The Scandinavian countries have developed great buildings that resonate with both the scarce light in winter and the long summer days. Henry Plummer, Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has very carefully studied the various daylight phenomena in the Nordic countries, with extensive photo journeys and brilliant writing that combines an analytical perspective with a poetic touch. His view of daylight looks beyond the practical advantages of using reflective white spaces to facilitate bright rooms; the passionate photographer is much more interested in the light effects that play with the local beauty of nature and touch the human soul.

Read on for more about how Nordic light enters white spaces

Light Matters: The Missing Element At the Venice Biennale

Toilets, at “Elements of Architecture” at the Venice Biennale. Image © Nico Saieh

“Elements of Architecture,” the -curated exhibition at the 2014 Venice Biennale, delved into several remarkable structural as well as technical components of architecture, including floors, walls, doors, stairs and toilets. But why was light missing?

My manifesto for the inclusion of light as a fundamental element of architecture — after the break.

Light Matters: Creating Walls of Light

Uniform wallwashing at 171 Collins Street, Melbourne. Architects: Bates Smart Architects. Lighting design: Electrolight, www.electrolight.com.au. Image © Dean Bradley

Modernism induced a shift in lighting away from luminaires and towards invisible sources that render spaces in a purer (forgive the pun) . For the first time, lit walls were used to define rooms and to structure architecture. Today I’d like to explore early prototypes – including Philip Johnson’s Brick House and the Seagram Building – and discuss how their lighting techniques continue to influence architecture today. 

Light Matters: Mashrabiyas – Translating Tradition into Dynamic Facades

INSTITUT DU MONDE ARABE, Paris, France (1981 – 1987). Architecture: Jean Nouvel, Gilbert Lézénès, Pierre Soria, Architecture Studio. Image © Georges Fessy

The delicate mashrabiya has offered effective protection against intense sunlight in the Middle East for several centuries. However, nowadays this traditional Islamic window element with its characteristic latticework is used to cover entire buildings as an oriental ornament, providing local identity and a sun-shading device for cooling. In fact, designers have even transformed the vernacular wooden structure into high-tech responsive daylight systems. 

Jean Nouvel is one of the leading architects who has strongly influenced the debate about modern mashrabiyas.  His Institut du monde arabe in Paris was only the precedent to two buildings he designed for the harsh sun of the Middle East: The Doha Tower, which is completely wrapped with a re-interpretation of the mashrabiya, and the Louvre museum with its luminous dome.

More mashrabiyas, after the break…

Light Matters: Richard Kelly, The Unsung Master Behind Modern Architecture’s Greatest Buildings

Seagram Building, New York.

Richard Kelly illuminated some of the twentieth century’s most iconic buildings: the Glass House, Seagram Building and Kimbell Art Museum, to name a few. His design strategy was surprisingly simple, but extremely successful.

for architecture has been and still often is dominated by an engineering viewpoint, resigned to determining sufficient illuminance levels for a safe and efficient working environment. With a background in stage , Kelly introduced a scenographic perspective for architectural . His point of view might look self-evident to today’s architectural community, but it was revolutionary for his time and has strongly influenced modern architecture.

Read more about Richard Kelly’s remarkable, and unsung, contribution to architecutre, after the break.

Light Matters: Sacred Spaces

Chapel in Villeaceron, Spain. Architect: Sancho-Madridejos Architecture Office. Image © Hisao Suzuki

The use of can lead to very diverse feelings: a ray of sunlight calls attention; glare overpowers; the nocturnal sky fascinates, while a dense dark forest arouses fear. Religions have made use of these experiences to convey the mystic aspects of their respective deities — accordingly, so too do their erected buildings.

After the break, an exploration of the different approaches for using light as a vehicle of symbolic meaning and spiritual experience in religious spaces.

Light Matters: 7 Ways Daylight Can Make Design More Sustainable

Kaap Skil, Maritime and Beachcombers’ Museum, Winner of the Daylight Award 2012. Image Courtesy of Mecanoo Architecten

Daylight is a highly cost-effective means of reducing the energy for electrical lighting and cooling. But architectural education often reduces the aspect of daylight to eye-catching effects on facades and scarcely discusses its potential effects – not just on cost, but on health, well-being and energy.

This Matters will explore the often unexplored aspects of daylight and introduce key strategies for you to better incorporate daylight into design: from optimizing building orientations to choosing interior surface qualities that achieve the right reflectance. These steps can significantly reduce your investment as well as operating costs. And while these strategies will certainly catch the interest of economically orientated clients, you will soon discover that daylight can do so much more.

More Light Matters with daylight, after the break…

Light Matters: Glass Beyond Transparency with James Carpenter

7 World Trade Center. New York, NY 2003-2007. Image © David Sundberg

In Modernism’s attempt to dissolve spatial boundaries with transparency, the material used – glass – is all too often dematerialised. In contrast, the New York-based designer James Carpenter is interested in multiple readings of glass – beyond transparency.

As Carpenter explains: “People approach light in relationship to architecture. It is that the light is the means by which the architecture is revealed and the architecture is basically defined by the way the light enters the space. I tend to think actually from the opposite direction where the light itself is what informs the architecture. The architecture is in service of light rather than the other way around.”

More , after the break…

Light Matters: Europe’s Leading Light Festivals

Vivid Sydney lights the Opera House. Image Courtesy of Vivid Sydney

In mid autumn, when the nights get longer in the northern hemisphere, we encounter numerous festivals. And indeed, within the last ten years, more and more festivals have globally emerged. The reason for the success of festivals is simple, as the German curator Bettina Pelz concludes: “It’s actually fairly easy, because whenever you do something with in cities in the night, then people do come. If you do it good, they come twice.” 

As Pelz points out, light is an apt medium for evening events, since it easily attracts people. Communities have discovered the potential of lighting for city marketing, and the closer they plan their date to Christmas, the more they merge their illumination with the festive blinking lights of commercial Christmas markets.

Join us on a tour through some of the leading light festivals in Europe. Read more about their different backgrounds, artistic concepts and future trends after the break…

Light Matters: 3D Video Mapping, Making Architecture The Screen for Our Urban Stories

Powerful video projectors at an affordable price have opened the path for a young, impressive art form: , a means of projection that uses the architecture itself as the screen. Artists and researchers initiated the movement, developing a new visual language to interpret architecture. Later, marketing adopted this technique for branding, with large-scale projections on skyscrapers; political activists have also initiated dialogues, turning ephemeral light interventions into eye-catching ways to point out and address urban design issues. 

More on the ways artists and groups develop this visual language for urban storytelling, after the break…

Light Matters: Recovering The Dark Sky

Stars over Salzburg, Austria, by Andreas Max Böckle, max@berk-boeckle. The first winner in Against the Lights category. TWAN 2013 Earth & Sky Photo Contest. Twanight.org/contest. Image © Andreas Max Böckle

The advent of electrical lighting has allowed us to colonise the night. Not only have kilometres of street lighting ensured higher levels of safety, but signs, advertisements, etc. continue to draw us into nocturnal landscapes. As Rem Koolhaas explored in Delirious New York, Manhattan and Coney Island were the early luminous prototypes for today’s continuously vibrant metropolises: cities that establish new rhythms, a new balance between work and life.

But what happens when lighting upsets our natural balance? When we lose the beauty of the dark sky, the stars? What happens when lighting turns into pollution?

More , after the break…

Light Matters: Can Light “Cheat” In Simulations?

Oslo Central Station. Architecture: Space Group, www.spacegroup.no. Credit: Luxigon, www.luxigon.com.

In recent years the use of CAD and simulation programs has resulted in a new understanding of in architecture. The drawing board and its lamp have given way to the self-illuminating monitor. The result is that concepts in architecture are now made of from the very first mouse click.  In the visualisation process, luminous space now predominates.

However, this begs the question: has the luminous impression (part and parcel of the perfect, rendered setting) become more important than the engineering or architectural concept itself? With the improved interplay of shades, contrast, and brilliance, can lighting actually obscure the point of a realistic simulation?

More Light Matters, after the break…

Light Matters: Seeing the Light with James Turrell

James Turrell: Roden Crater, East Portal. 2010. Photograph by Florian Holzherr, www.architekturfoto.net

Light matters, a monthly column on light and space, is written by Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting, has published numerous articles and co-authored the book „Light Perspectives“. 

From early nocturnal studies in a lonely hotel room to transforming a volcano in the world’s biggest landscape art project to, most recently, lighting up the Guggenheim in New York, the American artist James Turrell is driven by  his fascination with light. He explores perception for visual experiences where light is not a tool to enable vision but rather something to look at itself.

More , after the break…

Light Matters: Louis Kahn and the Power of Shadow

Looking at His Tetrahedral Ceiling in the Yale University Art Gallery, 1953. Gelatin silver print. Image © Lionel Freedman. Yale University Art Gallery Archives Transfer.

matters, a monthly column on and space, is written by Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting, has published numerous articles and co-authored the book „Light Perspectives“. 

Does shadow have the power to give form to architecture? The increasing number of transparent buildings and LED installations would enforce the impression that light has eliminated the relevance of shadow. But to answer that question, let’s look back to a master of light whose architecture was shaped by shadow: Louis Kahn.

More Light Matters, after the break…

Light Matters: What Media Facades Are Saying

© Patrick Bingham-Hall

Light matters, a monthly column on light and space, is written by Thomas Schielke. Based in Germany, he is fascinated by architectural lighting, has published numerous articles and co-authored the book „Light Perspectives“. 

Today we have permanent media façade installations worldwide that call for attention. With size, tempo, colour and brightness they stand up as individuals within the urban nightscape. Many of them send out their luminous messages in a broadcast mode. For this reason, neighbours, on occasion, demand an intense dialogue with regard to content and form of the media façade, especially as it’s often unclear whether light installations are architecture or advertisement.

However, in the same way a good book requires a storyteller, demand curators to arrange exciting stories that fit into the site and suit the client. The following four examples show how reflect the story of the buildings themselves – see them all, after the break…