Using Light in Buildings
Text: Hannah Bauhoff und Katja Neumann (email@example.com)
Things are livening up in the light and luminaire sector: The light-emitting diode (LED) is opening up totally new areas of business. Not only is it cheap and energy-efficient, it also provides new design opportunities – on the one hand on account of the color it reproduces, and on the other because LEDs can be controlled and programmed individually. To the ears of light planners, designers and architects that sounds marvelous. And so not only buildings are radiating a totally different light, companies also value the new opportunities illumination offers for brand architecture.
If we think of LEDs and architecture, spectacular media facades like that of the Bayer high-rise in Leverkusen, Germany, spring to mind. The office building, which was gutted in 2007, has since served as a communication instrument for the company. An 18,000 square meter wrap-around screen made of transparent, weather-proof stainless steel fabric with 5.6 million integrated LEDs surrounds the high-rise and, thanks to the efforts of the Cologne-based studio ag4 media facade, turns the building, once threatened with demolition, into a media sculpture visible from afar. A glance upwards suffices to recognize the company’s main business: At night the buil-ding mutates into an oversized pill packaging. Today outside walls are lit up using cutting-edge media technologies together with LEDs. The once popular projections on facades – like that by the studio Urbanscreen for the “Glanzstück” project on display at the 2009 Rheinpartie Festival – are now purely temporary and artistic. The result is that architecture is becoming media architecture. We are now talking about highly complex, mutually penetrating socio-digital systems with an increasing influence on everyday life. Companies, brand managers and operators are using ad-screens, e-boards and digital signage to access public space. Why display only a logo when entire buildings can be lit in the corporate color, planners thought, and had buildings illuminated in magenta or deep yellow, in line with the clients’ corporate identity. This idea kindled longings among soccer clubs – and an architectural solution was found even for dual-purpose stadiums: In 2005 Herzog & de Meuron used light technology to color the outer skin of the Allianz Arena stadium in Munich red when Bayern Munich were playing at home, and for 1860 Munich matches, the other club to use the arena, blue, in line with the club’s colors.
Yet this form of branding – and “waste of light” – is actually out of date, says Tim Edler from Realities:United. In time of energy efficiency it is far more about the purposeful use of light and building illumination, as well as avoiding light pollution in the surroundings and atmosphere. The C4 project, which Realities:United is currently planning together with the Spanish company Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos for the Centro de Creación Artística Contemporánea in Córdoba could well become a quite pioneering example. The 100-meters long facade is fitted with 1,319 prefabricated hexagonal shells with light sources that can be individually controlled. By day the sunlight is reflected within these shells, thereby shaping the center’s topography. And the result does not look like a media facade at all. At night just the LEDs are controlled, which project images to specific places.
The VitraHaus in Weil am Rhein, which opened two months ago, is the latest example of the flirt between architecture and light. This time Herzog & de Meuron coated the facade in anthracite mineral plaster. The result: By day the ensemble with its 12 gabled buildings remains in our memory on account of its unique shape. At dusk, however, the dark building blends in with its surroundings; the floor-to-ceiling ends of the buildings are transformed into display windows affording a direct view of homely-looking living environments that are even recognizable from the nearby autobahn. The message is clear: It is about what is on view on the inside: the Vitra Home Collection.
However, brand communication by means of light and architecture is just one side of the coin, as it only works from a distance. Siedle, for example, demonstrates how branding can also be continued on the inside of a building: By means of ergonomically positioned controls and LED surfaces, modern communication and guidance systems adapted to the corporate image take visitors comfortably to their destination.
From outside to inside, from daytime to nighttime impact – branding is increasingly encroaching on architecture in almost all areas. LEDs have played a decisive role in this trend, offering as they do enormous design potential at relatively low cost and opening up to architects and ultimately companies a whole world of previously unsuspected opportunities.