Slightly Taming Natural Light

SLIGHTLY TAMING NATURAL LIGHT – MEDIA ARCHITECTURE WITHOUT ARTIFICIAL LIGHT SOURCES

Article by Johann Gielen

Everyone knows large scale public Media Architectures. Most of them are based on LED technology but some inspiring and stunningly beautiful examples prove that there is no need to utilize artificial light sources to depict content.

Patterned by Nature, Soso Limited - Copyright: Soso Limited

Patterned by Nature, Soso Limited – Copyright: Soso Limited

Patterned by Nature, Soso Limited

Shade Pixel, Design Media Laboratory - Copyright: Design Media Laboratory

Shade Pixel, Design Media Laboratory – Copyright: Design Media Laboratory

Shade Pixel, Design Media Laboratory

Essentially both of these approaches demonstrate that it is key to gain digital control over the visual appearance of a surface to form a medium. This leads to a very basic definition of a pixel and Media Architecture:

Media Architectures are technical systems consisting of a matrix of components that are able to individually change its visual appearance in terms of luminance and/ or colour to depict digital content.

Above definition dramatically widens the perspective for everyone designing Media Architectures. There is so many more means to change the visual appearance of a surface than just artificial light sources. Thinking in this direction brings greater design freedom and enables designers to come up with new forms of Media Architecture and potentially more energy efficient approaches, too.

To me one of the most fascinating means in Media Architecture is daylight! Sunlight can be dim/bright, diffuse/crisp, cold/warm. Every place and moment has its unique type of sunlight. Designing with natural light means to accept and integrate its dynamics, ephemerality and limited predictability.

Natural Light - Image courtesy of Johann Gielen

Natural Light – Image courtesy of Johann Gielen

As sunlight is so diverse it is challenging to utilise it as a medium and render content. In terms of accuracy and reliability to convey a concrete digital message Media Architectures that are based on artificial light sources may be superior to the ones working with natural light. Thus for some applications an LED matrix is the right choice.

But I think especially when considering deployments in recreational areas in public spaces more subtle and humble approaches fit better. Inspired by Fischer’s findings and personal project experience subtlety and a well-balanced amount of visual impact is much appreciated by most users when situated in urban public spaces.

With above thoughts in mind I designed one of my first takes on Media Architecture. Pixel Sonne is an installation that celebrates the dynamic and ephemeral beauty of natural light in public space. Sunlight is slightly tamed by digital means but always remains irrepressible.

Pixel Sonne - Konstellation

Pixel Sonne – Konstellation

Pixel Sonne – Konstellation (Video)

Pixel Sonne: partly cloudy sky and clear sky - Image courtesy of Johann Gielen

Pixel Sonne: partly cloudy sky and clear sky – Image courtesy of Johann Gielen

Clouds appear and move on, earth keeps turning. Shape, location, colour temperature and luminance of the pixels are fluidly evolving with time.

Technically Pixel Sonne is a pixelated heliostat. It can be used for low resolution black/white content. It is a quiet yet spectacular way of activating public spaces. At the same time it is just one approach to new forms of responsive Media Architecture based on natural light. Sunlight is not the only natural light source and there is endless other ways to change luminance or colour of a surface, ranging from bioluminescence to kinetic surfaces. Get in touch if you would like to discuss further aspects to designing Media Architecture based on natural light.

Johann Gielen

Johann Gielen is a lighting designer and visual artist. He received his Dipl.-Ing. from HafenCity Universität Hamburg in Urban Planning specialising in natural light art for public spaces. He studied Architectural Lighting Design at KTH Stockholm and Applied Lighting Technology at TU Ilmenau.

Gielen currently heads the lighting design of Sharp LED Lighting Europe and has previously worked for internationally renowned lighting designers and landscape architects.

Besides well-crafted lighting design his interests lie in subtle lighting effects. All technological means capable of transforming the visual appearance of an object are appealing to him. This interest lead him to become a theorist in the field of Media Architecture writing about ways to create visual media without artificial light sources. He has been a guest lecturer at University of applied Sciences Hamburg and at Bauhaus-Universität Weimar.

In interdisciplinary collaborations Gielen explores the role and functions of future digital devices in urban environments. He is searching for unusual ways of expression that emphasise the importance of truly public spaces for open societies.

His project Pixel Sonne gained recognition for its unique approach celebrating natural light and its ephemerality. It has been shown at conferences like Media Architecture Biennale and the International Symposium on Pervasive Displays.

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