Posts Tagged ‘Lighting’

Shadows through sand: translucent concrete


Concrete may have started out as a heavy, low-tech material, associated with architectural brutalism and 1960s high-rises. How times have changed… Already on the market, or half-way towards becoming commercially available, are concrete formulations with any number of surprising qualities.

Silhouette & sand dunes, by Daniel Oines on Flickr

These days, concrete can be lightweight, waterproof, recyclable, bendable, self-healing, and even (arguably) environmentally sound. And now, concrete – that most solid-sounding of building materials – can be translucent, too.

Here is how light-transmitting concrete is made: layer upon layer, ultrafine optical fibres are paralellised and distributed through a fine-grained concrete mix. When set, the concrete is cut and shaped into panels or tiles, which are then polished to the desired texture.

With structural performance indicators including a compressive strength of 49N/mm2 (MPa) and bending strength of 7.7N/mm2 (MPa), translucent concrete may be used as a load-bearing material.

Luccon concrete, supplied by NY Stone Manhattan (on

When used as part of an external wall or placed in front of a window, these concrete panels need no light source other than the natural daylight that is diffused through the solid surface. If the concrete is mounted internally in the shape of wall, floor or ceiling panels, artificial light sources can be used to create special effects.

As you can imagine, designers have started playing around with this concept and its various applications:

  • The optical fibres, backlit with coloured LEDs, create concrete walls that shimmer in different shades according to where you stand in a room.
  • Points of optical fibres in different diameters, distributed unevenly through a dark concrete panel, create the illusion of a starry night sky.
  • The light-transmitting fibres can be arranged into the shapes of logos, company names, symbols and signage.

Two companies involved in the development, manufacture and supply of translucent concrete:

LUCEM Lichtbeton

LUCEM LABEL tiles with custom logos, names and icons

LUCEM bar counter with coloured background lighting


Main entrance of Museum Cella Septichora, Hungary

Iberville Parish Veterans Memorial, Baton Rouge

More information can be found in this Gizmag article on light-transmitting concrete. And finally, here’s one that DIY’er Calvin Drews made earlier: a video on how to make your own light-transmitting concrete.


Lighting and innovative facades


Facades has been a theme of sorts on Building blog over the last couple of months. Re-reading the articles sent me off in various interesting directions.

Mader Stublic Wiermann is a design team based in Berlin that specialises in the use of lighting to create, to my mind, spectacular facades that transform the shape and nature of buildings.

Chelsea Art Museum by day

Above is the facade of Chelsea Art Museum (built in 1850) in New York by day. And below is MSW’s plan for its light facade.

Chelsea Art Museum - Mader Stublic Wiermann

Chelsea Art Museum - Mader Stublic Wiermann

MSW explain:

A layer of vertical LED-rods will be installed on the facade of the Chelsea Art Museum, with a gap in between the building and the new structure. The LED structure will surpass the height of the building, to be in line with the taller buildings immediately surrounding the Museum.

The installation will feature abstract images moving across the building, at times even appearing to extend the structure of the Museum beyond its actual size… The effect will be to make it seem as though a new structure is being developed over the original facade as the viewer is watching.

The new facade does not replace the existing one, rather, it plays with its surface and volume. Consequently, art, normally contained within a museum, will step beyond the confines of the building to interact with the city and its inhabitants.

Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, realities:united

Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, realities:united

Above is the illuminated facade designed by Realities:United (again from Berlin) for the Espacio de Creación Artística Contemporánea in Cordoba.

The facade facing the river, the main face of the building to the outside, is designed as a screen perforated by numerous circular holes where monochromatic LED lights are located with the colours red, green and blue.

Using a computer program, video signals will generate images, texts or colours which will be reflected in the surface of the river and will permit installations specifically designed for the location.

During the day, natural light will filter through the perforations and inundate the interior covered walkway.

Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, realities:united

Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, realities:united


Changing tack slightly for those faced with the more prosaic task of dealing with monolithic concrete facades there are some low tech solutions.

anArchitecture reports on Carsten Nicolai’s autoR facade, the production of which is described as ‘a self-organizing process’.

Visitors actively contribute to the design of the facade by individually applying stickers designed by the artist.

Looks quite fun!

Carsten Nicolai, autoR, 2010 Photo: Benjamin Pritzkuleit

Carsten Nicolai, autoR, 2010 Photo: Benjamin Pritzkuleit

Or there’s Facadeprinter who have developed ‘an inkjet-printer in architectonic scale’.

The Facadeprinter is a communication-tool. Even the application of the artwork is part of the message; straight and direct. A work of art is converted to a vector or pixel file and shot dot by dot onto the facade. The viewer watches the emerging artwork like the drawing of a magic pen.

Three Stones - Facadeprinter

Three Stones - Facadeprinter

According to the blurb Facadeprinter has three main applications. Large-scale distance printing, live performance and, most intriguingly, communication in a crisis.

Outlook |  Communication in a Crisis - Facadeprinter

Outlook | Communication in a Crisis - Facadeprinter

They explain:

The Facadeprinter can be integrated into post-disaster relief efforts. The machine’s printing process allows the quick installation of new visual communication displays. For example, the locations of medical facilities, sources of fresh water supply, danger zones or collection points can be marked for effective communication.

We developed this concept for the International Design Forum of the Japan Design Foundation (JDF) in Osaka. The Scenario: A fatal disaster strikes a city, causing widespread suffering and a loss of orientation in the chaos. Printing instructions onto walls provides orientation and information, affording an effective and economical method of assisting agencies and organizations in post-disaster relief efforts.

The benefits of natural light

Natural lighting - Peckham Industries manufacturing facility

Natural lighting - Peckham Industries manufacturing facility

WBDG provides a useful synopsis of daylight.

1. The benefits of daylight
2. Daylighting concepts
3. Design recommendations

‘In large measure, the art and science of proper daylighting design is not so much how to provide enough daylight to an occupied space, but how to do so without any undesirable side effects. It involves more than just adding windows or skylights to a space. It is the careful balancing of heat gain and loss, glare control, and variations in daylight availability.’

For an appraisal of how natural light has been used by modern and contemporary architects consider Henry Plummer’s The Architecture of Natural Light, which was published at the end of 2009.

It considers seven qualities of natural light – evanescence, procession, veils of glass, atomisation, canalisation, atmospheric silence and luminescence – and has over 50 case studies from around the world.

For more examples try these resources:

1. Museums
Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico is a good example of a building that wanted daylight, but not direct sunshine, for the interior. It uses hybrid lighting with one-half electric and one-half natural light.

2. Hospitals
There is increasing evidence that access to windows and light provides benefits to staff and patients in hospitals, and because of this it is now a mainstream design consideration.

‘ … that exposure to light helps in reducing depression, alleviating pain, and improving sleep and circadian rhythms among patients and, thus, supports the healing process.’

‘ … found that patients recovering from abdominal surgery recovered faster, had better emotional well-being, and required fewer strong pain medications if they had bedside windows with a nature view (looking out onto trees) than if their windows looked out onto a brick wall.’

And a summary on the new Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne.

3. Schools
Kingsmead Primary School in Cheshire is a flagship project for sustainable design and construction innovation. A key part of the design is the natural lighting, which means that even on overcast days no artificial lights need to be switched on.

4. Manufacturing facilities
A piece on the benefits of natural light in manufacturing settings, and a case study of Peckham Inc. where 98% of the 191,000 square foot (17,700 square metres) workspace has natural light.

5. Prisons
The positive impact of ‘borrowed light’ on staff and inmate attitudes, as well as the reduction in construction and operational costs, at King County Regional Justice Center in Washington state, USA.

ESI references:

School sells excess energy to the grid

Solar panels ar Ashley Primary School

Solar panels at Ashley Primary School

Ashley Primary School was the recipient of a prestigious Ashden Award for sustainable energy.

The school’s energy plan has included solar photovoltaic panels, energy efficient lighting and a biomass boiler, as well as changes to behaviour both at school and at home.

There was a 51% reduction in annual electricity consumption at the school in the first year of the programme, whilst energy generated by the solar panels when the school is closed is sold onto the grid for 10p per kWh.

ESI references: