Architecture and lighting technology has undergone a revolution in recent years, as new sensor technologies and computational skills enable ‘intelligent materials’, interactive control of light, energy-saving measures and new LED technology to be applied in the built environment, which can be applied to meet human biological, psychological and physiological needs. The implementation of these technologies transforms the functional split between engineers, technologists and architects into a complex transdisciplinary design process.
A criterion for success of this endeavor will be, as Herbert Simon wrote of complex systems, that a large numbers of parts interacting in a non-simple way are resolved so that “the whole is more than the sum of its parts” (Simon, 1962). New lighting technologies may fulfill a need for holistic design methods by offering opportunities for both architects and engineers to apply methods and knowledge from media technology that complement and deepen an understanding of context through human needs analysis, spatial understanding, qualitative analysis, qualitative tests, visual assessments, combining daylight and interactive light. Towards this end, there is a need to develop mixed research and design methods, where computer aided design tools used in physical and virtual experiments assist the transdisciplinary design process. The task is to discover a sequence of processes and tools that support each other and lead to innovative design solutions produced from an initial problem. However, where Simon expected complex systems to be hierarchies in a world in which complexity had to evolve from simplicity (Simon 1962), the goal here is to achieve a resolved design of integrated simplicity, which evolves from an initial state of complex diversity. To achieve this in practice, it can be instructive to focus more narrowly on a single aspect of architectural intervention. Toward describing and developing such methods, this paper focusses on the potential of lighting to act as a primary means of renovating and transforming architectural environments. In this regard, light as a transformational design tool is perhaps one of the most non-destructive, reversible and gentle ways to transform and redefine architecture and spaces. The case studied is a particular urban and architectural challenge represented by an urban church building, which had fallen into disuse. The building was acquired by a private buyer, who sought innovative ideas for its transformation.
The process to integrate digital tools and combine architecture, lighting engineering and media technology builds on a transdisciplinary model previously developed and presented. This paper will document and analyze the process from graduate students’ semester project dealing with integrating computer-aided design and new technologies to transform an architectural context through light. The digital tools and methods of this particular project are analyzed in terms of the process model “The Architectural Experiment”.
The model demonstrates how to design with light as a multi-dimensional design element integrating scientific, technical and creative approaches to light in 5 domains. It demonstrates how distinct qualitative and quantitative criteria in different disciplinary traditions can be integrated successfully, despite disparate technical/scientific, social scientific and art/humanities backgrounds. The model is applied to a pedagogical curriculum in the context of multi-level learning competencies.
Case: The Absalon Church
The intention of the project is to transform a city church building, situated in an older, dense, housing area close to the city center, from its traditional religious functions to a more dynamic, contemporary and multifunctional space, using light as the main design element. The initial question asked in this context is therefore ‘how light can transform the interior space of the de-sanctified church to meet needs of the local community for new activities’. Drawing on knowledge and skills within architecture, lighting engineering and media technology, researchers, private business partners and graduate students of lighting design teamed up to provide a design solution which seeks to create a non-religious space, where focus is on an essentially neutral ceremonial volume.
The needs for a non-religious ceremony were sought by creating a dynamic, programmable visual spatial layering, from the start to the end of the ceremony. By defining and combining the concepts of emotion/mood/atmosphere and light effects, three phases and illustrative light settings were defined: 1. light from pendants hanging from the ceiling, 2. highlights in the center of the space and 3. polymer dispersed liquid crystal (PDLC) (Baetens 2010) sheathing placed in front of the windows and walls, thereby allowing dynamic diffusing of daylight and artificial light. Using these lighting elements, three phases of the ceremony, arriving, transition and departing, were illustrated. The diffuser was constructed of a middle layer of PDLC, surrounded on each side by a transparent conductive layer for the purpose of applying voltage, with an outer-most layer of non-conductive isolating material. To slow the perceived transformation of the material, the diffuser was built up of independent triangular components, enabling a simultaneous variety of transparent to translucent to opaque.
The case demonstrates the potentials of combining digital, engineering and architectural design tools and methods to transform the meaning of spaces, by coding intelligent materials and light to meet the changing needs of the urban architectural environment.
The transdisciplinary model for design was applied by combining serial, parallel and iterative processes which included contextual analysis, architectural design, simulation, C++ programming, implementation of the dynamic smart-film diffuser, programming of voltage ranges on Arduino boards, rapid prototype construction and lighting technology.
Following “The Architectural Experiment” model, the process and tools can be grouped in the following five domains:
1. Transfer. Knowledge from different disciplines is collected, transferred, reviewed and coded into a common language.
2. Translate. The knowledge from the different fields is translated and investigated through experiments. Rapid prototype simulations of daylight and the smart-film diffuser were essential to study the design potentials of the double interior skin, appropriate to the three phases in the ceremonial space.
3. Transform. The findings from the experiments are transformed into a design solution using 3D models and simulations. The effects of the dynamic diffuser together with the other lighting elements were rendered in 3D models, renderings and photometric simulations (3DSMax, Rhino, V-ray, IES files) to examine the quantitate relationship between daylight intensity, translucency of the interactive interior wall, as well as time-lapses in relation to the ceremony.
4. Test: The 3D model and simulations were used for qualitative testing in this case. A user group was questioned on different scenarios and moods of the changing scenarios and their reaction to different solutions is observed.
5. Share and learn: Video, renderings, animated materials, communicating the design idea with different light settings. The time aspect was essential in this context, and the video therefore an important tool.
While luminance levels can be predicted and measured relatively easily, several of the success criteria for the project revolved around achieving a dynamic architectural atmosphere of neutrality suitable to a ceremonial space where perception and time is subject to the inherent ambiguity of visual perception, subjective feeling, emotional response and personal preferences. An attempt was made to approach this question both analytically and with a qualitative approach and established results that indicate that lighting attributes can have an important role in affecting whether a space is perceived as religious or not.
The process of combining complex combinations of daylight and electrical light, by employing the initial model has confirmed for the authors its usefulness in integrating many disciplines and computer-aided technologies in a design studio setting. The method moves from an analytical phase centered on research and hypothesis, into creative design-proposal phase, followed by a series of smaller experiments to develop implementation and detailing. The method was successful in incorporating the diverse fields of lighting engineering, architecture and media technology, and in achieving a simple end result.