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Light World Tour

98 Posts

After three months and a few weeks on the road I ended my Light World Tour in Porto, so this is actually might last post as a world traveller. What this trip was and involved went beyond my expectations. It was an amazing learning lesson and a privileged experience on lighting and this will definitely remain unforgettable for the rest of my life.

As for the so many interesting cities and sites I visited I can only say what I found more fascinating was the human side of all those places. I always felt very welcomed and people always pushed me to share my story. I think it is a great story, a quite personal one that some of you have followed. Nonetheless, this enlightened journey would have not been possible without all of you: you, the people I met, you, the people that supported me on this journey and you, the people who read. I just want to thank you all for being part of this!

I leave you with the pictures of an installation of a Portuguese artist Pedro Cabrita Reis, part of an intervention to an existing building in Porto, at least a different entrance to a hotel. But mostly important I leave you with something even more special as a personal thank you to all of you. I finish my tour at the Janet Echelman´s third and last installation I encountered on this trip. It´s called ´She Changes´and I don´t think the title could be more appropriate for this time of my life... I changed, indeed!

Porto Palácio Hotel: entrance by Pedro Cabrita ReisPorto Palácio Hotel: entrance by Pedro Cabrita Reis'She Changes' by Janet Echelman'She Changes' by Janet Echelman

There are two Pritzker Portuguese winners based in Porto, the architect Álvaro Siza Vieira awarded in 1992 and architect Eduardo Souto de Moura in 2011. They have quite a vast and diverse work so without having the chance to cover everything  (I would need another Light tour just for this) I decided to pick Casa da Música (House of Music), a project by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas that has won the Pritzker Award in 2000.

Casa da Música is a multi-purpose music and arts space comprising two main auditoriums, rehearsal rooms and recording studios for the Porto National Opera which was built in the context of the Porto 2001 – European Capital of Culture. Nevertheless it was only finished in 2005 but immediately became an architectural icon for the city and in 2007 received its first award, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) European Award.

Structurally challenging, it is very irregular in shape and from a distance it resembles a gem on a flat surface. The building itself promotes a very interesting relationship between interior and exterior: several glazed surfaces allow views from and to the inside of the building. In some areas I was able to have a perspective of the city towards the river and the sea.

The interiors of Casa da Música reveal Rem Koolhaas’ controversial architectural style but very much well integrated and appealing. The architect combined the old and new in various occasions, as an example he put side by side traditional Portuguese and Dutch architectural elements such as tiling styles.

The main concert hall is the ex-libris of the building and it is located at the core of the construction. The acoustics of the concert halls are outstanding and were on the basis of the concept of the building too. Even though, Rem Koolhaas known for its provocative style initially tried to get away from the shoe-box shape for the concert hall, with further research it was concluded that for acoustic reasons this was the best shape. All the materials and elements inside the main hall were taken into account for the acoustics too.

Nevertheless, the main auditorium is bathed with daylight from the two walls made entirely of glass, an oddity in the music world as glass scatters sound in random directions. However, the problem was solved by making the glass ripple in tightly curved folds, and setting two glass sheets a metre apart to insulate the hall from exterior noise.

The artificial lighting on the other side is quite ‘raw’ in concept. Except for the concert hall, all the light sources are exposed and bare lamps provide general lighting to the different spaces. If at the beginning this felt strange, when the tour guide explained me the reasons, I understood and approved the logic behind it. One of the main features of this building is its openness to the community.

The architect intended to design a building that was clear and understood by everyone. After all, this is the house of Music, and it is where interchange of ideas, experiences and knowledge should happen. With this in mind everything was exposed and revealed in quite a subtle way and the amount of windows and glazed surfaces were already examples of this. A metal grid on the walls and ceilings protects lighting and all the infrastructures but still allowing for people to see them. Addressing the idea that most cultural institutions only benefit a minority of people in any given place, the building reveals its contents to the city!

Casa da Música from outsideOne of the many rehearsal rooms and studiosFoyer to the Main Hall: the glazed curtainsViews to the outsideView to the insideThe city Vs the interiorDutch and Portuguese tiles side by sideExposed artificial lighting Entrance to the Main hallReception

To celebrate my 100th post I decided to go to Oporto for the very end of my Light World Tour. 315 km north of Lisbon, we actually call it Cidade Invicta (Unvanquished / unbeaten city) or Porto which means literally Port from where the Port Wine takes its name from. Located along Douro River it is another city where life is very much connected to water.

On my mission to search for lighting inspirations I met up with architect Nuno Valentim who kindly became my lighting guide in the city. Nuno Valentim is an architect that has a very interesting work especially in the field of heritage restoration and refurbishment. The advantage of meeting locals is that I always end up having personalised guided tours that as a tourist I would never have the chance to have. In addition, Nuno knows a lot about everything so he always had an interesting fact or story about each place we visited.

We started our tour by visiting a very exquisite chapel that he designed in 2000 for a University Centre.  With a very restricted brief and budget Nuno decided to make a ´mirror box’ that would reflect the surroundings. As a play of reflection and transparency it is a small space where natural light fills the space and the ´soul´.

We moved on to a Civic Centre for the immigrant community, a building which architecture is very much characterised by the inner courtyards that allow for natural lighting to reach all the spaces in the building. The sun was shining when we were there and the atmosphere was very pleasant in such a bright space.

As expected we didn´t visit only newly built constructions, Nuno was so enthusiastic about finding light inspirations in Porto that he suggested to visit a few examples of old houses that have been recently refurbished, but kept the original main features of the typical houses. Traditional architecture in Porto is quite unique: the plots are so narrow and deep that natural light has always been a concern in housing architecture.

The first house I visited was Casa Andresen refurbished by Nuno´s practice. The former owners of this house - the Andresen – had a granddaughter that was a famous Portuguese writer: Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. This house seemed to be an obvious source of inspiration for some passages of her books. The adjacent gardens are inserted in the Botanical Gardens area and the house has been adapted currently to house an exhibition hall. The double ceiling height, the large windows, the skylight as the core of the building contribute to the spaciousness and light that you find in this house which is quite impressive and inspiring.

From there Nuno called a friend, Luís Mendonça, known by Gémeo Luís, a very talented illustrator, so I could a visit a typical bourgeois house that  Luís and his architect wife Paula have restored. The houses in Porto always have a skylight to bring light in and they vary according to the typology. In here the skylight was placed just above the staircase, located in the centre of the house. Needless to say Gémeo Luís has an amazing art collection and illustrations from all over the world, so I felt really privileged to visit it, it was like going to a private museum.

Gémeo Luís on the other hand suggested we visited a typical merchants´ house in Ribeira area, in the historic centre of the city, an UNESCO heritage site. Ribeira is a neighbourhood just next to the river and due to its location, it was where most of economic activities took place. This housing typology was different from the previous ones but again a skylight in the centre of the building provided the natural lighting needed for working and living.

I had an amazing tour and Nuno and I finished it by having lunch with architect Sofia Thenaisie, another light enthusiast, who organises at Porto´s Architecture School a seminar on designing light. Every two years she invites professionals from all over the world to present lighting projects at this seminar.

On the skylights, Sofia and Nuno assured me that Porto has a lot of these beautiful examples and that there is a project from an architect / lighting creative Sheila Kennedy to recover and use these skylights has part of a light installation. I was happy to know that there is another designer that had found them as fascinating as I did. This was a great lesson on lighting history and on residential natural lighting, a subject that I hadn´t had the chance to cover yet!

Skylight at Casa Andresen from the beginning of XIX centuryThe windows where Mr. Andresen would watch his ships entering the river Another Skylight in Casa AndresenReflection from a chapel Transparency in a chapelLight in a chapelCommunity Centre - the large courtyardCommunity Centre - the inner courtyardsGémeo Luís´ house - typical bourgeois house from the XIX centuryTypical merchant´s house from the XIX century

In a country very much connected to water and the ocean I had several reasons to go to the Oceanário de Lisboa (Lisbon Oceanarium): as much diverse my Light World Tour has been I hadn´t covered yet lighting underwater and they have a new extension to house temporary exhibitions that I was keen to visit. Plus, I´ve been before and I never get tired of watching the fish swimming in their massive tank.

The oceanarium opened its doors at the 1998’ World Exhibition. It was once the biggest oceanarium in Europe and was designed by the American Peter Chermayeff, an architect with vast work in aquariums all around the world.
As for the new extension the architect was Pedro Campos Costa who I met once again and gave me a guided tour through the building and explained the concept behind this very interesting building. This new complex is now the new entrance to the Oceanário and is connected to the existing building by a suspension bridge. It is an irregular prism quite simple in form. As you get closer to the building façade you notice different reflections and colours as the natural light reflects in the ceramic panels which resemble fish scales.

As Pedro confesses even though the initial idea was to use these fish scales as a skin to the building, he was more interested on envisaging the natural light entering the building through these ceramic pieces, much inspired in the Arabian and traditional lattice work . We had lunch in the café where you can fully appreciate the sun patterned fish scales on the floor: the natural light is very inspiring indeed!

Pedro added that every time he comes here he always gets surprised as the building looks different. The light throughout the day always change its perception. On sunny days the lattice creates floor patterns but when the weather is overcast the variation is more dramatic on the external façade, in which the reflections become more intense. Also, the colours on the façade skin vary with the seasons and the sun´s orientation.

The new complex houses an auditorium and services for the public and as you go up the stairs towards the skylight you end up at the temporary exhibition hall. Currently a Turtle exhibit is taking place in this hall. Needless to say I was amazed with such animals and I learnt that turtles are actually very sensitive to light. Light pollution affects behavioural patterns especially when the eggs hatch and the baby turtles attracted by city lights make their way towards the wrong direction.

After we visited this, Pedro left me here and this was the beginning of my journey through underwater light at the main oceanarium building. The central tank in the core of building and the adjacent aquariums house five of the different ocean ecosystems in mother nature: Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Antarctic and Indian. In those environments I saw sea swallows, penguins and otters, the latter being one of the most famous attractions of this aquarium.

At the oceanarium I encountered fish of all colours and shapes, frogs, small reptiles, sea horses, jelly fishes, crustaceous and corals, and looking closer lighting actually changes from aquarium to aquarium to reveal in the best way these animals and their amazing colours. But what I liked the most was definitely the central tank. The tank is so cleverly designed that you can see it from different perspectives and heights that I easily spent two hours just watching manta rays, sharks and the moon fishes swimming side by side.

I found it a fascinating environment! The bluish light is quite hypnotic and I felt so relaxed  it felt I was on another world. Looking at the shimmering fish playing under the rays of light, I guess I was!

The new extension to the existing buildingThe fish scalesFish scale patterns in the caféHow light is filtered in times without sun inside the caféThe skylightTurtlesManta rayMoon fishThe Pacific tankDon´t remember the name of this fish, but I like its outfit!

I met up with João Luís Carrilho da Graça (JLCG), an award winning architect who has a very extensive and diverse work in Portugal and internationally, for a short conversation on light and architecture.

On architecture and light, JLCG referred James Turrel who sees light as a mean to define space regardless of the light source, either being nature or man-made technology. This is how the architect interprets lighting in his buildings: light is not only seen as another component of architecture but also as an ephemeral element of architecture. More so with the advance of technology, it is hard to design lighting for an undetermined life of the building. Lighting should allow for changing and improvement in the course of the life of architecture.

Nevertheless, as JLCG adds, light should be functional too and provide a comfortable environment for people to work or live in. This is even more relevant, especially in cities in which there is a tendency to be over illuminated, as the architect concludes. We compared cities and talked about light in Lisbon and how we have the impression that natural light in cities next to water feels different.

Another interesting aspect of light design as JLCG points out, is the lack of education in this field. This was interesting to discuss because it is a common subject that has come across from most of my conversations with people all over the world: there are not that many people that actually studied lighting design and it raises  the importance and relevance of educating people on light.

On his work JLCG uses light as a scenic element. Light sets the mood and highlights what is relevant in the building. I had the chance to visit one of JLCG´s projects in the city: the Pavilion of Knowledge, the equivalent to the Science Museum here in Lisbon. The building was designed in the context of the 1998 world exhibition but already with a permanent character very much different from the original concept of the world exhibitions which are temporary.

In 2010 the interior space was converted to allocate the last phase of the Science Museum and being a recent intervention, LED technology was used to enhance and backlight the wall panels. As simple as this idea can be, I think this is a great example of how lighting can transform a space into something more ‘scenic and extraordinary’!

Pavilhão do Conhecimento - exteriorPavilhão do Conhecimento - exteriorPavilhão do Conhecimento - exteriorPavilhão do Conhecimento - interiorPavilhão do Conhecimento - interiorPavilhão do Conhecimento - interiorPavilhão do Conhecimento - interiorPavilhão do Conhecimento - interiorPavilhão do Conhecimento - interiorPavilhão do Conhecimento - children´s area

After the initial shock, I felt happy to be home. Lisbon is such an inspiring capital that is hard to become indifferent to this city. And now seeing it under a ´new light´ it seemed more charming than ever.

Inhabited since the Neolithic t is a city with seven hills crossed by the wide river Tagus and its natural port was always an important feature of the city. The river and the ocean at Lisbon doors´ are a constant presence in the city that you can actually admire from various perspectives and different highpoints. Nevertheless one of my favourite perspectives is actually from the south side of the river. You can either appreciate it by crossing the bridge 25th April or just take a ferry like I did to watch the sunset.

Lisbon is often associated with light, and it has become quite a popular destination for many directors and for the set of many commercials mostly due to the ´quality of light´. During the day it is a bright city, the light reflects on the white cobbled pavement and the river itself acts as a natural reflector. It would be interesting to know if cities by the water have actually different levels of natural light or this feeling just lies on human perception.  By night there is room for improvement as most of the streets are still illuminated by sodium, and even though the energy efficiency has been taken into account I definitely think that a city like Lisbon deserves better lighting or a light masterplan.

Speaking with Diana Del-Negro, an architect that has been working on the Lisbon City Hall illuminating heritage buildings and historical monuments and is now doing a PhD on urban lighting, assured me that there is work being done towards the improvement of lighting in the city. But as we all know implementing changes and a long term investment at an urban scale always requires more time than usual.

I was surprised to find out that citizens usually complaint when street lighting needs lamp changing and maintenance as they feel there is not enough light on the streets or areas they live in. It is known that light in the cities are often associated with safety but it is always good to know that citizens are taking the initiative to improve their own lit environment. Seeing Lisbon from the other side I actually think our city is overlit, mostly due to the lack of light control of the existing luminaires. But if in some places I feel the city is overlit, there are definitely other areas that seemed really dark, even though most of the important symbols and buildings of the city are illuminated.

Once again I think it is very enlightening to walk around your own city at night. I realised the more I know the hardest it gets to pick the best lighting inspirations. But I was lucky to catch one of the largest public squares  with candles for a charity event. I don´t think it can get more inspirational than this!

Praça do Comércio lit by candles50 000 candles Fireworks at Praça do ComércioFireworks at Praça do ComércioCandles at Praça do ComércioSunset over the portLisbon by sunsetThe 25th April bridge at sunsetLargo de São Roque illuminatedS. Jerónimo Chapel at night

Every trip changes you a little bit and I think this one was no exception. Travelling for three months and seeing so many diverse things has changed me.  I´m not sure exactly how but I definitely feel different and see things in another way. Sure I had missed home, but part of me got addicted to travel. I guess once you started  it´s hard to stop.
Returning back home and stopping travelling was a great shock for me. I started having the blues. On the first days I was back I dreamt that I was about to miss flights! And lying on my bed I would wake up in the middle of the night wanting to check my itinerary and my next destination to realize that I was already back home.

I recognized the only cure for this was to keep on travelling, so I decided to continue my light journey through my own country. Not only is where I take most of my inspiration from but also by this time I wanted to know a bit more of what Portuguese think about light.

It is worldwide known that at the moment Portugal is not really going through the best phase, nevertheless I always heard critical times are usually the most creative periods in history. Christmas time this year brought new challenges on how to balance low and strict budgets for families and the cities. So in this context, the Lisbon City Hall decided to tackle this challenge by investing in creativity and inviting a group of designers, artists and architects to design the 2011´s Christmas decorations as a way to reduce costs whilst make something interesting for everyone.

The results were really diverse: an umbrella sculpture, road signs at a roundabout, a lit tree in a garden, a star constellation in a square, light tubes made of recyclable materials, ‘human Xmas lights’ and a different Xmas tree. Overall the initiative has been so successful that it has been already announced that 2012 will have again ´creative´ Christmas decorations.

I had the opportunity to speak to two of the architectural practices that were selected that have designed two of the installations: ADOC and Pedro Campos Costa.

ADOC designed a lighting installation in one of the most famous streets in the historic centre called Rua Augusta. The street has become pedestrian some time ago and the arch at the end of it is one of the main symbols of the city. Architect Duarte Ferreira from ADOC explained  that for this lighting installation they decided to use a Xmas icon – a tree – that could be more sculptural than the traditional Xmas trees.

The result was a deconstructed tree as he calls but that can be turn into a piece of urban furniture just by changing its orientation and position. In addition, the concept was to be recognizable by the general public of all ages and as Duarte confessed it turn out to be more popular than they expected. The children love it, usually hide and seek or play with toys along the trees; tourists and families are often seen taking pictures in between the elements and passer bys don´t become indifferent to the installation either.

As for Pedro Campos Costa, the architect proposed a different perspective on Christmas lights, he decided to make them ‘human’. I spend one evening with Pedro and followed him on this mission. When I met him at Largo de Camões, a quite well known meeting point for the night party goers, he was giving away blinking LED coloured lights. The idea was that each person would ´wear´ this light and from a distance you could actually see moving and blinking Xmas lights in the square. Not only that but these human lights were able to interact with each other, move around the city (I found blinking lights two hours later drinking in another part of town) and engage the community.

Pedro confessed that he was so pleased and realized the personal contact with people was much more interesting than he imagined that he decided to give away the lights himself. I was with him almost two hours and from children to old people and tourists, most of them stopped and got interested in the project, leaving with a smile on their faces and a blinking light. For those hours the whole community got so involved that even the firemen brought a ladder to help  putting some flashing lights in the statues too.

With ADOC and Pedro Campos Costa installations I recognized how much people love light and how simple interventions can have such an impact on the community. The human side and the interaction was definitely much more fascinating and inspiring than anyone had hoped! After all, it makes you wonder what a simple [blinking] light can do!

Rua Augusta Arch with Xmas Tree Xmas Tree Xmas TreeLargo do CamõesMe & Pedro Campos Costa with our blinking lightsThe community involved in the human lightsXmas lights at Rossio Xmas lights at Rossio Xmas lights at Praça da FigueiraXmas lights at Praça da Figueira

Amsterdam was my last destination. By this time I felt a real traveller living only from a suitcase and calling home the hotel rooms I passed through on this trip. So far I counted almost 40 cities, 18 countries, 3 special regions, 33 flights, 38 hotel rooms and about 95 days of travelling!

I experienced light in so many varied ways too: urban lighting, architecture, natural light, artificial light, interactive light, dynamic light, coloured light, light in art, in nature, in health. Amazing how light can be so versatile, don’t you think?

Nonetheless I feel that I’ve accomplished the mission I set myself on this trip: talking to people to understand how light is perceived all over the world and how universal light can be. I can only say that it has been a real expedition on lighting, but it wouldn’t be complete if I hadn’t experience total darkness too.

I wanted to finish my enlightened journey in the darkest place I could find. And that place was the ctaste restaurant where I took my long-time friend Gulcan Temel to have dinner in total darkness. We had asked for the chef suggestion meaning that we wouldn’t know what we would be eating or experience. The waiters, visually disabled people, had only 6% of vision so they were used to find their way around in darkness. Besides, they were familiar with the space too and they guided us to the dining area.

As we sat immerse in darkness we could hear some people around us. We speculated how many people could be sharing the same room by distinguishing the different tones of voice. We were explained that our menu would be constituted by a starter, a main course and a dessert. But before we were given a taster and a bottle of water was brought to the table. As we asked if the waiter was going to pour it for us, he laughed saying that was part of the experience.

So our first challenge was to pour water on our glasses. Gulcan found a technique where she left her finger inside the glass waiting to feel the water at the top of the glass. I went for the taster; it savoured of something smoked and had a foam texture. We hoped for smoked salmon foam, but I can advance now that we found later on that it was just carrot.

The starter arrived: a green salad. Not that I could see the colour, but I could definitely distinguish the lettuce, and some other leaves. There was something warm on the plate too. By this time I have to say that eating with a fork seemed to be a Goliath mission. I started feeling the food with my hands and bringing it to my mouth. Gulcan scared me as we got lost in translation and for a moment I thought I was touching something between a worm and a shell. It was just a cooked cherry tomato.
It all went really well with the scallops.

I decided to explore the area around me with my hands, feeling the corners of the table and the wall in front. We were wondering how big the room was as more people kept on coming. I bumped into something, and I whispered to Gulcan that I had found someone next to us. ‘I felt that!’ – A voice said. Everyone burst into laughter; as you eliminate vision, the other senses become very sensitive and everyone can hear what you are saying, so beware.

The first mission was accomplished and the main course followed it through. There were some vegetables, risotto and two different meats. I could smell the different ingredients; I didn’t remember smelling food with such intensity. Now, trying to cut the meat with fork and knife turn out to be an impossible mission, I believe Gulcan was better than I was on this as I gave up and just grabbed the food with my hands. How did I know if I had finished my food? Touching and tasting became my primary senses on such an experience.

Well, I could go on describing the dessert and the different tastes we encountered on the way but I would be spoiling for you. Nevertheless, we were assured that the menu keeps on changing so people can try different things.

Two and a half hours in darkness and Gulcan and I were catching up on life. We felt quite comfortable, I guess because we knew each other for such a long time it helped. In addition, the fact that we didn’t need to use our body language to express ourselves made us more sensitive to other things and more attentive to the conversation. As Gulcan pointed out it felt more relaxing too.
As we left the dining area, the outside felt strange. Not only there was too much light, but all other senses were too sensitive: smell, hear and taste.

I definitely recommend having this experience once in your lifetime at least. As much darkness I experienced I felt enlightened too. It was a wakeup call, reminding me how important can the other senses be and how privileged I am to be able to experience light and vision, this great gift that life has given me!

Light has been always important in Painting and is a source of inspiration for many artists. Netherlands was the birthplace for some of the most famous painters in art history and since I was in Amsterdam it seemed to me to be the ideal place to explore light in painting. A limited schedule and a queue that wrapped around the building made me avoid the Van Gogh Museum. This appeared to be the obvious option, but I accepted the suggestion by Rogier Van der Heide who I had met a few days before, and instead I headed to the Rijksmuseum. In here you can admire some of the art pieces by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The use of light in the paintings by these artists from the 1600’s is remarkable. Vermeer immortalised in the film ‘Girl with a pearl earring’ reproduces natural lighting in a very special way. I remember seeing once the making of that film and it was really interesting how determinant light was for the success of the movie. One of the major technical challenges on the film production was to achieve the quality of light that Vermeer’s paintings are famous for. On the film a giant light box was built to eliminate all harsh shadows and make it look like as natural as possible.

Rembrandt on the other side creates dramatic effects primarily by strong contrasts of light and shadow. A good of example of this is the Night Watch, one of his most famous paintings which is actually housed in this museum. As a very large painting it has always been hard to illuminate it properly and give it the right notability that it deserves. Rogier seems to have found gracefully the solution for the problem and no one better than him to explain how he tackled it on his TED talk

Night Watch by RembrandtRembrandt - self portraitPortrait by RembrandtPortrait by RembrandtVermeer

When I arrived at Eindhoven, I couldn’t really believe, three months had passed and I was back where I started. Three months was that so? I had learnt so many things and had so many stories to tell that I didn’t even know where to start. People kept asking what were the highlights of the trip and what I liked the most and I just wanted to say: everything! I enjoyed every moment that I didn’t really want to end it like this! So with a few days in the area I took my time to relax and to share my experience with different people that were interested on my journey.

After a few days I became restless and challenged Tom Aerts, a friend to go to Unna, a small town near Dortmund, where there is a light art museum. We embarked on another road trip and almost two hours later we reached our destination.

Tom and I joined a tour guide but too bad it was in German and I couldn’t understand apart from a few words. Still, Tom managed to translate another few things for me but, by this time, and light being universal you don’t really need further explanation. I was happy to experience myself the Third Breath (the coloured skies) and Floater 99 by James Turrell, the Light and Myself by Jan van Munster, the Spellbound Force of Nature of Olafur Eliasson’s or the Tunnel of Fears of Keith Sonnier. An old brewery is the perfect setting for this selective light art collection and this is the only museum in the world just showcasing light art, so definitely worth a visit!

Light and Myself by Jan van Munster

Berlin is known for its museums but with a limited schedule Britta Hölzemann suggested if there was one exhibition to see I should experience the Cloud Cities at Hamburger Bahnof Museum by Tomás Saraceno. I convinced two of my friends to come along, Marcus Blum and Tina and we had an early start on a Sunday morning to avoid the crowds.

The installations reflect place, time, gravity and traditional ideas as to what makes architecture. ‘His works are utopian and invite the viewer to play a part in their impact on a particular space, as they reach up to the sky and down to the ground. The artist creates gardens that hang in the air and allow visitors to float in space, fulfilling a dream shared by all humankind. Saraceno draws inspiration from soap bubbles and the incredible strength and flexibility of spider webs.’ The structures were really impressive and Tomás explores the relation of the individual with its surroundings.

Saraceno uses structure, transparency and material reflections for the beauty of his installations and I would definitely recommend seeing it. And, as soon as you make the effort I would suggest continuing exploring the rest of the museum. I found several interesting and fun inspirations: the exit signage of the museum and the models of the artist Jürgen Albrecht.

Jürgen is an artist that creates or uses real spaces where natural light gives different interpretations and feelings throughout the course of the day. Citing his own site: ‘Light and shadow play the central role in constructing and producing these complex interiors. (…)  One important aspect of Jürgen Albrecht’s work is the interaction between the observer and the work of art. Since the artist prefers to work using daylight his interiors are constantly changing, allowing the observer ever new sensory experiences. Only through a continued process of perception does he experience the internal architecture in all its facets.’

He had some of his models showcasing at the exhibition and the light effects were just stunning! And I know that I’m a light lover but I can assure you that I was not the only one taking pictures to the models and attracted to their light!

Cloud CitiesCloud CitiesSoap bubblesUnder the suspended gardenInside the suspended garden with Marcus and TinaExit signageJurgen AlbrechtJurgen AlbrechtJurgen AlbrechtJurgen Albrecht

This time in Berlin I found another exquisite structure that I wouldn’t mind to go again: the Fernsehturm, the TV tower in Berlin. From the 1960’s, it is a very elegant construction that turn into one of the symbols of the city. The tower has 368m and on the top there is a 360° restaurant where you can overlook the city. Some of the original decorative elements such as the wall with ‘glass  pebbles’ are still present.

I was invited to join Susanne Jung, Thomas Mehls and Britta Hölzemann for dinner. The dining area rotates and as Britta found out, if you get distracted you might lose things on the ride to find them a turn later. I really enjoyed the experience and despite the Xmas lights I actually noticed that the city from that height has quite a general low level lighting.

After such meal, we went for a walk in the park to see the Gas Lighting Museum. It’s simply a path in a park that showcases the different gas luminaries of the city. Still, I found it very interesting to see as it feels very much part of the history of lighting. Although, I was very surprised to find out some of these luminaries are actually in function throughout the city. There are several streets in Berlin still illuminated by gas lighting.

Similarly there are other lights that have become part of the city such as the Festival of Lights and the Christmas Lights. I had the chance to speak to Andreas Boehlke, one of the mentors of such events. The light festival has been growing in the last years and it has become a major attraction to the thousands of people that come from all over to see it. Andreas mentioned that a few changes were planned and that in the future there will more installations of artists and designers to integrate the successful event that has place around October, every year.

I missed the Festival of Lights but I saw some of the Christmas lights throughout the city. One of my favourites was the yellow festoon lighting of trees that populated several streets of the cities. They might look too simple for some but I’m more on the minimal side myself. It reminded me of the trees in the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. With the right balance of light I could never get tired of admiring the simplicity and the beauty of nature enhanced by light!

TV towerTV towerBerlin from aboveBerlin from aboveThe glass pebbles' wallGas Lighting MuseumGas LightChristmas LightsChristmas LightsChristmas Lights

There is one building that I always visit every time I come to Berlin: the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial church. It is a very peculiar building as the original church was destroyed on the WWII and what you can only see today are its remains. Instead of the usual reconstruction, a tower and a building were added where the church services take place. From outside this building doesn’t look like a church, only when you enter inside you can fully admire the particularity of such building. (At the moment the facade is being refurbished, so it is even harder to notice the building).

Quite small in size, from plan looks like an octagonal shape that has been extruded. The blue glass bricks of this octagonal volume bring life and light into the interior of the unusual church. The bluish natural light in combination with the warm light temperature of the artificial light and candles make a striking contrast ad I always feel that it gives spirituality to the place. Why I come here every time? I don’t really know, I guess it’s one of those things when you find a perfect spot you don’t mind to come back over and over again!

The first time I was Berlin in 2000, the city was still completely under construction. That was the first time I visited the Reichstag, the Parliament building and when you overlook the city you could only see roofs and cranes, a symbol of Berlin at the time.

This time when I visited the Reichstag I actually realised Berlin is a living city now. I pointed that out to Susanne Jung and Thomas Mehls. The different areas had gained character, the urban fabric became consolidated and the neighbourhoods populated.

This time, having visited the building at night seems to be a completely new experience too. The exterior of the building is actually lit by Michael Batz, but as we had a time slot we went straight up to the dome. Up in the cupola during the day you are very much distracted with the exterior sights, but now I was much more impressed with the building itself especially with the  plasticity of this double ramp that wraps around the glass dome. In addition, the central core of the cupola has an inverted shape covered in mirrors to reflect natural light into the main hall of the parliament below.

The movement of the sun is tracked electronically by a large sun shield that blocks direct sunlight which would not only cause large solar gain, but bedazzle those below.  Sometimes the difficult task of an architect is how to integrate and tackle environmental issues in an inventive way. I think Norman Foster has proven that not only this solution is very effective on its function but it is a remarkable and stunning way of addressing sustainability!

The rampThe solar shadeStripy shadows at the ramp The Main Hall down belowGoing up the rampThe internal CourtyardThe DomeReichstag lit by Michael BatzSusanne Jung & ISusanne Jung, Thomas Mehls and I

This was a very intense week of talking and seeing light in very different perspectives. With Victoria Coeln, in Vienna,  I saw light being refracted in colours; with Michael Batz in Hamburg we talked about  light as a narrative to tell a story and now in Berlin with Michael F. Rohde I discussed lighting and health, another very inspiring and important issue for lighting designers and people who work with light.

As I met Michael Rohde, a very respectful lighting designer in the lighting community for his sensitive approach, we realised we came from a similar background. Both of us are architects but somehow were driven into light by chance (as I found out from Michael), and later on studied lighting at the same school. Light and health was always one of the main subjects at the master and by discussing with Michael I realised that we had similar points of views and concerns on lighting.

I´ve already acknowledged on this trip that there is a lack of awareness on the importance of lighting in our health all around the world. People in general haven’t realised how determinant to our body is the amount of light we get throughout the day and year. And I don´t mean only natural light. New studies have proven that shifts in colour of the light and artificial light can have similar effects. If I think that in some parts of the world artificial light has been used for mood disorders such as SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) it just reflects the power of light.

In September in Eindhoven I visited a hospital where trials are taken place to see how effective lighting could be in tackling acquired delirium on ICU (Intensive care units) and so far from what I hear the improvements and recoveries have been astonishing .

The Berlin Medical Society, an office building with lighting by Michael Rohde,  became a pilot study and analysis of the impact of coloured light on the psycho-physiological well-being of humans. The idea was to replicate the quality of daylight through colour changeable dynamic lighting, which each employee could set according to their own individual preference. Interesting learning has come out of this such as the example of an employee that every time she had a migraine she felt much more comfortable with a certain wavelength of coloured light.

Michael Rohde has been always an enthusiast about light and health and has set himself on a mission to raise awareness of the importance of light in the well-being. Every two years he organises a Light Symposium in Wismar where these health related issues are discussed and where new scientific studies are exposed to the lighting community. I´ve been to the first Symposium myself back in 2008 in which I was a Vox Juventa speaker. We actually realised that we knew each other from before. And I still remember some of the interesting subjects that were discussed by then, such as colour therapy and the importance of sunlight in people with Vitamin D  deficiency.

As Michael F. Rohde we truly believe that as professionals we should be addressing the well-being as one of the key features of our lighting projects. The more I learn about light and health it would seem too irresponsible not to do it so!