If you visit the city of Malmö, Sweden, you’ll see LEDs create a starry sky above its new Hyllie square. The effect is magical - a beech forest in the heart of an urban space. Wait long enough and, for a minute every hour, the stars twinkle and change with the seasons as artificial moonlight casts the shadow of leaves on the ground.
Setting the mood for a future space
This unusual type of installation is in keeping with one of the city’s most unusual squares, called Hyllie Square. Instead of responding to the buildings around it, the starry blanket has been put in place before actual buildings arrive. Set to the south of the city, the square is positioned in an area earmarked for development, in front of a railway station that links to Copenhagen, across the Øresund bridge. Nearby is a massive arena, but otherwise not much else.
Recreating a forest feel in the heart of the city
“It is unique for Sweden to build a square before anything else,” said landscape architect Thorbjörn Andersson, of Sweco Architects, the agency who won the competition to design the space. His concept was to specifically recreate an area of beech forest within the square. This is because the beech tree is special to the south of the Sweden, for it is the only part of the country mild enough for it to survive. It keeps its dead winter leaves, and, says Andersson, has “a beautiful trunk the colour of an elephant’s foot,” creating a warmth in the midst of winter. Technically, this proved very demanding, as beech trees are among the most difficult to establish in a city and he had to create a ‘structural soil’ beneath the 2m x 1m granite pavers.
How to construct man-made heavens
Andersson worked with Niklas Ödmann of black Ljus Design. It was Andersson’s idea to criss-cross the space with wires supported on masts, and he had hoped to unroll thin strips of illuminated cloth along them for special occasions. When this proved impractical it was Ödmann who came up with the idea of a ‘sky’ of LEDs instead, supported on wires so slender that they offer virtually no wind resistance. They have been rigged just over 15m above the ground, and consist of a total of around 2km of wires, supporting light chains set very closely together. All the controls are in the masts, and each LED is individually controllable. The beauty of LED for many designers is this kind of versatility.
Keeping things natural
The standard setting is a white twinkling sky, with different effects representing spring in bloom, the warmth of summer, the rain of autumn and the chill of winter’s bite, once an hour. After midnight there is a peaceful mode known as ‘satellite’.
Ödmann deliberately tried to avoid too much drama. “That kind of installation can be very tiring and short-lived,” he said. He has also illuminated the forest with cool downlights creating leaf shadows and mimicking moonlight, and warmer uplights. And there is lighting around the base of the benches. “The forest is what the square is all about,” he said. “I was very happy to be involved in the project. It’s special.”
So far there are few users of the square after dark, but their numbers are sure to grow with the development of new buildings. When people turn their faces to the sky, they are in for a treat.
“The forest is what the square is all about. I was very happy to be involved in the project. It’s special.” Niklas Ödmann of black Ljus Design
Article extracted from
Luminous 9, International Lighting Magazine, Design Innovations
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