Light, Matter, Action
The materials making up a space contain, capture, or reflect light, and in their arrangement and emptiness are architecture. When matter and light form a single substance, it has the power to build space through light, color, and contrast, perceptually communicating surfaces, architectural skins of light. In situations, these skins, complete in their delineation, operate as containers and draw us into the set to be part of the scenography or to enhance something that takes place in it. They can even generate added value or reference in the project by themselves by including light and sound dynamics to deliver a message, convey identity, or fashion an experience.
Light scenography entails working on an equal footing with the architect or interior designer and also sometimes becoming a set designer. This is because the idea can come out of the material and merge with the light, or out of the light to achieve symbiosis with the materiality, or even be generated by a global concept.
In 2006, when Zaragoza Expo 2008 was under construction, architect Enrique de Teresa’s Water Tower project came to the studio. It was a project in which light as a visual marketing factor played a key role, since light was not only needed to understand the architecture, to be functional or to provide security, but also to guide and convey identity and meaning. It was the studio’s first project in which we had to engender a sensory image, virtual at night through light and different from the physical or material daytime sensory image.
The Water Tower was the entrance building to the Zaragoza Expo and a beacon over the park by day and night. By day, its water drop shape conveyed the message of the importance of water for humanity as a precious commodity, while as a white building it also reflected light to guide local people and visitors alike.
At night we also made it water, casting water-colored light in the various shades to be found on our planet, from crystalline turquoise to deep blue, and walking around it afforded the sensation that the organic tower included a fluid movement. Furthermore, its scenography of light and color furnished a beacon for its surroundings, showing the way to the Expo.
“Potsdamer Platz, Berlin
SPOTS reacted specifically to the architecture and urban surroundings The project investigate the scale, size, and resolution of media elements in an urban and architectural context as well as the general relation between medium, message, material, and location.”
The project was influenced by the references of the collective Realities: United, Bix 2003 and Spots 2005. Their work with fluorescent tubes and DMX ballasts integrated in media facades generating digital content encouraged us to work on the Water Tower with fluorescence and theater filters, although in the end we could only have DALI regulation due to budget constraints and we lost the Tower’s dynamism and ability to express content. However, we did get some beautiful scenography that was part of Expo 2008’s nighttime identity. I think it was the most appropriate thing to do in the end.
This situation prompted the debate on content and scenography, generating two lines of reflection in our projects. For us, scenography is the background to content or a space which emphasizes what it houses or contains and which in its sum can craft luminous identities and even perceptual experiences.
The scenography concept was revisited in the project for the façade of El Molino in Barcelona by BOPBAA Arquitectes. This historic nightclub was refurbished and grew to bring the picaresque back to Avenida del Paralelo in Barcelona. The façade was made up of two areas: The historical and the new. At the client’s request, the initial assignment was to set up a scenography that would recover the memory of the venue and in the new façade would artistically convey to the outside world, to the local neighborhood, what was going on inside the theater. It also had to be easy to update these contents.
In the historic façade we reconstructed the scenography with LED technology to recover the venue’s identity. Then in the new façade, the upper part, in conjunction with the architect we designed a skin which was formally a façade yet also a media façade. Besides emitting light at night, it also let daylight into the dressing room areas.
During the day in the urban setting it was a building while at night it dressed up to party. It was an exciting concept in which at the start of the digital era in the city, whether buildings should be a communication “medium” or instead architecture should take shape with an integrated communication capability was once again back on the table. At the studio we have always advocated integration and this is demonstrated by our projects and the talk based on this topic we gave at PLDC 2011 in Madrid.
In this project we only produced test contents to showcase the project’s potential since the final contents were commissioned from another studio, although we will always have Marilyn in our hearts.
The following façade projects where we integrated the light scenography were designed to generate light identities at night. At the Ohla Eixample Hotel in Barcelona in 2016, we designed a subtle self-generative monochromatic wind scenography whose swaying relaxes the senses in order to enhance the branding that identifies the leisure and comfort chain for the city. Then at VP Hotel in Madrid in 2018, which shares a major square with other hotels, the façade’s lighting design stood out in contrast to the rest, elegantly surfing its waves through the dynamism of light.
Meanwhile Manacar Mall, in 2019 in Mexico City and the tallest building in the city, in a scenography inspired by the transit of its people we sought to synchronize with the city’s vibrancy at night in order to deconstruct the building virtually and make it more approachable and friendlier so that people would feel attracted to it. Projects that sought to convey and enhance the value of the buildings’ contents or programs.
In interior projects we also felt it was appropriate to apply this reflection in hospitality settings, such as the thematic restaurant Balfegó Tunateca, Barcelona 2018, where we created the lighting scenography alongside interior designers El Equipo Creativo. At Balfegó, a restaurant about tuna farming and tasting, we sought to immerse the diner in a water space surrounded by fish where the dynamic light generates the sensation of being rocked by the gentle waves in the company of fish.
At the temporary exhibition Dreams & Nature by RCR Arquitectes for the Catalan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2018, the content designed by the architects explained their creative world and their connection with nature. We shaped a scenography to underscore the message, a container of light through a backlit plastic material that enveloped the room and dreams. The installation was made up of more than 500 round Fresnel lenses. The large lenses were the medium for the explanatory video while the small ones interacted with the ambient light to fashion a dreamlike space. Light plus material conveyed knowledge and creativity in an abstract way.
We have spent all these years designing lighting and choosing materials to merge them with light from a lighting designer’s standpoint. At Fuorisalone ’23 for the Living Vibes space by iGuzzini in Milan, we were commissioned to design the lighting scenography in which we also had the chance to work as set designers, designing light and material to craft a perceptive atmosphere of dynamic light and synchronized sound called Aria Libera, built to emphasize the message of the Libera system which was the product on display. It generates the virtual sensation of flying through clouds, the freedom of being able to take light wherever you need it.
In a holistic view of light, designing with it means thinking about its release, its control, the materials, and, in short, the effect it has on people, with the goal of expressing something more than light: A message, an identity, or an experience that thrills, shaping something unique.