WOHA and RealU craft a crystalline hybrid.
Touted as singapore’s first Urban entertainment complex, the recently completed iluma project by WOHA takes a radically different approach to the kind of lighting found elsewhere in the Asian city-state, using a media facade designed to mesh artistic creativity and commercial interests in a developing arts and heritage district.
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The $79 million complex, by WOHA’s principals Wong Mun Summ and Richard Hassell, stands in an area that has evolved over the past two decades from a place frequented by street hawkers, transvestites, and transsexuals to a district dotted with arts schools, galleries, shopping malls, and institutions such as the Singapore Management University, the National Library, and the Singapore Art Museum.
Completed in November of last year, the iluma project began in 2005, when the Singapore government offered a street-level parking lot for sale and redevelopment as part of an existing long-term master plan to transform the 235-acre Bras Basah.Bugis area, on the northeast edge of downtown, into an arts, culture, learning, and entertainment district.
A local developer and WOHA teamed up in a bid for the site. Working from a sketchy client brief, WOHA proposed a “concept and design for a building to act as a focal point and platform for the arts and to find a commercial connection between the arts and entertainment,” says Wong, WOHA’s cofounding director and principal in charge of the project.
WOHA beat out the competition with a design for a building composed of a red box and a curvy east facade. “We adopted this solution partly because we wanted to show the difference in function,” says Wong. “The client had fixed, square rooms, and the rest were unspecified retail or flexible spaces.” A parking structure, an eight-screen cineplex, and a top-floor theater for live performances now occupy the equivalent of a 10-story rectangular box clad in solid and perforated aluminum panels. Diffusing the warm white light from a row of 3000K metal-halide uplights around the base, the perforated surfaces cause the building to glow at night.
“The curving, undulating, overlapping and overhanging floor plans,” says Wong, “were meticulously adjusted to create an open, outdoor plaza space [on level 7], an indoor activity space on the ground floor, and two levels of atriums [that provide] an amphitheater quality, so that one can see and feel more activities in the complex.”
To assist in creating a unique and spectacular visual landmark, the architects persuaded the client to bring in Berlin-based brothers Tim and Jan Edler of realities:united (realU) to work on the wavy facade. The founders of the German art, architecture, and technology studio came up with some over-the-top ideas, one of which included a semirobotic lighting system, before they finally settled on a crystal-like skin that “physically and conceptually merged WOHA’s existing idea of a glass facade with the idea of a pixilated media surface,” says Tim Edler.
By day, realU’s so-called Crystal Mesh (CMesh) glints in the sunlight. Structurally, it is made up of 3,120 polycarbonate and aluminum “crystals” arranged in a tessellated pattern and clipped to a steel support frame bolted to the building’s outer wall.
Roughly two thirds of the CMesh becomes illuminated. Over this area, 1,849 of both the larger, 5-foot-wide hexagonal CMesh crystals and smaller connecting elements (which measure about 3 feet across) have up to seven individually dimmable 4000K compact fluorescent lamps inside them.
In the evening, the polycarbonate crystals housing the compact fluorescent lamps take on the role of pixels in the programmable CMesh media facade, controlled by German firm thismedia’s software and Swiss company se Lightmanagement’s Adaptolux hardware.
Unlike large LED screens designed for display videos and logos, CMesh requires custom-made content that takes into account the facade’s atypical design. Programmed to treat passersby to wavelike patterns in shades of gray, the software also works with video, animation, and digital camera files, says Edler. Additionally, it could use a range of sensor-based input to visually communicate people’s emotional states, interests — through social networks, Web-site forums, mobile-phone technology — or traffic movement and intensity.
Ultimately, the iluma project was designed to be “dynamic architecture rather than a media event,” explains Edler. “We don’t expect people to look at the facade, since that is not what architecture is made for. We hope that people perceive this as a part of the natural appearance of the building, something that is indistinguishable from the rest of the building.”
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