Light + Building
Frankfurt am Main
Building Performance Congress
Light Focus

Congress Center Messe Frankfurt
Level 3, Room Fantasie
Wednesday 9th April 2008 17:15

Scales of architectural lighting design using semiconductors
The design of integration – from light to lighting, from BIPV to BILED

by zéNuno Sampaio

As Picasso once said: “We need to kill modern art, since that being modern, it is not modern anymore”. That is to say: Modernity for architecture means the past.

We live in a high-tech world. The most important tool in contemporary civilization – the computer – comprises a small semiconductor plate made of silicon. However, alternative solutions, alternative industrial processes, alternative products, alternative management models, alternative medicines, alternative materials and alternative energy sources, are all part of the big goal these days: sustainability and consequences.

Architectural lighting design is a professional activity that consumes electrical power on the one hand, but generates well designed environments that can promote life and well-being on the other. But architectural lighting design must also consider adapting.
Solutions worth considering are BIPV (building-integrated photovoltaics) and/or
BILED (building-integrated LEDs), both controlled by computer software. Computer science and technology are growing and having an effect on the design world. This is now crossing over to architecture.

The design of integration
The main goal of building efforts and investments made today must be to provide comfort and satisfaction. What we expect from a building’s envelope today is, positively speaking, dynamic interactivity and a reactive environment.
It is important to provide the buildings with the necessary functional qualities based on the capacity to adapt. What was vernacular, autochthon or traditional was lost when new technologies developed during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. Decoration has recently become an autonomous function in itself. Architecture is today generating a response to Le Corbusier’s “machine to live in”.

It is generally accepted that it is important to increase the appeal of living in the city. This is the reason why sustainable urban design is inspiring a new way of thinking about the buildings themselves and the public spaces they generate.
The “home of the future” is supposed to be the “third skin of man”.

Media surfaces are deeply dependent on their inherent function: the mediation of a message. Historically, the first media facades may have been the Arabian Mosques.
With the evolution of LED technology the façade is growing as an information medium, and technology is far from neutral.

Building- integrated photovoltaics – semiconductors performing light capture
It was in the 1950’s that developments in the electronics industry allowed good silicon wafers to prove that Photovoltaic Crystalline Silicon absorbed and produced enough quantities of power that would justify all ensuing investments. The first oil crisis was in October 1973. The nuclear accident in Chernobyl’s reactor was in April 1986. It was time to increase our efforts to find alternative sources of energy.

Nowadays, from a design point of view, I believe that when adding the environmental point of view to this equation, we should not just consider the physical comfort but also fundamental aesthetic values. Photovoltaic modules gain an additional decorative aspect when the cells are, for instance, encapsulated with space between them, producing a semi-shading system that generates a daylight effect that is generally considered positive to the living space.

When integrated into buildings, these semiconductor-based devices transmit a strong manifestation of environmental commitment. If the photovoltaic modules present competitive prices guaranteeing the same qualities expected from outdoor building materials, there must be a market for this new material, especially considering the side benefits, which need to be quantifiable, of course.

In the field of truly holistic architecture, appearance and aesthetics are particularly important when adopting new materials. Solar installations have become status symbols. Colour is an especially important element once aesthetics are involved, but for best performance, ideally solar cells should all be black. This again means weighing up all the values that play a role in an architectural project, a negotiation where the architectural lighting designer may well be in a position to moderate, with specific visual input.

Brand new products launched on the market have additional emotional benefits such as: freedom in opposition to dependency, flexibility rather than monotonous usage, and prestige vis-à-vis banality.
The question of aesthetic quality, or what makes a building beautiful and convincing, is gauged in terms such as: spatial quality, scale, proportion, colour and surface treatment. This is one of the most difficult and challenging topics, since the criteria involved are related to subjective perception.

By 2050, PV technology could technically be the world’s dominant source of energy, especially useful in the developing world due to the inherent extreme life conditions that it may help to invert, but fundamental in the so-called developed world we live in, as a growing pertinent alternative for our energy demands. Building Integration could be defined according to a specific scale of intervention. The moment that Light and Lighting “interferes” with the city plan and dynamics, that may be considered as the Architectural Lighting Design (master)plan.

Building- integrated light-emitting diodes – semiconductors performing light emission
Criteria for good lighting are a pertinent issue to be addressed by experienced professionals. LEDs are claimed to be the just the first generation of representatives of completely new Lighting Design paradigms, a technology just embarking on its potential on the market.

It was not until 1966 that the first visible spectrum red LED was developed. In the late 1980’s a new generation of LEDs began to appear based on aluminium-indium-gallium-phosphide, producing light in the range 590-630 nm – amber/red.
Then the blue LED was developed based on silicon carbide. 1993 saw the blue LED appear based on gallium nitride, with indium gallium nitride covering the 450-525 nm wavelength range: blue-green.

Light sources have undergone a great revolution over the past decades and, observing market orientation, it is reasonable to state that this exponential development is in a process of maturation and that the next decades will witness a substantial enhancement in performance in the field of energy-efficient light sources. This does not mean an evolution, however.

The new potential of specific LED control systems
The aim is to make architecture more efficient and sustainable, making the users’ relationship to the architectural space more comfortable, responsive and consistent.

Since the LED is a dimmable light source, the modularization of different colour LED chains allows the shifting, fading and transitions of light, which in turn transmits a dynamic effect to the architecture set, communicating change and adaptability.

Colour mixing and colour effects are seen as a powerful tool, and positively provocative to our perception. Changing colour can suggest moods and bring healthy variability to the task of place-making. But this dimension of technology does not define a place itself. Depending on how it is applied, it may even condemn spaces to becoming void of any kind of life. This can happen fast.

Today is not possible to establish limits for what is called interactive architecture since their full potential has not yet been exploited. Until the full possibilities of interactive architecture are clear, we will not be able to decide where the balance lies.

The role of the LED as part of a moving image
Society is never static and human civilization has an integral tendency towards change, progress and improvements in the condition of human existence.
Commerce, industry, education, medicine, military and entertainment demands constant change that is commonly referred to as evolution.

The moving image is a basic method of living this wild world to the full.
The present intersection of technologies, from stage and theatre into architecture and the broadcasting industry has reinforced the potential for light to be employed to create images via changing colour and graphics.

Increased globalization and the flexibility that is required to manage it, has led to the development of a society structured on these networks and dependent on mobility: a mobility of capital, information and bodies, which may be as real as it is virtual.

TV has changed the latest generations’ perception of the world completely. The first video-games date back to the 1960’s, and simple devices from those days, like the video tennis game, may be recycled today and based on a completely different context to allow interactivity.

The technological medium becomes a structural element, transforming from a pure diffuser to part of the message itself. The 1960’s are generally associated with the establishment of Media Culture. In the 1990’s, we definitely entered the Digital Age.

The media façade
Today, the building skin is tending to become an active zone of flickering screens and moving images – in addition to mechanisms that need to be developed to control the indoor environment.
Urban culture defines itself in many ways, but one key feature is that metropolitan reality is also becoming a new platform for communication.

There is a big change taking place, moving away from the conformist comfortable passive role of absorbing a finished media product, such as may be used at home or at the cinema, to a much more active role of interpretation and interaction.
The absence of a successful formula only highlights the need for project teams to engage quality members.

The real-time technology derived from the computer game industry enables the generation of constantly changing high-quality images. Interactive architecture changes appearance, climate and form by sensing the need for change and responding to it automatically, enabling people to engage with architecture in a different way, not as passive creatures existing in a static set of conditions, but as proactive individuals affecting the space that they inhabit.

Overview for discussion
I deeply believe that in both contexts, BIPV and BILED, constitute media surfaces based on technology for transmitting strong messages. Building Integrated Media Technologies are something we already live with, but which are becoming increasingly pertinent and thus require extensive study.

As an important basis and evaluation tool for the future of the visual integration of both technical solar systems and new technologies related to media lighting design, these studies would first bring clarity to the vocabulary applied, with further investigations conducted in future.

Through the overview presented on these technologies and the potential consequences this integration may have on our contemporary architecture, I see the architectural lighting designer as a fundamental partner when it comes to the optimum use of energy resources, always committed to comfort and quality standards, but pushing ahead and privileging technology as a communication factor.

“The place did not exist before the bridge …thus the bridge is not a place in itself, but it is only through the bridge that the place originates…”: Martin Heidegger “Building, Dwelling, Thinking”.

Here I send you the access to the presentations of the last april’s
Building Berformance Congress (Frankfurt):

1 – Follow the link:
2 – username: lightfocus
3 – Password: jjr54tz

Published by

Jose Nuno Sampaio

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