a-matter - LAb[au]

online medium for contemporary architecture
Michaela Busenkell
publisher: Sedus Stoll AG

a-matter featuring:
lightscape(s), displacement maps, urban illumination study

(texte by M.busenkell)

Light_Scape(s) study:
LAb[au], laboratory for architecture and urbanism:
Manuel Abendroth, Jérôme Decock, Nahiza Mestaoui
+ Kim Pecheur + Pieter Desmedt Jans

Commissioned by:
Electrabel/Sibelgaz, producteur et distributeur d'électricité belge
Location: Heizel plateau, Brussels / Belgium
Completion of the study: 1999
Award: The Tech-Art prize of the Flemish Chamber of Engineers (Vlaamse Ingenieurskamer)

Light_Scape(s) is the title of an urban enlightening study for the Heizel plateau in Brussels, commissioned by the Belgian electricity company, Electrabel-Sibelgaz. The LAb[au] architects visualise


light interventions in urban space: they investigate the potential of light as a structural and spatial but also as a temporal and interactive device and use this immaterial and variable phenomenon to develop urban

The location: Series of happenings

Heizel plateau
The Heizel plateau in Brussels is equipped with building facilities for all kinds of large event. World exhibitions took place here in the years 1935 and 1958 and, today, it accommodates trade fairs, football games or congresses. Unfortunately, the urban qualities of the site utterly fail to do justice to its size and the number of visitors. The Atomium is the sole construction which stands out as a landmark among the conglomeration of individual buildings, large-scale sites such as the stadium and trade-fair halls and the infrastructure with its roads, interconnected pathways and parking lots. The light study was intended as an investigation of how the exceptional character of the Heizel site could be emphasized and integrated in the scope of the city by the application of light interventions. structural forms.
Tasks: An investigation of the potential of light within the urban context

Light study
Light_Scape(s) is the title of a light study which combines a structural urban-planning approach (light_topography) with a concept of time and action (light_urbanism) by means of a tool for light visualisation and planning (displacement maps). The potential of light as a structural and spatial as well as temporal and interactive device is investigated. The relationship of specific light parameters (intensity, colour) to the relative aspects of urban planning (topography, flux, infrastructure) and to temporal aspects (programmes, activities) is determined by the various light configurations, i.e. by the light-scape(s).


The possibilities of light as a generator of urbanism were investigated specifically with regard to the Heizel plateau but can also be applied to any other areas. 1st stage: Development of a software tool and light plan

Displacement maps
The lack of working tools to visualise and verify the hypotheses regarding lighting on an urban scale led to an exploration of computer software such as that used by the film industry. The modification of modelling software to include the possibility of representing dynamic functions opens up the possibility of working with light as an immaterial and variable matter which, like a process, evolves in place and time in relation to the location in which it is embedded. The function, or rather the tool, for the visualisation and planning of light is designated by the term "displacement maps". In contrast to classic computer tools, displacement maps are active, integrating components of the design process itself and can be used to work with light as an urban vector.

Light plan
In the superordinate light plan, the basic principles are defined for organising the Heizel site spatially within the urban matrix. Light scenarios with contrasting colours and of diverse intensity are to be applied to the various programmatic entities of the Heizel site. The potential of light is exploited to generate powerful images, thus highlighting specific areas, or to actually erase whole parts of the urban landscape. The overall effect aimed at is to strengthen the identity of the site. Parameters
Light as a dynamic substance can be varied in terms of intensity, colour and time. The computer-generated visualisations of light use variations in luminous intensity and colour to develop light scenarios which change in relation to time. These are intended to correspond to the spatial configurations, to the given structures, activities, events, individual uses and interactions. 2nd stage: Spatial structuring through the devices of point, line, surface and interface


Light is employed as a means of structuring space in order to create a light topography. The means of organisation in the light plan - variations in the intensity and colour of light - are used for the specific illumination of points, lines, surfaces and interfaces, thus generating a particular structure. The specific enlightening of points act as settings for single constructions, which can also be lined up to form sequences. Linear light installations make the infrastructure readable and represent flux and movement. Surface-like light scenarios characterise different programmatic entities. Light scenarios for interfaces mark out areas which connect the Heizel plateau to the surrounding area or which are to be assigned to the Heizel site or the surroundings.

Urban layout
With an urban lighting layout achieved through the graphic organising devices of point, line, surface and interface, independent programmatic entities are subjected to fine differences in illumination in accordance with their own temporal and spatial logic, thus resulting - in their totality - in a continuously contrasting environment. The variations of the light scenarios emphasize or blot out the different architectural entities. The interplay of the different entities, in combination with the temporal factors, results in dynamic light_scape(s). 3rd stage: Temporal concept with fixed, variable and reactive components

Light_urbanism articulates light as a temporal device and combines fixed lighting installations with variable and reactive interventions. The fixed installations include the static options of 'light on' and 'light off'. Variable scenarios relate to activity cycles; the inputs on the site which correspond to individual interrelationships are transformed into reactive light interventions. In line with their corresponding topographical counterparts, fixed light installations relate to intermittent structures (light_topography). Variable installations, in contrast, are used for activating surfaces and reactive


installations correspond to the interface status; the variable inputs of the locations are converted into light processes.

At the minimum level of activity, for example, the Heizel stadium is surrounded by a medium-intensive luminous scrolling ribbon. At the maximum level of activity, in contrast, it is enclosed within a scenario of white light of high intensity. Because white light is a synthesis of all the colours, it is used on the urban scale in connection with density, event and activity.


Light_scape(s) are single spatial and temporal configurations generated from dynamic simulations. These simulations are based on a combination of three-dimensional space with time as the fourth dimension and open up the possibility of new planning and design methods. The simulations make it possible to work with immaterial substances and to visualise them in their complex relation to the urban context, such as light or infrastructural flux.

By means of this light analysis and method of simulation, light in public areas can be deployed not just as a simple security device but as a polysemic medium which adds a cultural dimension to the urban context.
LAB[au], laboratory for architecture and urbanism was established in 1995 and links theoretical research LAB[a+u] to architectural practice LA.BAU. LAB[au] architects elaborate a "Hyperdesign", by investigating the implications of new communication and computer technologies within spatio-temporal structures as well as their forms of representation such as architecture and urbanism.

Text: LAb[au] / BM

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