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The shortlist for the lighting prizes at the 2021 Surface Design Show awards contains several schemes that illustrate the complex relationship between light and surfaces.


Words by Jill Entwistle

There are some applications that make more obvious and overt use of the relationship between lighting and surface, simply exploiting the translucency of natural materials, for example. Others involve engineering the effects, manipulating materials to maximise the reflective or refractive outcome.

Sometimes the relationship is more subtle – the fall of sunlight on wood. The following five schemes are among those that have been shortlisted for the lighting category, interior and exterior, of the 2021 Surface Design Show Awards. Between them they show the complex interrelation between light and surfaces, and the alchemy that results.


Category: Light + Surface Interior

Project: Backlit Onyx Staircase

Designer/Architect: Blee Halligan

Contractor: J&W Construction

It was its affinity with light that drove the decision to use smoky purple onyx on this staircase

It was its affinity with light that drove the decision to use smoky purple onyx on this staircase

As with porcelain, onyx is an ideal material for backlighting. Often used for applications such as bar fronts, here it is used more unusually to create a staircase. It was precisely its affinity with light that drove the decision to use smoky purple onyx.

‘We chose this material so we could turn something simple like a staircase into something exceptional by adding penetrating light,’ says Blee Halligan.

‘Having access to semi-precious rock quarries throughout the world, it inspired us to design a proprietary LED backlighting technology, allowing us to deliver integrated backlighting solutions for not only this staircase but all types of translucent architectural surfaces.’


Category: Light + Surface Interior

Project: Maida Smiles Dental Clinic, London

Designer/Architect: Pedra Silva Architects

Client: Dr Pedro Gutierres, Little Venice, London

Contractor: WL Contractors

In the reception area, more than 500 handcrafted ceramic discs cover the walls

In the reception area, more than 500 handcrafted ceramic discs cover the walls

Located in Little Venice, north-west London, Maida Smiles Dental Clinic specialises in cosmetic dentistry and facial aesthetics. A conversion from a high-street store, the project brief was for a memorable brand and design concept that would also mirror the affluent surroundings, defined by their Regency style with white Stucco buildings.

The floorspace was restructured to a simple layout funnelling off from the reception, which occupies the whole main facade. A single corridor connects all support spaces, plus three surgery rooms located along the rear facade, taking advantage of natural light.

A key design element, in the reception area, was based on an interpretation of ceramic dental implants, an unlikely, though in this case highly appropriate, source of inspiration. This takes the form of more than 500 handcrafted ceramic discs that cover the walls in a honeycomb-style cluster. Partly inspired by the tooth structure, the discs were made concave to affect the way they handle the light.

‘When looking at a tooth it contains a cavity or hollow and our mission was to discreetly incorporate these influences in the surface design,’ says Pedra Silva Architects (PSA). ‘This brought added complexity, manipulating the surface of each individual ceramic disc with an indentation in order to generate a reflective effect. We developed many prototypes to identify a surface composition with the right sort of recess.’

The use of a white, specially modelled reflective material on the walls maximises the natural light, creating a bright, airy space that suggests the clean and clinical without being cold or off-putting. The concrete of the floor and reception desk temper the effect, providing a soft, matte contrast to the reflectivity.

‘The selection of ceramic as our feature surface material was crucial in communicating a minimalist, free-flowing design which maximises the use of space,’ says PSA. ‘The custom-made ceramic wall and iconic furniture also work in tandem to create an interesting dynamic – affecting surfaces, light and reflection.’


Category: Light + Surface Exterior

Project: Center Street Parking Garage, Berkeley, California

Designer/Architect: Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects (MWDLA) with International Parking Design (IPD)

Client: City of Berkeley, USA

Contractor: Overaa Construction


 

The brief was to design an eight-storey building with capacity for 720 carsThe brief was to design an eight-storey building with capacity for 720 cars

Car parks are seldom inspiring spaces, to put it mildly, but recent years have seen some less utilitarian approaches to the concrete box. It helps when the context has an artistic bent, in this case the Arts District in Berkeley, part of a downtown regeneration. The brief was to design an eight-storey building with capacity for 720 cars on a tight mid-block site, while providing a creative facade appropriate to the artistic milieu.

The nature of the site resulted in two street frontages, designed as public art. The exterior of the double-helix design of the building has a skin of perforated stainless-steel mesh that forms a waving facade. The staircases jut outward from the pleated metal walls that fold in and out. ‘The initial design was straightforward, with the structural bones cloaked by a fairly simple metal scrim,’ says MWDLA. ‘Many computer variations later, the result was dynamic.’

The brief was to design an eight-storey building with capacity for 720 carsThe brief was to design an eight-storey building with capacity for 720 cars

The scrims comprise sharply folded panels of perforated steel in more than 20 sizes. Each panel was numbered and bolted into place to form horizontal bands that start by fitting tightly and then flare out — ‘two over-scale waves, each surging in a different direction, every panel adding its own small syncopation’, says MWDLA.

This produces a play of light both during the day and then at night when LED fittings take over. ‘The show is accentuated when sunlight slices through, and small dots in the perforated metal panels dance against thick concrete,’ says MWDLA. ‘At night, choreographed LED lighting attached to the wall’s frame provides shifting backdrops that wash across the internal structure in an ever-changing array of colours.’

The brief was to design an eight-storey building with capacity for 720 carsThe brief was to design an eight-storey building with capacity for 720 cars

Exploiting optical effects has also had sustainability benefits, allowing low brightness, therefore high efficiency, and meeting dark sky constraints. The approach has also been mindful of the context. ‘The strategy of the white front light projected against soft-coloured backlight is a classic theatrical riff – and a nod to the neighbouring performing arts spaces,’ says MWDLA.


Category: Light + Surface Interior

Project: Leucos Wall Light

Designer: Andra Munro

 

Each porcelain piece is made by rolling and pressing the material onto a mould without cutting out a particular shape, thus avoiding wasteEach porcelain piece is made by rolling and pressing the material onto a mould without cutting out a particular shape, thus avoiding waste

In the context of the past year there is a certain irony that the texture of the Leucos wall light was inspired by leucocytes, the human body’s white blood cells, agents of the immune response. Porcelain is a perfect diffuser of lighting and Andra Munro has fully exploited its translucent qualities, achieved when the material is thin and fired at a top temperature of 1,260°C. The piece is backlit with Applelec Auragami flexible LED light sheets, which can be cut with scissors to any shape.

‘I chose to work with porcelain because I always look at the true nature of the material used,’ says Munro. ‘The porcelain has plasticity, forming various shapes and curves. I can also create numerous intricate textures.’ Each porcelain piece is made by rolling and pressing the material onto a mould without cutting out a certain shape, thus avoiding waste. The edges are then pressed further on a surface ‘to push the boundaries of the material and its thinness’. The light is designed to be expanded both on the wall and onto the ceiling, giving ‘metres of porcelain and light installation’.

‘We live in a very fast-paced world, so this porcelain and light installation invites the user to get closer, to look, to wonder, to touch. That to me, does not only light up a room but lights up our user from the inside out,’ says Munro.


Category: Light + Surface Interior

Project: Apartment Block, London

Designer/Architect: Coffey Architects

Client: John and Karen Bullough

Contractor: Woods


 

The artificial lighting is largely linear, integrated and discreetThe artificial lighting is largely linear, integrated and discreet

The two-storey apartment in a former Victorian school building has been carved out of more than 30,000 individually cut and laid end-grain blocks made of European oak. The wood grain texture of the blocks complements the lightly striped crown-cut oak timber joinery. The blocks are a playful nod to traditional wood block flooring often found in Victorian school buildings and bring warmth and solidity to the interior.

Throughout there is a consciousness of light, for instance, in the use of bespoke timber screens and panels, which percolate the light and shadows on the timber blocks ‘creating a luxurious three-dimensional space of light and craft’, says Coffey Architects.

‘We celebrated the opportunity to flood the plan with natural daylight so as to reduce the need for artificial lights to be used during daylight hours,’ adds Coffey.

The artificial lighting is largely linear, integrated and discreet, subtly underlining the planes of the interior. ‘Space, light and material fused together – more than the sum of their parts,’ adds Coffey.

 

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