LIGHT IN SANTA EULALIA
Light can be understood as an effect resulting of a material creation or as a basic matter itself that offers the opportunity of working with in amazing ways. In any case, light have always been a source of attraction from both designers and architects and a subject of discussion in many of their projects.
A current trend in many cities of the world is the organisation of light events. Some areas of the cities host amazing transformations related with several lighting projects, interventions or performances. Barcelona has not been left behind and each year, during Santa Eulàlia, the winter celebration of the city, a lighting show called “Llum BCN” is organized.
One may wonder who Santa Eulàlia is. The legend explains that she was a Martyr of the catholic religion who was tortured for refusing to deny the principles of Christianity. For this reason she was forced to go through thirteen martyrdoms, as many as her age, and ended being crucified. Although this story might not seem to offer the best occasion for a beautiful celebration, the late tradition of shifting the focus to the light issue has achieved a great result: an elegant and interesting celebration around the concept of reviving the city through a light event.
Every year, several institutions, usually related with universities of design, art or architecture, are offered a courtyard of “Ciutat Vella”, the medieval neighbourhood of Barcelona to work on them. The chosen groups of students are given the mission of transforming these patios into a lighting performance, with the aim of showing the potential of the city centre in a different way than usual.
This article has the objective of reviewing the lighting interventions of this year, with the aim of extracting conclusions of how designers and architects deal with an intangible and rebel matter such as light.
For starters, it can be concluded that the organising committee did not expect so many visitors. The streets were crowded of people trying to move from one courtyard to another and queuing to be able to see a glimpse of the lighting show. The number of visitors was an added difficulty for those in charge of making sure that their installation was a success. Depending on the structure of the given patio, its urban situation and the project in itself, some groups were able to handle the flow while others created enormous cues, with the consequence of making some visitors desist of seeing what was hidden inside the courtyard and interrupting the rhythm of the route.
Nevertheless, shifting our focus to the interventions in themselves, it could be said that simplicity and knowledge was usually the key for success. Knowing how to use light as a project element and exploiting its effects correctly was the base for elegant and impressing interventions. While some of the courtyards showed a lack of light expertise, others were caught in the mistake of trying to achieve too many effects in a space too small to host them comfortably.
The projects could be split in two main categories. On one hand, we could find those based on achieving a lighting effect and working with light as the main rough material. On the other side, those focused on creating an object in charge of distributing the light and producing the effect, like a big and accurately designed lamp. In general, the first group displayed a higher mastering of the light while the second ones had the tendency of working too much on the design of the object and forgetting the main character of the show.
Another important main aspect to take into account was the relation of the intervention with the courtyard given. While some of the installations recognised its existence and achieved effects that enhanced the characteristic aspects of the site, others could have been placed elsewhere without any problems, losing a key factor for a complete realisation.
Finally, it seems that working on light interventions without introducing music on the location does not make any sense nowadays. These two effects have been lately transformed into an inseparable tandem. However, while some of the projects achieved a more powerful effect using music, some others lacked a good correlation and would have been better without introducing another disturbing input. Others profited clearly of the silence, creating an interesting atmosphere of withdrawal and observation.
Muralla al mar (wall in the sea) Palau Bru. BAU. Design University Centre of Barcelona.
This project, placed on the southern part of the route and, therefore, one of the first I visited left me with a very pleasant sensation. The idea was reproducing the effect of being inside the sea by creating a wall of reflecting material. In this way, the project was a reminiscence of the wall placed in this area of Barcelona, a wall characterized by its relation with the sea.
The effect achieved was very accurate, creating an appealing but subtle sensation of being under water. However, the set up was a little bit clumsy, and the perforations of the wall with information inside were, probably, a little bit too many layers. Possibly, focusing on creating the “under water” sensation would have been enough and more powerful.
La ruïna circular (the circular ruins). Palau Sessa-Larrard. Belles Arts (Fine arts). University of Barcelona (UB)
In this case, a mirror made with a thin layer of water reflected the geometry of the place. At the same time, lightened ground plans of buildings were displayed on the walls and, therefore, also reflected.
The idea of working with light and reflection was very interesting in itself. However, one question lies on if it was the best courtyard were to place the mirror, as it did not create a special effect aside of the pure reflection of the existing.
Moenia. Pati Llimona ELISAVA. Superior School of Design and Engineering of Barcelona.
In my own and personal opinion, this intervention should have been the clear winner of the lighting show. By creating an airy structure with grazing light in front of a high and texturized wall it enhanced the existent and produced a very elegant, subtle but impressing effect. The complete process of observation was perfectly timed, with a first compressed access through a passage with a sudden final impression of the intervention colonizing the whole frontal wall and enhancing the verticality of the space while, at the same time, working with the texture and mastering the effects of light.
The extra impression given by the live opera singer that suddenly started producing an amazing chant right in front of us was the perfect finishing for an excellent project. Nevertheless, it must be said that the specific courtyard, El Pati llimona, was a great location, with amazing characteristics by itself.
Trashcendint. Baixada de Viladecols. Master of Architecture Lighting Design. UPC School
While the idea of giving a chilly and misterious ambiance to the site definitely hit the target, it was a pity that too many effects were displayed at the same time, disconcerting the viewer’s attention. It was clearly a very impressing intervention but it lacked some elegance and, mostly, control.
La llum tafanera (the inquisitive light) Palau Mercader. IAAC. Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia.
Unfortunately, this specific example did not support the idea of The IAAC producing interesting projects and being a serious architecture school. The intervention was focused on a sphere with colourful light inside and holes at the surface that moved vertically through the space of the courtyard. The main comment heard around was its resemblance with an old fashioned night club ball. This intervention would clearly be placed into the group of projects that focused on the object and produced “lamps”. Its small scale in relation with the space, the irregular vertical displacement and doubtful materialisation made everyone wonder were the budget of the project ended up going exactly. However, the effect seen in pictures is much more interesting than the reality and succeeded achieving the initial intention of the project. At least, for those who did not have the occasion of being there, the impression will be positive.
Alétheia. Palau Centelles. ETSAB. Superior Technical School of Architecture of Barcelona.
In this case, we could observe another example of a project that clearly focused on the object and, therefore, also created a big lamp, situated at the centre of the space. Therefore, the focus was given to the materialistic part of the intervention and not that much to the light as a source of effect. Moreover, when taking a look at the proposal one could get the impression that it could have been placed anywhere else, as it did not establish a direct relation with the courtyard.
However, the final lighting effect achieved, although with less thoughtful intention than in other cases, created a pleasant and interesting result. Compared with the other cases exploiting the “lamp technique”, this one clearly achieved a higher quality regarding the lighting impression. Moreover, when reading the description, one can learn that the shape of the central “object” was a result of a conceptualisation of the palace “Centelles” rooms, the building where the courtyard is placed. Therefore, it did have a relation with the location, even if it might have been difficult to understand at first glance.
Spatium Fugit. Casa de l’Ardiaca. Massana School. Center of Art and Design.
Orange balloons with light inside were progressively introduced to fill in the space. The idea seemed very appealing at first glance, and the possibility of understanding the patio with the third dimension of the space was also interesting. Moreover, its concept had the intention of creating a connection with the story of Santa Eulàlia.
However, in the renders displayed before the intervention, these balloons were arranged in a 3d settlement while, in the real outcome, the only item holding them was a net on top of the courtyard, which made it impossible to achieve the tridimensional atmosphere initially desired. It was a pity that a very simple but interesting idea failed to achieve its full materialisation for a lack of appropriate assembly.
Dins L’univers (inside the universe) Verger del Museu Frederic Marès. IED. Master in Interiors Design.
This intervention was another example of the cases that focused on creating big lamp in the middle of the space. The courtyard assigned to this group was very appealing, with lush vegetation that gave it a more romantic character than other cases. It was disappointing that the project took the direction of not enhancing its interesting surroundings and focusing only on itself as a displayed article. A clear indication of its egocentric nature was that it could have been placed elsewhere without problems. Although I understand the effect they wanted to achieve in the surroundings, it was a little bit lost by the object in itself.
Resistència (resistance). Porxo del Saló del Tinell. ESAD. Superior School of Dramatic Art. Theater Institute.
Being unable to see this intervention from inside the porch because of the lack of time and huge cue outside, I find myself reticent to give a clear opinion about it. In any case, I thought it was interesting considering that it was one of the few projects that tried to connect the light with Santa Eulàlia, in this case with the 13 martyrdoms the saint suffered. My question lies if it was important to enter the porch to understand fully the intervention or if it was thought to be seen from outside.
Bany de Roig (Red bath). Palau del Lloctinent. Master in Design and Production of Spaces. UPC School-CCCB
Red Bath would probably have reached a much greater delicate beauty without the red in it. The intervention had two main parts, firstly a red light that enveloped the first floor of the courtyard’s porch and gave the name to the title and, secondly, a cloud of hanging green leds in the middle of the patio accompanied by small green lights in the floor with the aspect of fireflies.
The performance was supposed to be seen only from the first floor, with black fabric covering the route to the stairs. The part of the green small lights was of an extreme subtlety and delicacy, however, the presence of the red light diminished its effect and also made perceivable the set up behind the effect. On the other hand, the impression of the red bath that filled the first floor was also an interesting bet, with an impressing outcome but, unfortunately, incompatible with the tiny subtility of the green fireflies. Sometimes, when working with light, it is important to focus on one wanted effect and avoid overlapping different systems that might perturb each other.
Incomoditat sensorial (sensorial discomfort). EINA. University Center of Design and Art of Barcelona (UAB)
The idea of using domestic fans with light attached to create an ambiance of moving insecurity is clearly witty. The result was a funny succession of turning lollipops climbing the courtyards stairs. However, one wonders if a cleaner set up could not be achieved with the assigned budget and if a more thoughtful distribution of positions and colours would have accomplished a more elegant result.
Metre I mig (one meter and a half) Picasso Museum. Palau Finestres. LA SALLE Architecture.
One meter and a half recreates an ambient of colours mist inside the courtyard of Picasso museum, with the aim of tinting the ambiance with the colours used by Picasso. Although with a very interesting and thrilling effect and an accurate and precise assembly, this intervention has a very huge failure. A quick look at the work of Olafur Eliasson gives a clear idea of the problem. Taking good references is always a safe way to achieve greater results, however it is important not to forget citing the source, especially when an image of a specific author is used in your own poster of promotion.
Anhel (desire) Palau del Marquès de Lió. DEIÀ. School of Art and Superior Design.
While the effect achieved by the hanging of reflecting pieces in the middle of the courtyard was appealing, it would probably have been better to focus more on the impression and less in the object that, somehow, steals its importance.
Path Box Palau Mercader. LLOTJA. Escola Superior d’Art i Disseny
Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the last courtyard but, to end the article, I would like to also add a picture of this intervention, which, I am sure, was as attracting as all the other I had the pleasure of enjoying.
Author: Glòria Serra Coch