The Use of Colour and LED Lights in Public Digital Art

This case study style post is a bit more in depth than some of the other work we have placed on our blog, but is highly relevant to the evolution of art that we all know and love. It looks at how colour and LED lighting are being used in public digital art in the context of two city shopping districts in Australia; the Wintergarden Façade in Queen Street Mall Brisbane and Rundle Lantern in Rundle Mall Adelaide. This post aims to highlight interesting light and colour techniques used by Australian digital artists in building facades. It also aims to give budding artists and designers a framework in order to influence their own work. Throughout this post we use the term “digital media” to mean tools such as computer technology and internet that are used to produce art or any creative outcomes.

Background

Colour and lighting has been a topic in different fields, such as psychology, physics, chemistry, optics, vision, engineering, visual arts, graphic design, urban studies, interior design and architecture. Within the field of architecture, colour and light are considered to be an important means of expression. Colour and light are an integral part of our built environment expressing the character and culture of its people. It can create a distinct sense of place. Colour and light in the built environment may positively affect the quality of design by promoting emotions such as pleasure and arousal; or negatively affect the quality of design by promoting negative emotions such as distress and depression. Perhaps most importantly, colour and light communicates a cultural identity bound in history and tradition.

Advances in computer hardware and LED Lighting in the last few years allow much greater realism in digital art. The complexity and size of digital art also have increased dramatically and is evident in most of the Australian city shopping precincts. LED Arts utilizing LED strip lights, LED Downlights and other types of mood lighting in the public sphere has only really been made viable for councils due to the creation of low energy LED lighting solutions. This can be seen throughout the world and are commonly seen on unique landmarks such as the Story Bridge in Brisbane and the Sydney Opera House.

Smart skins, programmable surfaces, responsive facades, and interactive building envelopes are active research areas in architectural design that are bringing the gap between the traditional static world of architecture with recent paradigms from human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing and tangible interface designas described by P. Green-Armytage. The enquiry arises from the current digital phenomena in Australia. It is evident that the society is changing its taste from traditional art to digital art.

What is Public Digital Art?

Public Digital Art is defined by Bruce Wands as work made using technology like the internet, computers, information technology, virtual environments, sound engineering, and more. Building facades in Australian city shopping districts have embraced digital art in many capacities and has become an established part of these environments.

We decided to approach the two properties with a number of key questions in mind:

  • How does the geography of two different Australian cities affect the choice of colour and light in public digital art?
  • Do different cultures prefer different levels of light and colour mixes? i.e. strobing light, ambient light.

Literature Covering Digital Art

Lois Swirnoff, author of the book, “The Color of Cities: an international perspective” is also known as a colour consultant and passionate promoter of colour as a primary design issue. The vignettes featured in her book reveal how cultural influences and environmental conditions impact regional colour preferences in architectural expression. This literature has unravelled that:

  • People’s collective colour reactions to their surrounding environment were developed as a manifestation of extended exposure of the eye and brain to the conditions of the environment
  • Everyone living in the same region has similar reactions to the qualities of light and local colour in their environment; therefore common colours arise in the region.
  • Colour is considered as a geographic marker.
  • Regional colours reveal the global range and diversity of vernacular expression.

Another school of thought was from Janelle Cugley, a lecturer from Curtin University in Western Australia. She suggested that seeing and knowing the natural environment of a region may reveal a palette that may not only regenerate the sustainable health of a community when placed back as design interpretations, but also re-unite us with our natural world.

The Case Study

Our keen artists made an investigation of two building facades in two different Australian city shopping district; Wintergarden Façade in Queen Street Mall Brisbane and Rundle Lantern in Rundle Mall Adelaide. The digital arts were produced by two different artist groups. Investigations were made in the geographical and cultural context of the usage of colour and light.

Our case study revealed differences and similarities in the use of colour and light between the two building facades.

Wintergarden Façade
Rundle Lantern 
  Queen Street Mall, Brisbane Rundle Mall, Adelaide

Lighting Technique

Description Light is used to energise the scene of the rich language of cutting, scoring and folding of the cladding structure. The Lantern’s unique designs are driven by computer software that showcase colourful and dynamic moving imagery and digital art works by night and creates a contemporary architectural experience during the day.
Lighting Type A low resolution integrated LED lighting system that can change from a snowstorm through to the bursting of spring, into summer and finally into autumn, all within a single night. The LEDs can create any configuration of 16million colours that are reflected upwards onto 748 aluminium panels of 1,1 x 1 m.
 Colour Technique Running Light Running Light
Wintergarden uses an expansive pallete of colours.Cladding Structure: pastel coloursLighting: mixture of cool and warm colours

Main Structure: WhiteLighting: mixture of cool and warm colours

Wintergarden Shopping Centre in central Brisbane is a creative application of a coherent identity and architecturally holistic sensibility in order to realise a multitude of intentions – to create an entertaining and engaging retail experience, a lifestyle destination and a ‘must-visit’ meeting place and thoroughfare – at the heart of Brisbane’s city centre. It was a product of the collaboration of a group called Studio 505, led by John Warwicker, the artist consultant.

The Rundle Lantern was created by Fusion group with the design strategy focused on creating a ‘lantern’ for the city to use as a dynamic cultural canvas. The LED art is highly manipulative and can produce a range of different colours within seconds. Looking at these two structures revealed differences and similarities in the use of colour and light between the two building facades.

Similarities

Our case study exposed that both digital art installations featured patterned LED light work. The Wintergarden Façade and Rundle Lantern have “Light” spatial impact. The digital arts featured on both of the building facades are trendy, inviting, playful, bright and active. Wintergarden Façade scored 719 in lightness and 611 in heaviness. Rundle Lantern scored 1,020 in lightness and 182 in heaviness. Both public digital art installations demonstrate “light” impact to people interacting in the space, which of course is the aim of the LED lighting art works.

Differences

Through our case study, it was discovered that Wintergarden features a low resolution integrated lighting used to energise the scene of the already rich language of cutting, scoring and folding of the cladding structure. The Rundle Lantern uses LED strip lights which can create any configuration of 16 million colours that are reflected upwards onto 748 aluminium panels of 1.1m x 1m. The Lantern’s unique designs are driven by computer software that showcase colourful and dynamic moving imagery and digital art works by night and creates a contemporary architectural experience during the day. The LED strip lights are environmentally friendly and only require a low amount of energy to be powered each day as they are all solar powered and 100% carbon neutral.

In terms of colour technique, Wintergarden uses a mixture of cool and warm colour LED flood lights in their integrated LED lighting to contrast the pastel colour used for the cladding structure. Rundle Lantern uses muted colour for the main structure, in this case white, and uses a mixture of cool and warm coloured LED lights to bring life to the installation.

In total, Wintergarden Façade scored 719 in lightness and 611 in heaviness. Rundle Lantern scored 1,020 in lightness and 182 in heaviness. The differences reveal an interesting cultural insight to the City of Brisbane and City of Adelaide. It can be argued that Adelaide, being a smaller city compared to Brisbane has a more soothing taste in the use of light and colour.

Brisbane’s Wintergarden was depicted as being florid, obtrusive, chaotic, ambiguous, unsettling, cramped, hard, oppressive and stuffy. The cutting, scoring and folding of the cladding structure is responsible for this perception.

On the other hand, Rundle Lantern is perceived as being understated, unobtrusive, ordered, straightforward, soothing, expansive, soft, liberating, airy and light. The use of white main structure and computer-aided light configuration through automated LED strip lights contributes to this view.

Both public digital art installations express a trendy, inviting, playful, bright and active character. It was achieved by the use of different coloured LED lighting. Yet Rundle Lantern is perceived as more soothing and liberating compared to Wintergarden.

Final Thoughts

The Wintergarden Façade and Rundle Lantern drew from various forms of local knowledge, celebrated it back into the palette suggestion which then informed the design reflections of the digital arts. The different colours used in both digital arts represent the diverse ethnic group present in both cities. Climate qualities have an immense effect on the quality of light and colour being projected in public digital arts.

This post tries to provide a framework in which designers can draw inspirations from and to influence their choice of light and colour for their own LED design project. It has been established that different regions in the world or even different cities within a country has a different colour palette that commonly arise. Different cultural groups have a diverse vernacular expression. Designers must cultivate a rigorous process of critical observation at the onset of a project to make sure their work is enjoyed by the people it is made for.