Glowing in the wind

Green installations which explore our relationship with the built environment are set to be big attractions during Architecture Week. Trish Lorenz looks forward to a wind-driven light display at London’s Southbank Centre

It’s the inevitable next step in the Green revolution: design art has co-opted eco themes. First up was the Urban Oasis, Chetwoods’ gold medal-winning garden design at the Chelsea Flower Show, followed by the Campana brothers’ exploration of sustainable materials with Transplastic at the Albion Gallery and now, for Architecture Week, enter the Jason Bruges Studio’s installation, Wind to Light.

Sited on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London’s Southbank Centre, Wind to Light is a highly visible, yet simultaneously subtle, intervention in this monolithic concrete landscape. Commissioned by the Royal Institute of British Architects London and Onedotzero, in conjunction with Southbank Centre Lightlab, Bruges has installed a series of tiny wind turbines, some as small as 50mm wide, across the roof of the hall. Each is equipped with individual LED lights that are powered by the wind. As soon as the breeze exceeds 8 km/h – possibly the only time in history that organisers of a public outdoor event will be praying for windy evenings – this field of light becomes a flickering, ephemeral, softly moving mass. Closer to a throng of fireflies than any man-made illumination, the light brightens, darkens and shifts as the breeze swings, much like a corn field in the wind. The motion may be subtle but it’s also powerful, hypnotic and hard to ignore.

Bruges describes the concept as an ‘electronic hedge or Green billboard’ and says he wanted to illustrate the idea that ‘architecture can be dynamic; it can be affected by the changing environment around it’.

‘It’s not about how much power we can generate,’ he says, ‘but more about what we can do to convert energy into something aesthetic; something that’s part of the built environment. We’re showcasing nature’s forces – the installation enables us to visualise gusts of wind around the building.’

This interaction with nature typifies Bruges’ work. Another recent project has seen him build a ‘ten-storey chandelier’ in London’s Spitalfields, designed to reflect the sky and the movement of the clouds.

Wind to Light is also about ‘exposing the creative potential of technology’, says Bruges, and in this relatively quiet, off-Biennale, Architecture Week there are other experimental events in a similar vein. For example, while Bruges toys with light, Portobello Space and Yorkshire Sculpture Park are trialling aural design with their joint Sonic Sheds installation.

Taking place in a shed next to London’s Portobello Road, Sonic Sheds investigates the impact of sound on our relationship with the built environment. Created by architect – and Resonance FM presenter – Amenity Space, the shed sees visitors transported to the countryside via sounds beamed in real time from an equivalent shed in Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Similarly, visitors to the other shed (who, it could be argued, get the raw end of the deal) will experience the noises surrounding the London site – from Portobello market, the Westway traffic and local youth enjoying a nearby skatepark.

Both installations are intriguing in the way they extend our concept of the boundaries of architecture and explore our multi-sensory relationship with the built environment.

Wind to Light can be seen above the Thames and the Southbank Centre, London SE1, during Architecture Week, from 15-24 June. There is also a talk by Jason Bruges at RIBA, 66 Portland Place, London W1, on 21 June

The Sonic Shed Project takes place at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield WF4 4LG and the Portobello Space, under the Westway by Portobello Road, London W10, from 15-24 June

Visit for details of both events

Latest articles