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Galleria Centercity, Cheonan, Korea

Issue 64 Dec / Jan 2011/2 : Architecture : Media Façade

Architect: UNSTUDIO Lighting Design: AG LICHT, LIGHTLIFE

A collaboration between UNStudio, ag Licht, LightLife and Zumtobel has resulted in one of the biggest media façades in the world.

Located 80km from Seoul, the Galleria Centercity shopping mall in Cheonan dwarfs even the Galleria Department Store in the Korean capital, a project completed by UNStudio in 2004. This latest UNStudio creation is not only breathtaking in its scale – the media façade is a vast 12,600sqm – but the dynamic animations produced by more than 22,000 LED lighting points wrap the structure in a shimmering skin that stands out impressively against its urban setting. The high-power LED spotlights manufactured by Zumtobel and developed by lighting designers for the project, ag Licht, are designed to merge almost imperceptibly into the façade. The coloured lighting sequences that ripple across the surface of the building – sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly – exert a fascination on visitors to the mall.

“In Asia, people don’t just visit shopping malls in order to consume. In the Far East, shopping malls like Galleria Centercity are also a place for social interaction,” says Ben van Berkel, the architect in charge of the shopping mall and UNStudio’s director. This is why, when designing the building, the Amsterdam architecture firm took pains to ensure it was very user friendly. The shopping mall offers much more than merely opportunities to shop; it even provides various cultural meeting places.

“Shaping the shopping mall as a living space required, externally as well as internally, a unique, creative design force capable of attracting visitors, inviting them to linger and motivating them to return,” adds van Berkel.

Bonn-based ag Licht was responsible for the lighting design for both the interior and exterior of the Galleria with Cologne-based LightLife assisting them with the technical content and playback control of the façade. The scheme won the ‘Best New Project Award’ at the recent Professional Lighting Design Conference in Madrid when the judges stated that the project ‘... demonstrates the complete integration of a media installation into architecture, revealing no visible installation elements during daytime or night-time’.

The innovative LED structure is completely aligned with the form of the architecture and the lighting effects are achieved using light reflected from the façade elements. Both ag Licht and LightLife developed the lighting design, control and content production with UNStudio very early on in the design process.

The pixels are created by indirect lighting leading to a pleasant homogeneous image from nearby as well as from a distance. This differs from the majority of media facades that offer a direct view into the lighting fixture. Due to their low fill factor the impression of a uniform illuminated area arises only from a distance away.

Andreas Barthelmes, project manager for LightLife, explains the idea behind the façade design. “The façade was chosen to show videos with a low resolution. Two façade areas most frequently looked at were equipped with a higher resolution. Thus we could respond to some extent to the owner’s request to picture concrete images.”
Wilfried Kramb, project manager and co-founder of ag Licht, adds: “By selecting different kinds of resolution and LEDs we were able to meet both the technical requirements and the budget.”

The architects developed a special structure for the façade consisting of double asymmetrically overlaid and vertically arranged aluminium sections that create a moiré effect. The inner layer of lamellas consists of an aluminium panel. For the outer layer, the architects designed custom-built triangular sections fitted with toughened glass. This detail is particularly important when it comes to lighting effects because the RGB LED spotlights specially developed by Zumtobel are fully integrated into these sections on the outer façade. From there, light is projected onto the inner façade layer and reflected onto the surface of the building. This indirect, glare-free light makes it possible to convert the tightly focused LED lighting points into large-area picture elements or pixels. The three different types of pixels differ in terms of their various optics and resulting lighting effects: High-resolution 400 x 400mm pixels are used in the corners of the building, in places where straight surfaces blend into a corner, medium-resolution pixels are used.

Low-resolution 800 x 800mm pixels are perfect for the expansive dimensions of the building’s straight surfaces. Over 12,000 of the 22,399 luminaires used are 3.6W RGB luminaires, while the remaining units are 1.2W white luminaires. This wide-area indirect pixel concept guarantees extremely high efficiency in relation to the surface area to be illuminated as well as harmonious luminance levels.

Kramb states, “Our objective in setting the façade centre-stage was to illuminate this huge surface area in a manner that ensures that the overall impression of the building at night is in keeping with the impression it makes during the day. We wanted our lighting design to reflect the multi-layered nature of the façade and the interplay with overlapping sections. Ultimately, this is how the basic idea of projecting light from the façade sections onto the inner skin of the building came about. For us, the project posed the exciting challenge of developing an innovative idea capable of inspiring all those involved, bearing in mind the existing constraints.”

The e:cue DMX control system, installed by LightLife, ensures individual programming of individual LED spots and paints animations on the surface of the building accurately in every detail. The patch (mapping of the control address to the physical location of the luminaire) preparation is based on the façade layout. At this step technical issues like fixture address modes and the wiring diagram were considered. The patching also needed to be adjusted in close accordance with the animation draft. The layout of the patching was done in close connection to the video production thus guaranteeing a pixel-precise and smooth reproduction of the video, especially when the matrix has different resolutions.

The basis for the video content production was set up in Adobe’s ‘After Effects’ program with the data file providing information concerning patching and façade layout in the form of masks. On this basis the video content is animated with the help of various programs and finally rendered as a picture sequence with an adequate resolution for the video server.

Galleria Centercity is a striking example of how façades can become interactive elements of the urban landscape and the way in which urban spaces can be shaped by light – without this indirect, glare-free light causing any nuisance in adjacent areas of the town.

A more detailed version of this article appears in mondo*arc magazine. To subscribe, click here...


Photographs: Kim Yong Kwan

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