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Agbar Tower, Barcelona, Spain

Issue 31 Jun / Jul 2006 : Architectural : Façade


Vincent Laganier talks to Yann Kersallé, the light artist behind Jean Nouvel’s masterpiece in Barcelona, about his experiment with diffraction...

From the hand of French architect Jean Nouvel, a new style of architecture has been born in Barcelona. Built in association with the Spanish company b720 Arquitectura, the 142-metre high building containing rentable office space overlooks the Plaza de Las Glorias Catalanas. The uppermost floors are reserved for the Head Office of the Agbar Group, a holding company involved mainly in the fields of water supply, industrial certification, electrical installation and health insurance.
“The surface of the building is evocative of water : smooth, continuous but also shimmering and transparent,” explains Jean Nouvel. A double skin wraps the entire building : concrete covered in profiled, lacquered aluminium panels and glass louvre panels on top of a metal structure. The colour of the base of the tower is the orange of molten volcanic rock. As you reach the upper quarter of the tower, the colour fades from ultramarine to white, like a geyser. Graphic designer Alain Bony penned the original design.

Fabric of light

Within the framework of an architectural competition, French artist Yann Kersalé has proposed a dynamic lighting installation on the building’s façade: Diffraction. “I have worked on the polychromy of the boarding which makes up the first skin. It’s a range of tones upon tones, like the coloured tint in the etchings of the 19th C. A blue changes to indigo when red is added.
“This illusion of shimmering creates a constant variation in colour. All complementary colours should fluctuate, undulate and be apparent. My project also deals with the illusion of breathing light, less intense at the bottom, brightening to full intensity at the top. At the moment, it’s completely static. My task has been to spoil!” explains Yann Kersalé. The artist hopes to be involved with this soon.

Lighting technique

As a result of in situ comparative tests using fluorescent strip lights and high output LEDs, RGB trichromatic LED strips have been chosen. According to Yann Kersalé, “LEDs do not take up much space and are easily controlled. They use very little electricity and have an extremely long service life.”
On each floor, 120 lights have been installed between the metal uprights of the glass skin. There are 18 LEDs without optical collimators per installation - 6 red, 6 green, 6 blue – lighting the 3.7m height of each floor. A total of 4,500 strips are controlled via DMX 512 for a maximum consumption of 70 kW. Mirilec has designed hardware and software to control the 13,500 channels in 3-colour. A control computer with 4 Ethernet / DMX gateways, each with 8 DMX outputs, is used for this project.

Durable light

“With my projects, there is always an element of risk : if the client does not consider my work to be a work of plastic art, they feel as if they have bought a Game Boy! At night, we should see things differently to how we view them in the daytime.” In order to conform with “environmental criteria” and to limit the energy used by the tower, the illumination may only be viewed from Friday to Sunday, between 9pm and midnight during Summer.

The Agbar Auditorium

The Agbar Auditorium’s design is quite unique due to the need to avoid placing pillars in the audience and stage areas. The option taken was a double-curved concrete slab, voided by means of expanded polystyrene waffle pods that help resolve the problem of resistance and to a large extent shape the mound required by the architectural project.
ECLER, Martin Architectural’s Spanish representative, carried out the lighting project in conjunction with the architects, the first stages of which were completed in April 2005. The project is based on the lighting of the auditorium’s neutral coloured walls.
In the ‘pit’ area located between the side walls and the rows of seats, a double line of Martin Architectural Cyclo 03 full colour mixing fluorescent luminaires was placed. Cyclo 03 Directional units were also installed. In all, some 90 Cyclo units wash the auditorium’s walls in single colour, multi-colour, or variable white light, providing a versatile decorative element to the multi-use space.
Designed around a slim housing and based on dimmable T5 fluorescent lamps, the Cyclo 03 is a surface mounted fixture that uses RGB colour mixing to generate white light of any temperature, as well as virtually all colours and shades. Built-in DMX control ensures easy command of the RGB colour mixing.
The Agbar Tower Auditorium installation was carried out by EMTE in conjunction with Lunatus and ECLER. The control system was installed by the Mirelec company with Gepro and Master responsible for the engineering

technical information

Contracting authority: Agbar Group
Project leader: Immobiliaria Layetana
Architects: Atelier Jean Nouvel (AJN) and b720 Arquitectura
Light art: Atelier Yann Kersalé (AIK)
Electrical installer: Emte SA
Lighting companies: L3, Lightled
Lights: Lumileds Luxeon LEDs, 1W, red, green, blue
Control system: Mirilec SL
Photographs: AIK, Agbar Group



Lacquered aluminium panels and glass louvre panels currently add to the dynamism of the building. Kersalé hopes to increase this with diffraction: layers of tones upon tones


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