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One Central Park, Sydney, Australia

Issue 80 August / September 2014 : Architecture : Installation

Project Artist: YANN KERSALE Lighting Consultants: ARUP

Atelier Jean Nouvel’s new One Central Park building in Sydney’s CBD combines an array of elements designed to engender a positive response at a human scale. Key among these is the giant heliostat that juts from the site’s 29th floor, redistributing sunlight during the day and providing the 100m-high setting for a new light art installation by Yann Kersalé.

As a rule, the more unusual and adventurous a building’s architecture, the more likely it is to split opinion, attract public scorn and even – when a big name practice is behind the plans - draw accusations of ‘starchitectural vanity’. On paper, then, the new One Central Park development in Sydney might seem a prime target for a local lynching: a large-scale, $2 billion commercial development in the heart of the city, designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel, crowned by an unusual, cantilevered heliostat structure, protruding from the 29th floor of its highest tower.

In reality, the new complex of buildings has been given an almost universally warm welcome – a testament to the skills and vision of the entire project team, from clients and architects through to contractors and public art commissioners. Instead of presenting an aloof and indifferent front to the surrounding neighbourhood, the entire scheme has been dressed with idiosyncratic touches designed to help it engage with its environment on a human scale; features like the vertical gardens that envelop the façade and the giant heliostat system of mirrored panels that deliver a dappled light to the adjacent semi-public park space.

The heliostat was introduced as an integral architectural component by concept architects Atelier Jean Nouvel, working with local partner PTW. It comprises two sets of fixed and motorised mirrored panels that work together to collect and redistribute sunlight throughout the day. Consequently, external areas that would otherwise have been lost in the shadow of the surrounding buildings have a direct connection with the sun and an internal atrium within the One Central Park complex can receive natural daylight via its glazed ceiling.

The upper section of the heliostat has been given a further role as the structural canvas for a permanent light installation by project artist Yann Kersale, a long-time collaborator on Jean Nouvel projects. The gently rolling dance of this new piece - dubbed ‘Sea Mirror’ - provided engineers and lighting specialists an added layer of complexity to an already challenging system/construction.

In 2010, the property developers - Frasers Property Australia in a joint venture with Sekisui House Australia – commissioned heliostat specialists Kennovations to assess the technical feasibility of the project. It was the start of a series of extensive investments in custom designs, prototyping, manufacturing and assembly that resulted in the final system.

“This is the first architectural heliostat project of this scale we have engaged in,” says Tim Phillips, Kennovations’ General Manager. “While we have a background in heliostat design and manufacture for the solar industry, One Central Park was the first of its kind in terms of primarily being a public artwork display. The challenging scope of work and unique deliverables gave us a keen desire to explore new architectural opportunities.”

Device Logic was another key stakeholder in the development of the system, supplying the software that manages the sun-tracking heliostats. Each heliostat is motorised and programmed to track the sun and reflect sunlight towards predetermined targets. Such technology requires perfect precision and timing in order for the targets to receive the reflected light at the appointed time of day.

Forty of these sun-tracking, 6.2sqm mirrored panels are positioned on the roof of the shorter One Central Park West tower. Sunlight is directed up to a second plane of mirrors, attached beneath a 24m wide, cantilevered framework that extends 28 metres outwards from the side of One Central Park’s East tower. Floating 100 metres above the ground, this upper section supports 320 reflector panels, 1.5sqm in size, which throw the light down to the park precinct, in through the atrium roof and towards the site’s outdoor pool area.

It is within this upper tier of tiles that Kersalé’s Sea Mirror (or ‘Miroir de Mer’ in the artist’s native French) is interwoven. Each of the 1.5sqm panels is fitted with nine tri-chromatic LED nodes from Philips Color Kinetics, placed into a custom harness to allow wider spacing of the light points. Every two panels shares a power supply with its own URL.

A DVI video file provided by Kersalé is input into a video system manager that transports the information through Ethernet protocol (KiNET) to the power supplies, where it is converted into DMX signal for each individual LED. In total, 2880 LED nodes combine to create the finished installation.

The result is a swelling, rippling, sparkling display that brings the heliostat back to life after the sun has set: five 30-second lighting ‘performances’ that run on regular rotation from dusk until 10pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Thematically, Kersalé took his inspiration from Sydney Harbour and the changing colours of the sunlight as it reflects off the water throughout the four seasons.

“Sydney’s harbour is mythical for the sailing universe and, being a sailor myself, the opportunity to capture the sea in this way and reflect it indirectly on the heliostat, constitutes the grounds for this geo-poetical signal,” explains Kersalé.

“A rotating series of images of reflections of the sun on the water will take shape via lights on the heliostat. The variations will be in relation to the shades and colour tones of Sydney’s harbour. It will not be a live projection but a capture of sea substance and light sparkles on site, which will then be worked on. They can relate to seasons or can be a game of opposites; i.e. the light emanating from a summer sun in the middle of winter.

“It is symbolic not only of Sydney, but the whole of Australia and the sea that surrounds it.”

Arup were part of the team given the difficult task of realising Kersalé’s vision.

“The major challenge of this design was in converting the original 16:9 video from Yann Kersale into the more square formation of the mirrors, having an abstract video while retaining the original artist’s intent,” says Carter Leung, Senior Lighting Designer at Arup. “Selecting the right product was crucial and having a skilled supplier like Xenian helped.”

Another challenge the team faced was selecting a product with the appropriate output to achieve the required visual impact while having minimal obtrusive effect to the residential spaces directly adjacent to it. In 2011, Arup carried out a 1:1 mock-up at the site, bringing together the whole design team (along with Frasers Property Chairman Dr Stanley Quek) to evaluate the product.

Since its unveiling in December last year, the Sea Mirror has become a beacon not just for the One Central Park site, but for the whole southern CBD area and its continued evolution. By 2015, $2 billion of investment will have been added within 500 metres of One Central Park, including buildings from Frank Gehry and Norman Foster, alongside some of Australia’s best architects. Kersalé’s installation provides a rippling heart to this rejuvenation process, forging a connection not only with the harbour, but also with the people of Sydney.


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