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L’Avenue, Shanghai, China

Issue 81 October / November 2014 : Architectural : Façade

Lead Architect: LEIGH & ORANGE Architect: JUN AOKI Façade Design: ILLUMINATION PHYSICS

Australian lighting manufacturer Illumination Physics has collaborated with Japanese architect Jun Aoki to create the stunning media façade for this commercial tower in Shanghai.

L’Avenue, a high-end retail and office complex, is the first joint venture between luxury brand conglomerate LVMH (Moët Hennessy • Louis Vuitton) and the famous Macau gaming and Hong Kong real estate mogul, Stanley Ho. The result is a ‘destination’ high-class shopping mall that draws customers from far and wide due to its mass of high-end luxury brands. It is also a major landmark building in Shanghai which is no mean feat in a land of dazzling skyscrapers.

Japanese architect, Jun Aoki, is a regular collaborator for Louis Vuitton and L’Avenue is a luxury retail flagship in Shanghai. It seems he has been tasked to take branding to another level with the façade of L’Avenue. The tower rises out of a ‘necklace’ (actually a seismic collar) that forms the boundary between the sprawl of the podium and the vertical surfaces.

Peter Kemp and Simon McCartney of Illumination Physics (IP) were given the responsibility of providing a façade lighting solution for the building following a scheme by Chinese lighting design firm Relux & Relux. A logical and inevitable design concept had already been penned.

The tower and the upper skin of the podium were decorated with several thousand metal fins that overlap each other’s dimensions; odds and evens like a cross-stitch. The organic side of this serves to increase the metaphor of the building – they are like the scales of some creature.
Illumination Physics was handed the basis of a design. The aim was to realise it and make it better; more practical, more buildable and able to be integrated into the unforgiving process of construction that is often so unfriendly to the façade lighting specialist.

The fins varied in length at 6.5 metres (give or take). That in itself was not an issue but the width of 140 millimetres was a problem. The concept design proposed to use a string of pixels; LED nodes on a string of cable with an RGB driver at the head. This seems like the logical solution as the flexible cable enables one to cope with differing fin lengths. However, without a diffused layer between the viewer and the LED all one would see would be a row of dots. Thus, a layer of partially opaque acrylic was proposed for the front of the fins so as to even out the ‘dots’.

This structure was highly problematic because of the need to account for wind loads and the unstable nature of what is basically a flexible strata of plastic that would somehow need to be bonded to the aluminum. Access to the LED for maintenance was also a problem with this approach, as was ingress of water and grime. The fins could never be rated at IP65.

IP kept the essence of this visual concept but decided to stick with their normal technical approach requiring that the light fixtures be self-contained components that fitted into the metal fins and butted end-to-end to form a continuous display with no visible joints. Each and every fixture would be completely sealed against the elements and easily removable for maintenance if the need arose.

The width of the fins posed a structural challenge. Kemp and McCartney were instructed that the LED fixture must completely fill the width of the fin (140mm) which meant that they would be creating a metal/plastic composite LED fixture that was much wider than any they had previously designed. The structural integrity of the tube was an issue as was the huge volume. Under heating and cooling the air inside the tube would attempt to expand or contract according to Charles’s Law of Physics. Because the size of the tube was so large, this problem would be accentuated, unsustainably.

IP had already developed a family of direct view LED tube type products called IP BAR. The essential elements are a continuous PMMA extrusion for the diffused plastic tube over which an aluminum chassis is fitted for strength. The chassis provides the rigidity and the mounting interfaces with the building, but without the need for any penetration of the plastic extrusion. During heating and cooling, the different coefficients of expansion of aluminum and polycarbonate do not fight one another as the chassis is not bonded to the tube. IP had also dealt with the expansion and contraction of the trapped air within by using two Gore-Tex vents. Gas pressure could equalise with the environment and there would be neither negative nor positive pressure on the seals. IP Bar is most commonly sold as an RGB product although a white LED version is also available. Most importantly, IP take great care with binning to ensure that the RGB version can mix a pure white display. As a result, colour may be used on L’Avenue for special occasions but white would be the default.

“In our recent experience, the IP BAR family of product had been used in similarly large quantities on new façades before,” remembers McCartney. “If we could overcome the dimensional problems of up-sizing IP BAR to suit L’Avenue without increasing the cost, we were confident we could be on target.”

By sloping the sides of the LED tube, Illumination Physics created a stiffer structure that was better able to resist torsion. They also made the front face wide to fill the fins without compromising the structural integrity resulting in a fortuitous and critical advantage in this new profile. The truncated triangular section dramatically trimmed the volume of the fixture to the point that the two Gore-Tex vents could again cope with the expected expansion and contraction of the trapped air inside the new product. And so Illumination Physics had the basis of a workable design that they dubbed ‘IP BAR-LUX’.

Janine Dettki, a façade engineer who works for Josef Gartner, in Germany adapted the snap-in fixing technique in order to fix the IP BARs on to the façade. The snap-in is very strong and involves a spring steel hooked prong being forced into the narrowing throat of a toothed wedge until it snaps over the teeth. In this position the arrangement is very secure and the fixture cannot be pulled out. Removal requires a special tool to unload the spring before the teeth can disengage.
Unfortunately, whilst studying the plans closely it was discovered every one of the fins was a different length.

After the initial panic, Illumination Physics set out to find a solution. “If we could match the length of the fin to within 50mm with our LED luminaires, then that would be acceptable,” says McCartney. “The difference in length between the fin and the lighting would vary from zero to 50mm. To complete the fascia, an aluminum plate would be cut to size in order to make up the difference. During the day it would look perfect, at night the differences would not be noticeable.”

Illumination Physics created a family of variable length light fixtures that could be combined in a certain order so that it was possible to fill the differing fin lengths.

The façade for L’Avenue, complex as it is, is a unitised curtain wall system all the same. The façade is made up of a panel system in which the pieces were manufactured off site and then transported in batches to the building. In a predetermined order the panels were lifted from the ground by a hoist that could travel around the perimeter of a higher concrete floor (the temporary mono-rail). The panels were then stacked one upon the other and hung from metal brackets that had been cast into the concrete edge above (called ‘embeds’).

Effectively the panels are ‘hung’ in the same way as curtains are in a window, hence the name ‘curtain wall’.

The assembly sequence of the curtain wall panels dictated the cable network design because the lighting crew was required to keep in-step with the façade assembly crew. The location of the driver within each fin was driven by the need to reach it by hand as the assembly was lowered into position. Like a slower Formula One pit stop, each of the crew had his own task, practiced and coordinated with one another at the work site.

L’Avenue grasps your attention in a way that a rare and truly valuable art piece does. You cannot miss it and you cannot easily look away once you have been captivated.


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