Project team:

Client: Department for Construction and Transport Basel-City, Urban Development and Architecture, Building Department
Architecture: Christ & Gantenbein
Execution: Peter Stocker AG Baumanagement
Construction management: FS Architekten GmbH
Lighting design light frieze: iart ag;

Products applied:
SMD LEDs (6000K), mounted on flat profiles

12. Jul 2017

The light frieze on the Kunstmuseum in Basel/CH.

Text: Jo-Eike Vormittag
Photos: Derek Li Wan Po, Basel

Solid facades are made of bricks. They are pieced together, brick by brick, and fixed firmly in place using cement or mortar. The result to the onlooker is a rough but sturdy and textured wall. Bricks and wood were among the first building materials ever, applied thousands of years ago to create the first settlements, to be further developed over the years right up to the present day. Fired brick walls, regardless of type or colour, have a special quality that responds outstandingly to natural light. This feature has been exploited to immense effect on the facade of the new extension to the Kunstmuseum (art museum) in Basel by adding an LED lighting component and transforming it into a unique media facade.

The new polygonal-shaped, grey stone building, which contrasts significantly with the existing museum building, is located in the city centre at a large intersection connecting five streets. A true eye-catcher that stands out against the urban backdrop of the Swiss city. That said, at first glance the building envelope comes across as plain and simple as far as form, colour and overall effect are concerned. It certainly stands out, but is simultaneously hugely inconspicuous. It does not immediately give the impression that it is part of a renowned museum and houses works of art and items of cultural heritage. It could be easily be interpreted as something as functional and pragmatic as a multi-storey car park. The illusion it creates – whatever analogy springs to mind – is the outcome of a finely tuned symbiosis of stone and light, a building envelope featuring cleverly applied materials.

Whereas the main section of the facade up to a height of twelve metres comprises classic rectangular grey bricks, above that a special three-metre high frieze encircles the building, whereby a concave groove has been worked lengthwise into the eightcentimetre high bricks. It is these grooves that play a key role for what the frieze is designed to “trigger”. The 40 horizontal grooves generate a fine relief across the seven facade segments. White LEDs spaced 22 millimetres apart are mounted in the grooves so they cannot be seen from the street. When the light is reflected by the bricks that make up the frieze the effect is one of soft, diffuse lighting across the façade surface. Each of the horizontal grooves disposes over 1306 pixels, the resulting total resolution thus being 1306 x 40 pixels. The spacing between the individual LEDs is 22 millimetres, whereby groups of four adjacent LEDs define each pixel. The frieze becomes a light frieze, which in turn can be translated into a new form of media facade that not only communicates museum news to the wider public, but is a key design feature of the new museum building.

A museum of world renown therefore succeeds in attracting attention to the art heritage and exhibitions it contains, but also in transporting its “inner workings” to the world at large. But even before the artificial light comes into play, lending itself to creating text and graphics, it is the sunlight over the day that the frieze exploits to an optimum, creating a powerfully poetic play of light and shadow, which changes corresponding to the daylight conditions. At the same time, these daylight effects provide a source of reference with regard to the luminous intensity of the LEDs integrated into the facade.

The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 105 as well as in our PLD magazine app (iPad App Store).


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