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Spectacular illumination of iconic Utzon Center

Creating identity through light: A cooperation between ÅF Lighting and SGM Light

In connection with this year’s Architecture Festival in Aalborg, Denmark, ÅF Lighting was given the task to illuminate the characteristic Utzon Center, located at the harbour front in Aalborg. The festival aims at investigating how architecture influences our life and cities - and vices versa. City authorities, professionals and educational institutions aim at informing and opening up a dialog through installations, guided tours and lectures. This year’s theme for Aalborg Architecture Festival was “Architecture as Identity”.

Light plays an important role in shaping, enhancing and revealing architecture and influences the way of how we perceive and interact with our city environment. The Utzon Center, designed by the famous Danish architect Jørn Utzon, is a distinct building at the harbour front in Aalborg where architecture, design, art and people meet. The building’s design expresses Jørn Utzon’s passion for the sea, sailing, nature and sky as well as his close connection with the maritime environment in Aalborg, where he grew up. The characteristic roof shapes can be seen from far away and create an easy recognisable expression for the building.

ÅF Lighting was contacted by the municipality of Aalborg with the request to create a special light setting for the Utzon Center during the festival days (nights) that would stage the fantastic architecture of the building and create a spectacular eye-catcher and visual experience for the visitors and inhabitants. “Utzon Center is an iconic building in Aalborg and a fantastic canvas but also a great challenge for a Lighting Designer due to its complex structure.” says Johannes Møjen, Lighting Designer M.Sc. at ÅF Lighting.

The lighting project aimed at visualising Jørn Utzon’s relation to the maritime environment, the sea and sky at Limfjorden and his various impressions of nature throughout his sailing trips. “The characteristic rooftops and skylights were used to create a visual reference to the sea and the sky. The large curvy rooftops represented majestic sails on a ship, while the skylights formed a wavy sea.” explains Johannes Møjen. ÅF Lighting developed different lighting compositions, using colour tones and visual effects, to create varying expressions and stories for the building. The regular skylights were illuminated with two harmonising colour tones to create a three-dimensionality and changing perspectives for the viewers. The skylights formed a strong base for the dynamic light settings of the curved roofs in complementary colours and matching visual effects. The building was transformed from a mystical underwater environment to a sunset scenario, where light and architecture complemented each other. Five lighting scenarios were programmed and changed the building’s expression every 10 min.

In order to carry out this ambitious event lighting installation within a relatively short timeframe ÅF Lighting was looking for a manufacturer to team up with. “We were looking for a company both able to offer the right equipment and being competent and interested in participating in an event lighting project of this scale. SGM was a natural choice, as we have good working experiences from previous projects and know that their products can meet our requirements and design ideas. A project with such public exposure requires a reliable partner with a matching range of luminaires.” says Franziska Holmsted, Lighting Designer M.A. and Project Manager at ÅF Lighting.

After agreeing on teaming up with SGM, ÅF Lighting developed the lighting concept and sent a proposal for luminaires and placements in order to create a holistic staging of the characteristic roof tops and skylights. SGM was responsible for the planning and setup on the site ensuring that all luminaires were wired and fully controllable. Two days before the festival, ÅF Lighting and SGM met on site to program the different light settings. “When we arrived in Aalborg, SGM had done a great job with setting up the equipment, so we could focus on defining the different lighting scenes. It was a rare pleasure to participate in an event lighting project where everything was prepared and worked according to plan.” concludes Franziska Holmsted.

SGM’s P-2 and Q-7 luminaires were used for the illumination of the regular skylights in two corresponding colours tones. The large roof top facing the water was illuminated from both sides with P-5 luminaires (43 degrees) and the other two curved roofs were staged with G-Spot gobo projectors. All luminaires were individually controllable, allowing various colour combinations and dynamic lighting effects. A single G-1 Beam was used in the inner yard to create a light carpet from the door towards the centre.

In addition to the illumination of the Utzon Center, the team on site (ÅF Lighting and SGM) spontaneously decided, by request of the municipality, to take up the challenge to illuminate the municipality building, Stigsborg, on the opposite site of Limfjorden. The challenge was met by using four SGM G-1 Beam and one SGM i-2 Red to enhance the building during the festival.

In order to protect the installation towards theft and vandalism, all fixtures were placed on the roof surfaces, which also eliminated the risk of visible light sources and glare. An important parameter to ensure that the lighting effects can be perceived undisturbed and the lighting project has a high visual quality, regardless that it was a temporary installation.

From sunset to sunrise, ÅF Lighting and SGM tried out different colour combinations and visual effects and defined five lighting settings, which varied the visual expression of the building during the festival nights. Starting with the colour combination for the skylights, the large curved roofs were staged with matching colour tones and projections with relation to the sea, sky and maritime environment at Limfjorden.  SGM was responsible for the programming and were on site during the opening together with lighting designer Johannes Møjen to ensure that everything worked according to plan. After a successful festival, SGM organized the demounting of the installation. As a personal evaluation of the project Franziska Holmsted summarizes: “It was a pleasure working together with skilled people who share the same enthusiasm for light and are eager to explore the possibilities for creating and altering the visual identity of our built environment at night.”

Info: Aalborg Architecture Festival is a collaboration between the municipality of Aalborg, Copenhagen Architecture Festival, C.F. Møller, Akademisk Arkitektforening Nordjylland, Nordjyske Planlæggere, Arkitektur & Design education at Aalborg Universitet, Stigsborg Havnefront, Himmerland Boligforening and Utzon Center.


Photos: Sigurd Van Haven and ÅF Lighting/Johannes Møjen