Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
An exhibit at the Venice Architecture Biennale demonstrates visionary technology that recreates the clear blue sky.
One intriguing-sounding exhibit at the 14th Venice Architecture Biennale, which opened to crowds this month, is a presentation on Renzo Zingone, a developer who built a utopian city outside Milan in the 1960s. "Monditalia: Z! Zingonia, mon amour" sounds like a fascinating show, as Zingonia prefigured some of the modern developments in the Garden City movement.
Like most of the exhibits put on by planners, architects, scholars, and historians for the Venice Architecture Biennale, "Z! Zingonia" is more than the straightforward presentation. If you've ever been fortunate enough to attend the festival, then you know to pay attention to every detail. The one's that making me really wish I could see it in person is the light.
"Z! Zingonia" features a prototype of a synthetic daylight system that—much like the work it illuminates—appears way ahead of its time.
CoeLux is an Italian-made optical system that uses LEDs to replicate daylight. Developed by Paolo Di Trapani, an Italian physicist at the University of Insubria, the system looks and behaves like a skylight, imitating the color of sunlight as it is filtered through a window—even imitating the movement of the sun through the sky.
At the Corderie dell'Arsenale (a 14th-century former rope factory within the Arsenale complex), curators Argot ou La Maison Mobile and Marco Biraghi invited CoeLux to build three faux-openings to the sky over the "Z! Zingonia" show. The sun tracks through these panels, crossing the sky, as it were, in real time with the actual summer sun shining down on the Arsenale over the course of the festival.
The technology uses LEDs and nano-technology to imitate Rayleigh scattering. That's the name for the scattering of sunlight off molecules in the atmosphere that makes the sky appear blue. By replicating this effect, the CoeLux installations convey the sky, not just the sun.
In recent years, forward-thinking lighting companies have worked to capture and transmit actual daylight into buildings. Huvco, Himawari, and other innovative manufacturers have developed luminaire technologies that collect daylight through exterior solar panels and transmit it to interior spaces using fiber-optic cables.
CoeLux is by comparison a trompe-l'œil tech: The skylight installations look more like daylight than other fiber optic–powered lamps, but they don't use daylight at all. By introducing the idea of sky into the lighting system, CoeLux boasts that it can manufacture different kinds of daylight—specifically Nordic, Mediterranean, and Tropical suns.
A little Mediterranean sun for your office doesn't sound bad, does it? The company lists almost every kind of interior as a space that could potentially benefit from the technology, from museums to hospitals to airports. (Finished basements weren't listed specifically, but that's what I'm thinking.)
Natural daylighting does come with some drawbacks (heat gain, heat loss, glare), so an alternative daylighting system would ostensibly avoid those. (CoeLux did not provide any retail pricing information, but peer technologies are pricey.) Of course, the main draw of faux-daylight is natural illumination in places where the sun don't shine—whether that's inside the Venetian Arsenale or your closest subway station.