SCHOOL Columbia University, Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation
STUDIO/SEMESTER Light, Materials and Perception, Fall 2006
PROJECT Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation's 125th Anniversary Gala
FACULTY Linnaea Tillett, professor; Seth Tillett, guest instructor; Mark Wigley, dean
STUDENTS Yong-Sung Ahn, Candy Chang, Kay Cheng, Eunsuk Choi, Madhavi Jandhyala, Chian-Ju Ku, Wai Yin Leung, Chia-yu Li, Jin Woo Lim, Susan Oh, Iason Pantazis, Benjamin Porto, Citra Soedarsono, Christine Yogiaman
In May 2006, Linnaea Tillett was approached by Mark Wigley, dean of the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP), who was interested in Tillett designing the light installation for Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture's 125th Anniversary Gala. The gala was to be held in the main hall of Columbia's Low Library Rotunda, Low Library being one of the university's most significant and oldest buildings, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. During the day, this vast open space is beautifully lit by rays of sunlight that pour through enormous two-story windows. By night the light is dim and austere with the majority of the lighting provided by one large fixture tucked into the center of the library's dome, 70 feet above a black marble floor.
After exploring the constraints of the project—limited budget, the inability to attach lighting to the walls, the marble surface's repelling of light, and the lack of available power—Wigley and Tillett agreed that the circumstances would be an ideal challenge for students. The result was the creation of a lighting course for Columbia architecture students who would participate in the design process with Tillett and her colleagues and install the lighting for the event.
Beginning in September 2006 with a set installation date of October 30, 2006, Tillett and her colleagues from New York City-based lighting design firm Tar Design worked with students to transform Low Library's Rotunda into a celebratory luminous environment. The approach selected utilized the creative design process, not just technology, to realize an installation that achieved maximum effect with minimal resources.
After much analysis of the site conditions and consideration of the theme for the evening—architecture looks forward and back—the students and instructors opted to design a kite that would attach to the existing light fixture in the rotunda's dome. Made of a 21st-century material, 3M radiant light film CM500, whose properties both reflect and refract light, the kite was affixed to 20th-century lightweight carbon rods manufactured by the kite industry. In turn, the kite was attached by fishing line to the existing center light fixture, cross-lit with a small number of metal halide Altman Spectra PAR lamps and top-lit with the existing center luminaire's PAR38 lamps. The fishing line also served as the mechanism by which the kite was lowered and raised for installation.
The vast space was temporally yet appreciably altered through a negligible footprint that weighed less than 60 pounds, used no additional electrical power, required no installation construction, and fit within the party budget. As a result, for a brief moment—a single evening—an atmosphere of delight, where lightwaves are amplified through reflection and refraction, was successfully and artistically created.