One of the fundamental services that lighting consultants provide is to optimize the interplay between light and material. While good lighting design provides the appropriate intensity, focus, coloration, and diversity of types of illumination for buildings, great lighting design also exhibits a keen awareness of the complex interactions between light and material surfaces, which elevates the experience of architecture and urban space.

The past decade has witnessed an explosion of new materials and technologies for architectural applications, many of which offer novel and unusual properties. Concerns about environmental sustainability—in addition to laboratory-developed advances in high performance materials—have driven the recent transformation in the building products industry. The result is an increasingly complex set of choices for architects and lighting designers, with a broad set of possible lighting and material interactions. Thus, it is important that practitioners become knowledgeable about these new technologies, since many of the products promise to alter the practice as well as the experience of building design.

Although the luminous program and the material program are often developed separately by lighting designers and architects, respectively, it is worthwhile to combine the two when assessing new light and material interactions. For the purposes of this article, these interactions may be considered in terms of four basic lighting principles: Transmit examines recent advances in material-based illumination technologies that emit light; propagate assesses new materials designed to transport, bend, and modify light; store ponders materials designed to harness energy from light for renewable power applications; and obstruct considers materials designed to filter and reduce luminance—particularly in glare-sensitive contexts.

Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs), like LEDs, pass electricity through semiconductors. Unlike LEDs, their organic structure broadens their development potential. In its pursuit to make OLEDs more accessible, Philips has developed a fixture called Lumiblade. It offers diffuse, planar illumination in a compact 15-cm by 15-cm by 1.8-mm luminaire with brightness of 1,000 cd/m² and a lifetime of approximately 10,000 hours. Philips' Lumiblade Creative Lab program encourages experimentation and facilitates access to this technology.

Flip is an interactive luminaire made of translucent silicone, a high-intensity LED, a rechargeable battery, and an equilibrium sensor. It explores the mobility of LEDs in an untethered, tactile interface that changes color when rotated, allowing the user to find any color in the visible spectrum. Multichromatic light animations can be made by spinning, rolling, or tossing the sphere. Flip will be commercially available in December.

Jali Cascata Zari
Sensitile's new material is a polymethyl methacrylate structured panel constructed as a 3D matrix of light pipes with a dichroic film layer backing. The material migrates light within shade based on the principle of total internal reflection in fiber optics—causing shadows that fall on its surface to deconstruct and shape-shift. Jali Cascata Zari redirects and scatters incoming light and color, creating cascading visual effects.

Sensitive Apertures
Sensitive Apertures is a reinterpretation of the window, and it is suitable for extreme climates in which thermal performance is critical. Consisting of cellular ceramic light modules, the system is a modular slip-cast ceramic building skin intended to filter small amounts of light. Based on a tetrahedral structure, the refractive glass aperture refracts sunlight and projects it within the cell's interior surface, creating an even, luminous glow.

Brooklyn-based SMIT developed the Grow power-harnessing surface using UV-stable polyethylene and an organic photovoltaic (OPV) film called power plastic. Power plastic is a lightweight, flexible film made of multiple nanostructured layers of OPV that converts light to energy, and its sensitivity to a broader light spectrum than conventional solar cells allows it to derive power from all visible light sources. Due to the light weight and flexibility of the OPV material, Grow may be easily mounted to existing building façades in order to add low-cost renewable energy capability.

Based on the successful installation of a zero-energy media façade in Beijing, Simone Giostra has developed a new building envelope technology called SolPix. The system is a solar-powered and sun-shading media wall that combines photovoltaic cells, medium-resolution LED lighting, and extruded-aluminum framing to create an advanced interactive façade. SolPix is a transparent media wall that uses integral responsive software to adjust energy harnessing, solar shading, and digital content display dynamically, and its light-transmitting surface is viewable from both interior and exterior sides.

The MIT Media Lab has developed a textile that can be electronically controlled to provide active shading. Using a combination of wool felt, conductive fibers and shape memory alloy (SMA), the fabric changes shape to control solar glare and regulate ventilation. The active mechanics of the textile are made possible by the electronic actuation of SMA strands, which may also be used to trigger animated messages.

University of Michigan researcher Harry Giles has developed a bio-composite-based solar control system for building envelopes. Entitled SITumbra—short for structurally integrated transparent umbra (or shade)—the passive solar device is a kind of 3D blind system that mitigates solar heat gain during summer yet allows for direct sunlight penetration during winter. The structured shading device is ideal for retrofits as well as new construction, and is comprised by recyclable and renewable materials.

Blaine Brownell is an architect and former Fulbright Scholar with a research focus on emergent materials. He is a principal of the design and research practice Transstudio and teaches at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture. Brownell authored the Transmaterial series as well as the upcoming Matter In The Floating World with Princeton Architectural Press.