15 Years of Illumination Physics
Rewind – it is 2003.
The LED revolution had begun and the market was scrabbling to understand it. Both good and bad products were touted without any pervasive understanding of why. The desire for the combination of architectural and entertainment lighting far exceeded the supply of reliable solutions. Integrated façade lighting had yet to be invented and custom designed lighting on a commercial scale was unheard of.
Spurred by the success of A Symphony of Lights, Hong Kong’s permanent lightshow, the growth of decorative façade lighting in Asia was taking off at a speed that exceeded the development of sound physics in the design of the new LED products. Reliability was random. Expensive lessons were learned. Being an installer really helps when designing a product but the light fixture designers were not. Lighting designers were not designers of the products either.
Out of this semi-chaos came opportunity.
We realised that every product could be improved in form, function and value, if you considered a product especially for a particular project only where the parameters would be unique in many ways. If we designed for perfection on a project by project basis, we would do better.
The pervasive “off the shelf” philosophy is a compromise. The chances of having the perfect light fixture for a given façade are close to zero. This is especially true in integrated façade lighting for new build projects.
illumination Physics was born in 2007 with the mantra “why get it nearly right, when, with a little effort, it could be perfect”.
From the start illumination Physics custom design philosophy flew in the face of accepted lighting industry dogma.
“Custom designed lights are more expensive” – actually the opposite can be true. Especially when the improved installed cost is factored into the equation.
“Custom designed products are difficult to support in future” – actually the opposite is true. We have supported projects for more than a decade, during which time a product from a global lighting supplier would have been obsolete twice at least.
“We are part of a huge company corporation so we are better” – actually huge corporations lack agility and divisions are bought and sold regularly.
illumination Physics became an agile, independent manufacturer with a deep understanding of the façade industry (not just the façade lighting industry).
Over 15 years we have had some great adventures; here is a selection.
The Dubai Sheraton and the Abu Dhabi Hilton Capitol Grand
About heat and integration into an inherited design.
We came late to these projects at a time when construction was already advanced. The lighting design called for LED colour changing dots to be integrated into curved glass walls. We faced two challenges. The first was the climate in the Gulf. The façade would reach a temperature exceeding 75 degrees Celsius due to the combination of air temperature and solar gain.
This would see the beginning of illumination Physics Gulf Spec products. By eliminating all sensitive electronics from the fixtures we were able to achieve a comfortable operating temperature of 75C. The second challenge was the installation. Only a 10mm penetration could be made between the glass panels. Our solution was a stainless steel tube structure that became both the bracket and the cable conduit. More than a decade of reliable service followed.
About starting from scratch in an ambitious facade design.
The form of the tower was inspired by a waterfall. Waterfalls are organic and so must be the façade. The lines of the building are not straight and the 5000 fins are all different lengths ranging in millimetre differences between 5 and 6.5m. We would illuminate 1000 fins with a custom direct view light fixture that had to be strong enough to be 140mm wide and yet have no visible fixings.
The colour of the PMMA diffused extrusion was mixed with additives so that we achieved a very pale grey to closely match the paint colour of the fins. Penetrations are always an issue in modern commercial buildings. By Using AC power and DMX together in a single cable we were able make only one penetration per floor in a non-tenanted area. Because all of the fins vary in length it was necessary to make 13 different light fixture lengths that could be combined in different orders so that we could always achieve an overall fixture length that matched the fins. The fixtures were assembled with the fins and façade panels in the curtain wall factory and assembled efficiently on site.
Macau Studio City
About an integrated solution for this ambitious project.
The façade lighting of Macau Studio City was a design and build project for illumination Physics. The client perceived risk in façade lighting because of past experiences. illumination Physics extensive experience and track record in façade lighting represented high capability but also a safe pair of hands. The strikingly different architecture of Macau Studio City harks back to an image of Gotham City (in fact the most important indoor attraction in the resort is a 3D Motion Theatre themed after Batman).
Being a casino the lighting must be striking, but it must also be practical. There would be gondola access to all parts of the façade but it is not straight forward. It would be very important that the various fixtures were designed for maximum durability and minimum maintenance. For this reason the fixtures mounted on the vertical parts of the façade were designed with only remote drivers meaning that there would be no electronic components inside the fixtures. Macau has more than its fair share of colour changing RGB lighting. For this reason we took the decision to use RGBA (A = Amber), because we know from experience that the addition of Amber would allow us to create colours that have never been seen before in Macau. There are more than 12,000 illumination Physics’ fixtures installed on the various facades and podium, spread over dozens of types. Each type was designed especially for its precise purpose.
City of Dreams Macau
About problem solving.
The retail extension of City of Dreams is a sweeping 300m curved colonnade of 16m high light boxes. The design and build contract was awarded to illumination Physics on the basis of the quality of our idea. We would illuminate the lightboxes with a linear grazing light fixture containing very warm white LEDs (gold) and very cool white (silver). The gold and silver LEDs were equipped with lenses that staggered the focus so that gold and silver came into focus at different horizontal distances across the light box. This would allow us to create a spectacular yet sophisticated slowly animated display where one light box was one controllable object. We had used this technique before at The Sands in Singapore for a project called the “Artwall” with great success.
Whenever grazing is used, any imperfections in the illuminated surface become very obvious and in this case the tolerances were so poor that every part of the light box looked different. Complaining about out of range tolerances in the back panels was pointless because due to the stage of construction nothing could be done. A lateral solution was required. Instead of controlling one entire light box as one entity, we took individual control of each of the 16 grazing fixtures and created a much more complex program, upgrading the control system in the process. The result is a more dynamic display in which the irregularities are no longer visible. Out of adversity a better display has been achieved.
About lateral and complete thinking, understanding the problem and solving it by design.
One of the two founding partners of illumination Physics had been responsible for the lighting of the Remarkable HSBC Headquarters building as part of Hong Kong’s daily light show – A Symphony of Lights in 2003. This proved to be an advantage in local knowledge. We were invited to attend a brief from HSBC concerning their objectives for the 150th anniversary and the desire to make the building a centrepiece in the 9 month long celebrations. The messages that HSBC wanted to impart were relatively complex, a history of the banks role in the development of Hong Kong. The only medium that could articulate these messages would be video. The way in which the video would be delivered was the crux.
The building has no tenants, just employees. The north façade faces the harbour and between the various refuge floors there are 3 bands of glass, one 7 storeys high, one 6 storeys high and one five storeys high. Collectively approximately 2500 square metres of media wall could be created. Our strategy was to develop a very narrow media strip that would be attached to the inside of the glass; iP Media Glass was born. It would be invisible from the outside and yet still provide 90% transparency. Maintenance would be rare as the equipment was installed inside in benign conditions. Instead of writing off the cost of the system in 9 months, the installation would be permanent for a decade or so providing a sound investment that is used every day 7 years later. The power usage was offset by replacing all of the metal halide colour changing luminaires that light the exoskeleton with new LED washlights designed specifically for the task.
About understanding curtain wall integration.
We have been fortunate to work with, or within, many of the best curtain wall companies in the region and beyond. Being a lighting equipment designer alone is not enough if your task at hand is integrate the lighting into a new unitised curtain wall building. It is necessary to understand the structure too. The implementation of the vision created by Shop 12 Design Las Vegas would put all these skills to good use.
Circa is the first new build ground up casino resort in downtown Las Vegas since the 80’s. The south facing façade of the hotel tower has excellent visibility across Las Vegas. It would be equipped with 28 horizontal bands of LED Panels to form a large media wall. Not only did illumination Physics provide the 95,000 LED modules, but we also designed and manufactured the panels that would hold them and the engineering regarding their installation. The panels were integrated in the curtain wall factory in another country under the supervision of an illumination Physics factory team. A complicated job that went smoothly due to the breadth of our experience across all of the disciplines involved.