A light column that earns its name both by day and by night adorns the newly designed station forecourt in Lüdenscheid. The precision work required to complete it came about through constant dialogue with the designing architects.
A 7.5m high light sculpture, the “Lichtfaltung”, which RSL constructed for the station forecourt in Lüdenscheid on the basis of a design by LHVH Architekten, Cologne, is a sure talking point. On a small, triangular ground plan the white column of light elevates itself on four different planes each with six triangular faces, some opaque, some translucent, and (quite literally) highly tensioned, welcoming visitors to the “town of light” with this very synonym. The triangular shapes shift from one plane to another by 180° on the longitudinal axis. Minimally jointed glass panes alternate with sheet plates, which are edged in one piece to their concave-convex shapes.
In the design phase the architects, who have been experimenting with light since their student days, had grappled with the ideas of an illuminated object and a non-electrified column. The light column in its current form is a combination of these two design ideas. By day the highly geometric matt-white object is brought alive solely by the dynamics of light and shade that depend on daylight, providing a fascinating arena for the vertical surfaces that have been “folded” into triangles. In darkness the “Lichtfaltung” sculpture, backlit by fluorescent tubes, is transformed into a fragilelooking structure, with its almost one ton in weight seeming to hover above the ground. What appears to be easy and a matter ofcourse in the eye of the observer who is unfamiliar with the industry rightly throws up both constructional and economic questions amongst the professionals. How was stability achieved, how did the precision of the joint structure come about between the large-scale, strain-generating surfaces made of horizontally alternating glass and aluminium, and how much greater than estimated were the costs incurred in the extremely precise implementation of the project?
“Constant self-criticism is the path to perfection and all advances.” Kurt Schwitters
This new landmark cost the town of Lüdenscheid exactly 48,000 euro. No more, no less than prescribed by the budget. That there was no deviation from the budget was clearly due to the above-average commitment of the architects and custom lighting experts. No expense was spared in order to turn the design into an aesthetic construct down to the smallest detail. “Some of the processes were very tricky”, sums up architect Jens Voss. His office partner Frank Holschbach continues: “From the models that RSL built after the initial discussion we could already see what we would have to watch out for in the design of the column. Then together we gave some thought to how we could tackle the problem of edging the sheets neatly. And how, in this connection, to deal with the thickness of the material so that it is no longer noticeable. In the case of the laminated glass system we are after all talking of 12 mm.”
“I am totally obsessed with details.” Jens Voss
In order to stabilise the design, but also to eliminate the joint tolerances on the outer shell, a 244mm thick, hot-dip galvanised, cylindrical steel tube was installed in the cavity of the sculpture with three-axle point fittings which are both vertically and horizontally adjustable. This meant that perfectly neat joints could be created between the aluminium sheets and the glass panes. “I am totally obsessed with details”, admits Jens Voss. “The people at RSL definitely had to hold back their irritation many a time, but they always gave their all and made their system development available to us as well as their precision work, so that we were able to implement our ideas in full. First and foremost they always understood what we meant from our point of view as architects. Frictionless communication with regard to content cannot be taken for granted in our profession”, concludes the LHVH office partner. The construction of custom lighting that is not only unusual, but also of particularly large dimensions, is part of RSL’s core business.
However, the problem in this instance was that RSL cannot edge sheets which are over four metres in length in its own facilities. But the mathematical formula for doubling the surface area from plane to plane could not be changed under any circumstances since sheets of this length were needed in order to achieve the required result. “Changing it would have interfered with the carefully calculated proportions of the Lichtfaltung sculpture”, says Dirk Alheit. “Neither was there, of course, any question of dividing the aluminium sheet in two. So we contracted this work out”, the project manager at RSL explains. “We have an excellent network here in this area, and have for many years been working with partner companies who are flexible, quick and reliable. This means that we were also able to implement this idea of the architects swiftly and to perfection.”
Back at RSL itself the sheets subsequently had to be polished and painted several times in order to level out the deformations in the 3mm thick material that had formed due to the production methods used when the fixing points for the point fittings were welded on. The final stage in the sheet metal processing was the laser-cutting of the letters, which had to shine legibly in the dark. For the lettering on the glass elements, which are made of laminated safety glass with a backing of matt film, a black overprint was selected into which various lockable, barely noticeable maintenance openings were incorporated.
Six weeks after the contract was awarded the work had already been completed and the articulated lorry was rolling on its way from Sankt Augustin to Lüdenscheid. A crane supplied by RSL heaved the Lichtfaltung sculpture weighing nearly 1 ton into place, where it now serves unmistakably as a new landmark, promoting Lüdenscheid’s self-image as the “town of light”. No detail of the Lichtfaltung light sculpture betrays how many planning stages and how much development work and flexibility on the part of the architects and the custom lighting manufacturer were necessary to achieve this aesthetic solution whilst adhering to the economic framework conditions. That is part of its own self-image.
»Totaly obsessed with details«
An interview with Jens Vos and Frank Holschbach, LHVH Architekten, Cologne
Since 2003, three friends, Frank Lohner, Jens Voss and Frank Holschbach, who have known each other since their student days, have been jointly running the office of LHVH Architekten in Cologne. The charming location, a former factory building on an industrial
estate on the edge of town, says something about the rather unconventional attitude of the three office partners. In addition to the design and planning of sophisticated privatehouses, administrative and commercial buildings, the renovation of existing buildings and interior work, plus active participation in competitions, these architects also like to busy themselves with artistically experimental projects. LHVH Architekten designed a constructivist light column for the town of Lüdenscheid on which every detail was developed to perfection. This obsession with detail, which is shared by all three office partners, can be seen as a trademark of LHVH.
Besides mainstream construction tasks, theoffice also likes to tackle experimental projects and is involved in container architecture. It just recently presented its Zeitraum für Kunst at the exhibition of the same name in the NRW Forum Kultur und Wirtschaft in Düsseldorf. Where does the appeal lie?
Jens Voss: In most of our container projects, the focus is on the way in which a city can be shaped and changed by temporary projects. We highlight the potential of locations through ephemeral interventions, facilitating reinterpretations of existing structures.
Was a change also your approach for the permanent light sculpture designed by you for the station forecourt in Lüdenscheid?
Jens Voss: Yes, to a certain degree, as the light column is constantly changing and therefore its environment also. It has a completely different effect by day and by night. The entire station forecourt, which went unnoticed in previous years, was already reinterpreted through its revitalisation. It was to represent the entry point to the town. However, a landmark for this “town of light”, home to a tremendous amount of manufacturers in the lighting industry, was still missing. It was important to us that the new landmark would have an effect in the daylight and in the dark. This did necessitate a change.
You have designed a (quite literally) contorted sculpture with the column. How did you come up with this unusual design?
Jens Voss: We experimented for some time, developed various ideas further into concepts, discarded them and started again, before hitting on the right solution. This is normal in the creative process. Amongst other ideas, we thought of a forest of seven pole luminaires of different heights, which would project the words “town of light” onto the ground. Or a cement column which would then have been illuminated. It became ever clearer to us during the design phase that we wanted to use the new landmark for the town of Lüdenscheid to make a contribution which could be understood by everyone if possible. And, as already mentioned, we not only wanted it to have an effect in the dark, but also in the daytime, without the use of artificial light.
Frank Holschbach: That’s what makes the light column so interesting, that it can be seen even when it is not electrified. Light and shade interact wonderfully in the daylight. It is only thanks to the contorted, or better put, folded design that the column’s potential can truly emerge.
What about your architectural designs. Does light play a particularly big role in these?
Frank Holschbach: We built a single-storey holiday home with an all-glass corner facade which floods the interior space with daylight by a reservoir near Düren. We also integrated very special dome skylights designed by us and built with RSL into the flat roof. They not only allow daylight to penetrate, but are also responsible for the artificial illumination. They are quasi electrifiable dome skylights, which light the interior and exterior at night. The effect is superb, not just on the rooms, but also the landscape.
How did RSL react when you came to them with the idea of a structurally difficult light column which is not strictly part of the core business of a manufacturer of custom luminaires?
Frank Holschbach: The company is highly specialised in sheet metal processing and it doesn’t really matter whether you are fashioning luminaires or sculptures from sheet metal parts. Both require extreme precision – a core quality of RSL. As we were later to find out, the Sankt Augustin-based manufacturer had already built many striking light sculptures on prominent display. Anyway, they seem to relish such challenges at RSL.
Jens Voss: Everything went off without hiccup really. We first convinced ourselves of the local manufacturing possibilities. Then we got together and discussed the first detailed solutions based on our design. A short time after the order was placed by the town of Lüdenscheid, we received a construction principle in the form of technical drawings, 3D images and even a prototype as a 1:1 detail section. We were pleasantly surprised by this, particularly as everything stayed within the strict budget.
Were there also some unpleasant surprises?
Jens Voss: We’re not here to put a gloss on anything. Of course there were also some difficulties. To be honest, I am totally obsessed with details, and that goes for our whole office. But we had good personal rapport and a highly motivated project team and were extremely open with one another. Mr. Alheit, project manager at RSL, would say: “Mr. Voss, you’re crazy!” Then we’d look for new common ground, and find it.
Frank Holschbach: In the first drawing that RSL prepared the glass panes were inframes. However, we just wanted panes without frames, which is, of course, not easy because of the tensions in the material. In such cases we battle until we are completely satisfied. Everything must be right, down to the smallest detail.
Jens Voss: The RSL employees did have to hold back their irritation in such situations. But that’s also understandable as we can be quite intense in such regards. But then we jointly developed the details that met the aesthetic demands of all those involved. You seem to have enjoyed the whole thing.
Would you like more exceptional projects of this nature?
Jens Voss: Our office has more of an individual focus per se and the three office partners have common interests such as art, graphics, product design and pop music. This spectrum allows us to not only work on exceptional projects time and again but also in fields of work where building regulations and DIN standards don’t play any role.
Thank you both for letting me interview you.