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Concrete Nature | Light installation in the French Embassy in Thailand | Galleries' Night | In collaboration with Philips Electronics Ltd. | Matteo Messervy©

In this 29th issue, CULTURAMA continues its investigations off the beaten track, oriented towards the Art of Light.

For more information on an article, click on the corresponding images
LED-mapping scenography | Burj Khalifa skyscraper | Dubai | Matteo Messervy©


Matteo Messervy

Light is the first element of design; without it, there is no colour, form, or texture.
Thomas E. Farin

Eric of MA’A*: What is the connection between light and architecture?

Matteo Messervy: To me, this correspondence relies upon three main elements that guide my work: light, matter and human beings. My approach is both holistic and multidisciplinary. To set the context: in South-East Asia, urban planning is quite terrible and really neglected. People there have lost touch with the “consciousness” of the city they live in, the architecture they are surrounded by. Due to hot tropical temperatures, people usually stay indoors during the day. It is at night time, around 6pm, when they really get the opportunity to enjoy being outdoors and become more receptive to their environment.

The problem is that, once the sun sets, the city is relegated to darkness or barely lit through a dismal and bleak light. The urban nightscape is overwhelmingly drab, and at best purely functional if not entirely non-existent or depressing. Such night cities become the canvas where my light design comes handy. The biggest challenge is to offer creative solutions that can restore a feeling of humanity and well-being at the very heart of night-time darkness. Light emphasizes, deconstructs, transfigures, and manipulates the geometry of a building and the urban landscape. The way light can shape space, ancient or modern, is amazing. The expression “blurring the lines” applies perfectly here. Take any structure meant for humans: a living room, for example.
OPUS | Interactive LED facade | Bangkok | Matteo Messervy©
The way light is projected on any given element — corners, angles, walls, ceiling, — and the way those combinations play with dimensions, proportions, shadows, highlights, colours, contrasts, and illuminance intensity: a very delicate balance of all these factors blurs the line between reality and illusion. What you see is not necessarily what there is. You can fool the eye. 
Installation with natural soothing light | CDG, Terminal S4 | Matteo Messervy©

Eric: What are the perspectives of light spatialization in Asia?

Matteo: The future of lighting design follows a three-pronged approach, all linked to one another:

1. People need light not only to perform visual tasks, light is also an important time reference for our internal clock, mood regulation and subconscience that regulate the “feel” of one’s surroundings. So, there’s a necessity to implement human-centric intelligent LED engines with full-spectrum tunability that would offer natural illumination patterns that take into consideration human well-being, respect our biological rhythms, and bring forth a renewed sensitivity of our surroundings.
New lighting of the Pompidou Centre | Paris | 2016 | Matteo Messervy©
Cocoon | Nuit blanche | Hôtel de Ville de Paris | Matteo Messervy©
Light installation | Lille | Matteo Messervy©

2. One must adopt new technologies, design innovations and concepts linked to the Internet of Things. Asia is a two-tier place, with nations like Singapore, Japan, South-Korea, and China that have already embraced technological advances, and others that lag behind, mainly the ones in South-East Asia. The Internet of Things, or IoT, offers a unique opportunity to conceptualize and expand a more connected experience for everyone, through light design. This type of digital control over lighting parameters can significantly enhance and improve people’s lives, whether it’s through wayfinding that encompasses all of the ways in which people orient themselves in physical space, or through controlling the lighting output (i.e. colourimetry, luminance, etc.) that impacts people’s emotional state.

Light installation | Entrance of the shopping centre Nice-Étoile | Matteo Messervy©

3. The third promising prospect expands the previous ones and focuses on bringing back nature inside the cities, which is related to building smart cosmopolises of the future. Modern cities were shaped to protect and separate humans from the natural world, causing a form of amnesia in terms of the relationship between humans and nature. The challenge is to awaken the sensitivity of future generations towards nature within the city walls, to create a place where people and wildlife would dynamically interact as part of a single ecosystem. By bringing nature out of the background, we open up opportunities for improving the life of every citizen and to induce all the underlying mental and physical health benefits.

Theatre stage | Designed by mpdStudio | Bangkok | Matteo Messervy©

Eric: What obstacles did you face in your career and how did you overcome them? 

Matteo: The main hurdles stem from a different perception of light to which one needs to adapt. Both culture and geography strongly influence our preferences. For example, households in northern Europe tend to glow more at night, giving those passing by a glimpse of life inside. In the south, sometimes it is so dark that you wonder if anyone is home or if you’ve entered a ghost town.

In Asia, there are two extremes in the same city: on the one hand, there are entire city blocks that are left in the dark, with barely any lampposts to illuminate the path; on the other hand, one will find in a different part of the same city absurdly overlit buildings, commercial malls and giant LED-screens stuck to large buildings facades, which is very intrusive. Compared to Europe, Asians emphasize light. If it is not bright enough, people perceive the space as dark. This light intensity might also be linked with usage patterns — in Asia, retail shops operate until 9 or 10 pm on average. People work longer hours at night-time, which forms the idea that workspaces should be bright at night. Interestingly, when people from Asia come to a city like, say, Amsterdam, they love the night-time environment. They enjoy the quiet atmosphere and warm light in European cities. But if I went to my Asian client and said: “Look, in Amsterdam the light is not so bright and it makes it charming, cosy and romantic. Why don’t we replicate it here?” To this, I would hear “No, no, it’s too dark.”

The Rainforest Pavilion | Interactive installation and performance venue | Joy Collective & Matteo Messervy©

Warm light is often associated with dim light in Asia, and when you go for such lighting schemes, people sometimes find it uncomfortable. South-East Asian countries prefer a colder light temperature compared to the West, partly because of the desire to shift away from the generally warm tropical climate. So when working in different countries, one has to quickly detect variations in the style and adapt to the new cultural environment. From there, one can progressively offer a consensus, more balanced solutions, which demands a lot of communicational skills.

LED-mapping scenography | MahaNakhon skyscraper | Bangkok | Matteo Messervy©

Eric: What are your future projects? 

Matteo: The major project I am currently focusing on is the outdoor facade lighting design of the MahaNakhon Building by Büro Ole Scheeren. It is an outstanding architectural landmark in Bangkok so the challenge is big. MahaNakhon moves vertically between the ground and the sky, thus dissolving into the cityscape, becoming an essential element of the street life for which Bangkok is famous for. My concept involves bespoke lighting scenographies and public interactions.

To “play” with its sculptural appearance, a three-dimensional pixelated ribbon will circle the tower‚ full height, as if digging up portions of the elegant glass curtain wall to reveal the inner life of the building. As for the interactive system, it will link people with the building, share their experiences. Motion sensors will capture people’s movements, translate and superimpose these pieces of information onto the building’s facade. This concept will represent the dynamic and bustling nature of Bangkok. Moreover, the MahaNakhon group and I plan to cooperate with Thai universities on the subject of interactive media and lighting design. This will be the occasion to elaborate on ways to represent the beauty of Thai culture through architecture and its links to Nature, such as the traditional rice harvesting. Lights filled with images and colours, emulating the natural lighting and the local flora; elements of lush nature and Thai culture presented on the facade while preserving the harmony between lighting and architecture; we design by adapting lighting and architectural features with pixel art. We also materialize the main concept images as a graphic scheme applied to the facade, so people can understand it easily.
Moreover, the lighting design will correlate with the building usage timeframes: we analyze when its inhabitants use the indoor areas and we turn on the facade’s light accordingly. For example, in the 7-9PM time slot, we'll use the combined effect of the lighting inside the building with the facade lighting; from 9 PM to 12 AM, there will be less light coming from inside the building; and after midnight, the facade lighting will be the most visible. All that to implement a customized “intelligent”, “adaptive” and “interactive” lighting scheme.

Every city can return to its splendour by creating a renewed vision of theachievements of its inhabitants. The urban experience is enhanced when there is a reference to the past, while facing the future with optimism.
Matteo Messervy

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Light is electromagnetic radiation whose wavelength falls within the range to which the human retina responds.

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