Brief Reviews, VOLUME 4

Brief Review: Light, Color, Sound – Bahamón/Alvarez [Vol. 4, #1]

A Brief Review of Light, Color, Sound:
Sensory Effects in Contemporary Architecture.

Hardback: Norton, 2010.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Brent Aldrich.

Light, Color, Sound: Sensory Effects in Contemporary Architecture, by Alejandro Bahamón and Ana Mária Alvarez, brings together recent architecture projects from around the world which feature intense artificial light on facades and glowing interiors, fluorescent colors on walls and windows, and structures built to generate or house sounds, and some projects which blur all of these distinctions together. As much as Bahamón’s last book Rematerial had an emphasis on the low-tech, Light, Color, Sound more often than not focuses on projects utilizing the latest in optic and lighting installation, and computer interfaces to control these surfaces. There are some striking examples of this – the Dexia Tower with its interactive touch screen on the street nearby – but I tend towards those projects that either stretch low-tech solutions a long way, or incorporate new energy technologies to achieve their high-tech ends.

Two theaters achieve this: the Luxemburg Philharmonic’s large glass façade and roof allows light in, casting different colors in the vestibule based on the angle of inclination through the glass; the Agora Theater’s huge surfaces are painted in bright solid colors: orange and yellow on the exterior, red in the auditorium, and purple on the staircase.     Montreal Congress Palace has glass facades of saturated greens, blues, yellows, and pinks, which cast liquid colors over every surface inside. The Watercube, built for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, is a structure that utilizes several sophisticated technologies that are appropriate to the facility and to contemporary design: the structure itself is derived from “a complex, three-dimensional structure in which uniform cells are joined together by the smallest possible contact area;” the building also recycles water up to 80 percent of consumption, regulates its interior heat from the panels on the facade which trap solar energy, and is able to reduce lighting consumption through the use of generous natural light.

And then my favorite project in Light Color Sound: GreenPix, the front facade on a movie theater/restaurant in Beijing, which incorporates 2,292 LEDs into a huge low-resolution screen, resembling a close-up of a pixilated image. A laminate material of differing transparencies covers the LEDs, resulting in varying levels of light diffusion; the facade’s projection is designed by architects, artists, engineers, and public using the building. What sets this project apart, though, is that each LED panel is attached to a photovoltaic cell which stores solar energy during the day to power the projections at night. This project is unique for its merging of high design and visual and engineering complexity, coupled with an energy source more suited to the city of the 21st century.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

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