Mind & Matter


Experiments in Light and Material

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Liquid Bricks by Thomas Christian, Ryan Diedrich, and Jennifer Garman. Courtsey: Architectural Lighting


My interest in materials extends directly to an enthusiasm for lighting design, for the way a material is illuminated can effect its visual appearance and performance dramatically. This interest led me to attempt a synthesis between material assemblage and light art in the Pet Wall project, for example, which is a continually transforming, luminous surface comprised by recycled plastic containers that act as modular, light-filtering lenses.

At the University of Minnesota School of Architecture, students have opportunities to experiment with the interplay between light and material firsthand. Week-long intensive studios called catalysts provide students the opportunity to plunge headlong into experimental research and design topics with minimal distractions.

Two of these catalysts have focused on the relationship between light and material—called Light as Material and The Shape of Light, respectively. In both studios, I collaborated with scientists and materials specialists from local company 3M, who instructed students about light physics and provided critical materials such as their optical films and Light Guide mirror duct system for student use.

A few of the student-driven results include Liquid Bricks, a series of touch-responsive, liquid-impregnated panels; Illuminated Wood, a veneer-clad plastic light box that uses natural wood as a light filter; and Light Bridge, a self-supporting, illuminated structure comprised by perforated polymer sheets that give visual priority to light over material.

A recent Architectural Lighting article further describes the student experience in these catalyst courses. The Spring 2011 catalyst is called “Second Sky,” and will focus on possible design applications related to the installation of a 3M Light Guide daylighting system in the University of Minnesota School of Architecture building.




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About the Blogger

Blaine Brownell

thumbnail image Minnesota-based architect and author Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a self-defined materials researcher and sustainable building adviser. His "Product of the Week" emails and three volumes of Transmaterial (2006, 2008, 2010) provide designers with a steady flow of inspiration—a 21st-century Grammar of Ornament. Blaine has practiced architecture in Japan and the U.S. and has been published in more than 40 design, business, and science publications. The recipient of a Fulbright fellowship for 2006–07, he researched contemporary Japanese material innovations at the Tokyo University of Science. He currently teaches architecture and co-directs the M.S. in Sustainable Design program at the University of Minnesota. His book Matter in the Floating World was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2011.