Kruunuvuori light art installation, an adaptive reuse of an existing oil silo.
Courtesy of the Lighting Design Collective Kruunuvuori light art installation, an adaptive reuse of an existing oil silo.

As port cities expand, industrial activities near urban centers—especially along waterfront properties—tend to be displaced by more-profitable residential and commercial programs. Occasionally, structures located within these industrial landscapes are saved and repurposed. It is common to see former warehouses and grain silos transformed into multifamily residential buildings, for example, although such retrofits can require significant investments.

An alternative approach to the reuse of such structures is to adapt them into inhabitable works of art. Lighting Design Collective's proposal to transform a neglected oil silo in Helsinki into a light-activated civic space is a provocative example. The Madrid-based firm won an international competition to refurbish the 17m-tall, 36m-diameter structure, which will be perforated with an array of small apertures and embellished with a grid of 1250 LEDs. Painted with a deep red color on the interior, the silo will glow during the day with hundreds of points of light. At night, the LEDs will illuminate according to sensors tuned to detect the prevailing winds, mimicking swarms of birds.

According to Lighting Design Collective director Tapio Rosenius, "The enduring fascination of the complex movement of light and the amazing location by the sea will make this a captivating experience for the visitors and the residents of Helsinki." This example of retrofit light art demonstrates a compelling approach to preserving the physical history of cities. Here, a disused structure is transformed into a meaningful, usable space via minimal yet sophisticated means.

Blaine Brownell is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.