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Silo468 – Permanent light installation in Helsinki

Silo 468 is a permanent light installation that transforms abandoned oil silo in Helsinki into a light display and civic center. For this project, Tecné Collective joined Lighting Design Collective to create a custom software that controls the installation’s light show.

Th silo is 35 meter width and 16 meter hight, located in a highly visible spot in the southern part of Kruunuvuorenranta, eastern of Kruunuvuorenselkä, just 2 km across the Helsinki’s city center. The silo is covered in a lights grid that can be viewed up to 5km away and the project is part of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 event.

The software creates a particle system that combines motion behaviors from birds, insects, an fishes to create organic and non repetitive animations for the lighting system, in a 128 x 10 LED grid. This animations are being generated using current data from the local weather, specially wind speed and direction, to create a vast and unpredictable array of light movements that give the viewer a visual representation of the weather sensations in the city.

To create the light animations, the application draws a particle system, using algorithms related to flocking and swarm simulations in openFrameworks. But as their resolution is low (the silo is 128 x 10 led lights), they decide to use the influence of the amount of particles in an area to drive the color, instead of drawing individual particles. The application reads an rss from a nearby weather station every 5 minutes, and they use mainly the wind speed to change the behaviour of the movements. The wind direction and temperature affects the particles, but in more subtle way and they implemented special “presets” for special climatological events (clear nights, heavy snow, etc).

The main challenge was the implementation were organic simulations in the lightning server. Because it is a Siemens industrial pc, in windows server 2003, with a very slow processor, and basic intel graphic card, and 2GB of RAM; also we had to leave enough processor available for the e:cue system, that manages the lighting system, including turn on and off times, emergency turn off for sever weather (below -20 the leds go off, and at -30 the outside washes and the server have to shut down), and other scheduling options. To connect their animations with the server we used a simple pixel mapping module available for e:cue.

They programmed the system in around 6 months, and they had the server with a mockup version of the LED in their offices in Madrid to test and tweak the app for around 4 months before installing on location. Being the Silo is a permanent installation, their most important feature was reliability.


Early prototyping

Tecné team worked with a team of 2 programmers (Gorka Cortázar in Madrid and his partner in Miami) and one graphic designer for details of the GUI, plus the guys for LDC that did the architectural and lighting part and between all shaped the parameters potions to create animations that fulfilled the desired brief.

The application is very funny to play with, because you can mix 3 different algorithms, and have a lots of parameters that you can play with, so selecting the final presets was matter of playing with the app in the last 3 weeks to get the feelings that we wanted the installation to display.

Credits:
Tecné Collective: Gorka Cortazar (programming), Rodrigo Arcaya (programming) and Reinaldo Alcala (interface design)
Lighting Design Collective