• LED shift 02
    Photo by Karla Murillo

Last fall, five graduate students from the Texas Tech College of Architecture created an installation called “Spectrolines” for the student-run art exhibition BLNKA.  Each year, the show is held in a different location. In 2016, it was housed in the Mattison Building in downtown Lubbock.

Wesley Thomas, Karla Murillo, Fabiola Vazquez, Patrick Walker, and Alex Littlepage created the installation in response to a two-day Grasshopper workshop about dynamic surface relaxation tools and minimal surfaces hosted by the Digital Design & Fabrication Program and Professor Dustin White. The result — designed, fabricated, and installed over the course of three weeks — is a dramatic transformation of indoor space using cheap and simple materials.

With the help of a physics engine in Grasshopper called Kangaroo, the students were inspired to create “relaxed meshes which behave similarly to tensile structures,” says Thomas. “Minimal surfaces served as inspiration to the form of the installation and allowed our team to realize its geometry more clearly.”

While the project has the undulating, futuristic look of something designed with an algorithm, it also has a soft, organic appeal, thanks in large part to the use of lightweight, laser-cut Mylar crosses. The 1,200 pieces, connected with grommets, are elevated from ordinary to striking by strategic lighting. As Thomas describes: “Dichroic film is riveted through the grommeted connection in order to create dynamic color that responded to the lighting modules. The LED lights are powered by an Arduino [an open-source electronic prototyping platform] tied to an infrared sensor. They have a base state that allows them to pulse, but when people interact with them, they become brightly illuminated.”

The project derived its name from spectrolite rock, whose surface shines with multiple colors when light is reflected off of it. The students were inspired by the mineral’s “ephemeral, ever-changing conditions.” By harnessing cutting-edge technology in conjunction with readily accessible materials, they were able to replicate this effect on a grand scale.

The interactive light display also helps to advance one of the project’s stated goals of questioning spatial opportunities for occupation. The light responds to the occupied or unoccupied state of the space, illuminating the way the audience interacts with the structure. The project remained in the Mattison Building for about a month.

“Once people began to realize that the lights were responsive, it encouraged them to explore each of the zones,” says Thomas. “Our team encouraged visitors to venture under the installation, but some people preferred to watch others or investigate from a distance. It revealed just how sensitive people are to various spatial conditions — especially those in public places.”

Alyssa Morris is web editor of Texas Architect.

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