A Light Show Turns A French Museum Into The Big Bang

Light artist Hervé Audibert makes a bright primordial soup inside the Musée des Confluences in Lyon, France.

As the sun goes down tonight, the city of Lyon, France, will light up. The Festival of Lights, a tradition that hearkens back to 1852, illuminates the entire city for four nights every December. In honor of this year’s festival, which starts today and runs through December 9, lighting designer Hervé Audibert is adding a burst of color to the still-under-construction Musée des Confluences.


The museum, which is set to open in 2014, has a unique structure designed by Vienna-based architecture firm Coop Himmelb(l)au. The firm’s concept for a “crystal cloud of knowledge” is part transparent, glassy lobby, part spaceship-like exhibition space. “I didn’t want to enter in conflict with this architecture,” Audibert told Co.Design. “I wanted to glorify it.”

His installation–called Ylem: A Luminous Performance–is named for a term coined in the 1940s to describe the primordial substance that existed in the universe just after the Big Bang.

Image: © Giacomo Bretzel

On the steel frames in the glass “crystal” side of the museum, Audibert installed 150 colored rotating lights, much like those featured on police cars and firetrucks. Since the building is still under construction, this meant coming in after construction ended for the day and working through the night to get the installation ready before its premiere, which happened a few days before the festival on Tuesday night.

Image: Courtesy of COOP HIMMELB(L)AU

While many features of the Festival of Lights tend to be delicate, he wanted something more evocative to mesh with the museum’s design. In his proposal for the project, he describes it as the Big Bang birthing stars inside the structure. “It’s not something very delicate–it’s a huge building,” he says. “It’s like an infernal, bright magma inside the building.”

The result is a fiery explosion of lights–blue, white, red, and orange–that emanates from the transparent, behemoth structure housed at the meeting point of the Rhône and the Saône rivers.


About the author

Shaunacy Ferro is a Brooklyn-based writer covering architecture, urban design and the sciences. She's on a lifelong quest for the perfect donut


#FCFestival returns to NYC this September! Get your tickets today!