An old, rusting oil silo isn’t exactly the kind of building that most cities would choose as a landmark. But after holding a design competition, the city of Helsinki chose Lighting Design Collective to rework a silo across from Helsinki’s city center and turn it into a one-of-a-kind light show.
Throughout the night–which can last as long as 18 hours when it’s winter and you’re in Finland–more than 1,000 LED lights in the building flash in shifting patterns. Some 2,000 holes are aligned with rusty spots in the silo and let the light shine through so it’s visible in other parts of town. On summer days, people walking inside the silo can see sunlight stream in the holes.
The nighttime light patterns are based on the local environment. Since Helsinki is known as a windy city, and the silo sits by the sea in an especially windy area, the architects decided to trigger the lights based on wind patterns. As the wind speed, temperature, and direction change, so do the lights. Software built to mimic moving birds or fish adds another layer to the design.
“The light patterns and the movement are constantly re-created in real time based on these external triggers,” explains Tapio Rosenius, a director at the Lighting Design Collective. “We don’t decide on the patterns at all, the piece just does its own thing. It’s a bit like watching a river flow by; it’s instantly recognizable but never the same, and the movement is highly complex.”
At midnight, the LED lights glow red, in homage to the silo’s past life as an energy center. The inside of the silo is also painted red. Through the addition of light, the silo has turned into a public space used for everything from music videos to a fire juggling festival and a wedding.
“It is as much a daylight art piece as it is an artificial light art piece,” Rosenius says. “The experience is wildly different between day and night.” Inside the 56-foot-tall tank, you’re immersed in the show.
“Once you’re in you enter a relatively dark monochromatic space which forces you to calm down and to just let go,” Rosenius says. “The natural acoustics present in the space play a big part in this … The space is not weather sealed in any way so you feel the cold or the heat, you hear the wind, and you see the movement of the clouds and the adjacent sea.”
The silo is part of the city’s larger initiative to turn an industrial zone into what might be one of the world’s first neighborhoods branded as a “district of light” (not to be confused with a red light district, of course, despite the midnight color). “The silo acted as kind of a starting gun for the big project,” says Rosenius. “It made the formerly unknown area visible in the city.”