Lighting Up Wellington

Story by Gemma Winstanley

Faculty of Architecture and Design, 2017

LUX Festival

In 2015 Wellington held its first LUX festival, a biennial festival that turns Wellington’s waterfront and laneways into a spectacle of lighting, art, and design.

The fantastical array of light sculptures form an urban trail through the city before spilling out onto a promenade of light installations on Wellington’s waterfront. The festival, open to the public, is accompanied by open talks and exhibitions from national and international artists and designers.

Inspiration for the festival originated in Christchurch, where the FESTA festival of lighting and urban installations began in 2012 following the Christchurch earthquakes.

It was a way to reinvigorate the urban environment and bring people back into the city centre. Victoria was involved in the first FESTA festivals with senior lecturer Daniele Abreu Lima involving her Interior Architecture Design Integration class.

Those organising Wellington’s LUX festival, though not faced with the same devastation, had the same goal, to reinvigorate the urban environment at night, and showcase some spectacular work.

It was for this reason that members of the Faculty of Architecture and Design, and the Te Kōki New Zealand School of Music (NZSM) got involved in the festival.

See Creature

  • <p>Image courtesy of Daniel K. Brown, 2015 []</p>
  • <p>Image courtesy of Daniel K. Brown, 2015 []</p>
  • <p>Image courtesy of Daniel K. Brown, 2015 []</p>

A sculptural installation named See Creature took on its second incarnation at the LUX festival. It was originally created to showcase the changing nature of prefabrication through the idea of mass customisation.

The installation was a collaborative design-led research project, by a team of students and staff led by Mark Southcombe.

The original installation was a reptilian, muscular, large scale 19m x 10m x 5m parametric construction made of non-standard geometries, reacting to the preconception that prefabrication is simply about boxes.

The ribs and framework of the installation are sewn together with zip ties, the connection a part of the beauty of the fabricated structure. It was first exhibited at the Kiwi Prefab Exhibition, Cottage to Cutting Edge, from November 2012 until April 2013.

For the installation’s second incarnation as See Creature its life-like forms were explored to realise the potential movement of the installation in an external environment. This became the inspiration for the LUX festival installation which was reinvented, the structure modified to facilitate a life-like moving form.

The lighting exaggerated this. The installation was curved around a building within Opera House Lane and the changing colours and moving hazy blue-green lighting reflected off the geometric ‘scales’.

The real and perceived movement gave See Creature an apparent life of its own. The life-like reptilian structure caused members of the public to compare it to a whale or taniwha. The moving light gave an illusion of the sea, while the beating red light at the installation's centre gave the creature a beating heart. This pulse and a soundtrack by Mark Johnston connected See Creature to the water and another VUW installation.


  • <p>Pulse at mid tide. Image courtesy of Daniel K. Brown, 2015 []</p>
  • <p>Pulse at high tide with wind. Image courtesy of Daniel K. Brown, 2015 []</p>

The Pulse was a collaborative project between Mark Johnson and Daniel K. Brown of the School of Architecture. The Pulse was a chance for Brown, who has used light evocatively through much of his work, to reintroduce the pulse of nature beneath the hardscape of the city.

Pulse originates as a dense cluster of water reflections that appear in the darkness deep beneath the harbour wharf. Sound tones trigger the pulses and rings of light illuminate the water before returning inward again.

This process continues to repeat with increased intensity and complexity, creating a soundscape as well as a visual pulse. As the rings of light hit rocks or piles of the wharf they distort revealing the hidden landscape of the deep. The Pulse offers a connection between the viewer and the natural environment.

Illuminating our Urban Environment

Both of these projects have the central aim of adding movement through light and structure to an essentially static environment.

They provoke questions about the hard static nature of our urban spaces and surfaces and in this way are intriguing to look at. They bring life and dynamics to the landscape and fulfil the objective of the LUX festival in itself.

Victoria’s engagement with the LUX festival furthers the School of Architecture’s credibility when it comes to lighting.

Daniel K. Brown intends to make an entry in the 2017 festival. This continuation of innovative design using lighting as an outcome as well as an exploratory tool, continues the engagement of Victoria's School of Architecture and its students with lighting.

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