by Mariann Elliassen, VELUX Group
The International VELUX Award is a biennial competition for students of architecture. Students from all over the world are challenged to work with daylight as an ever relevant source of light, life and joy. More than 600 student teams have submitted their daylight project to the International VELUX Award, and the jury has elected nine regional winners.
The total amount of 633 projects from around 250 different schools of architecture in 58 countries represents an incredible status over the current state of thinking and teaching at the schools of architecture. After looking into this cross-section of today’s architectural education, it is striking that students and teachers are interacting across the continents. There are no boundaries in student projects − students and teachers meet and study across continents, and work with places and cities remote from their actual location.
Daylight in architecture is an ever-relevant topic and the submitted projects prove that there are unlimited ways to approach and understand the impact of daylight by raising questions and by proving curiosity. The projects underline how broad the discussion can be − and it is clear that the overall theme of the award, Light of Tomorrow, has inspired the students to think about the future and ask, “what is happening in the world and what can we do?”.
The jury noted a clear focus on responsibility and consideration for some of the major issues of our time. The students are also genuinely engaged in environmental, social, cultural and political key issues − by using daylight as a uniting force and practical solution for communities all around the world. Some projects pooled the political aspects, challenging situations and social discussions into their work with light − in war zones, issues related to refugees and immigration as well as looking at environmental concerns related to water shortage, air and water pollution, desertification and infertile land. It is exciting to see how daylight can play a role and serve as a conveyor and messenger in this broad spectrum of issues.
Whereas projects some years ago would have shown new and spectacular ideas, it is now more about inclusion of all people and bringing people to the same level. Several projects looked at places that can unite people − irrespective of their social conditions, wealth or religion − and at how architecture can play an important role for society. In many of these projects, the jury would have appreciated a deeper understanding of the actual quality of the space and how spaces can improve the lives of people.
Many projects investigated daylight in an urban context and how to bring daylight to underground spaces and into narrow streets in dense urban conditions. The entries are also characterised by an interest in specific technologies and solutions related to how light can be stored and how pathways can be illuminated to make them safe at night. The jury found the overall quality of the projects to be good, and saw many interesting explorations – not necessarily suggesting spectacular, complicated or complex ideas but merely projects that focused on simple ideas with a big impact. On the other hand, some projects dealt with problems that are too complicated to tackle or embraced too many issues at the same time. It is better to choose one bright idea and explain it well.
The schools’ and teachers’ involvement in the projects is noticeable in many projects. Groups of specific themes can be recognised as being part of the same programme. It is clear that many projects received good mentoring in the process, striving for a higher degree of excellence. Other projects could have been edited more carefully in dialogue with the teacher.
The submitted projects demonstrate that students are working fluently with digital applications. Some projects, however, would have benefited from finding a better balance between the medium and the actual results. Students should also carefully select how they present the essence of the project.
The jury appreciated the projects that demonstrated a sincere interest in an actual problem rather than projects that jumped to fast solutions. The jury was looking for projects that maintained discipline and tried to edit a complex issue to a shorter idea, projects that had the capacity to ask the right questions, and projects that helped the jury to understand the process from idea to solution.
The jury acknowledged the efforts made by the students and gave attention to every project. Some of the projects that were not among the finalists were even brought back for the final discussions for each of the two categories.
The winners distinguish themselves because they are probing, asking essential questions and providing eloquent answers. Together they represent a mosaic approach to the question of light by covering the range from futuristic concepts, technology and applications to more fundamental aspects of architecture going back to space, place and memory.
The winners of the category Daylight in Buildings
For the category Daylight in Buildings, the winning projects dealt with very different challenges: from the very concrete − how to ensure light and ventilation in buildings in hot climates − to a spiritual and poetic solution for remembering deceased relatives in a densely populated dense Chinese city, to a hands-on and easily realisable daylight pavilion for refugees in Africa, and a project that thinks oringinally and questions the way we construct our buildings and cities today.
Africa has had its share of internally displaced people, numbering in the millions. One specific sad case is the north-eastern part of Nigeria, where thousands of people are homeless; they have lost nearly everything, including their social lives, and are now forced to live and be cared for in camps created by governments and NGOs. The project proposes a special, easy-to-assemble pavilion, using cheap and locally sourced materials that include bamboo, used tyres and soil. The Light Pavilion is a simple, prototype shelter designed to serve as a social space for these poor camp dwellers.
The idea to create a communal pavilion for people who are in desperate and displaced conditions is very concrete and very sympathetic. The project suggests not just a simple and colourful roof providing shade during daytime for children playing and learning; the core idea is that the application of photo-luminous glow-paint − charged and re-charged by sunlight − will transform the roof into “light-emitting-rods” that glow beautifully at night. The project is rewarded for its simple, colourful and easily realisable idea.
Widely regarded as the opal capital of the world, Cooper Pedy is located in a desert in northern South Australia. Due to the harsh summer desert temperatures and notoriously low humidity, the residents chose to live in `dugouts´, underground residences − even restaurants and churches have been carved out below ground. Underground homes may have helped in coping with the unbearable heat in the summer, but the extreme lack of water and general lighting for the dugouts is still a problem. The intention of this design is to provide a poetic solution to the needs for both water and lighting in a way that resembles the very nature of what the town is known for − opal.
This is a very specific project, dealing with a very concrete issue in a very convincing way. The proposed device, a funnel skylight, is actually very simple. At night, the acrylic cover at the top of the tube opens and the water vapour condenses and forms droplets. During the day, the acrylic cover closes and the light passes through the glass sphere and water and is diffracted into colourful beams that penetrate underground. It is a very well-researched and well-presented project − and the jury finds it a very convincing winner of its category for the Americas.
Worshiping ancestors is a tradition for Chinese people − at festivals and on Memorial Day. In order to retain the tradition for the future megastructures of cities with a scarcity of land, the project suggests building gravestone brick walls in the bottom space of a high-rise public building. When sunlight passes through holes in the exterior walls, each gravestone brick will be illuminated at a specific time of the day of death − following the calculated incident angle of the sun over the course of the day and seasons.
The project moved everyone in the jury considerably. The poetics of remembrance with a touching connection to the soul of the person who is deceased is a celebration of daylight, and teaches people to understand the position of the sun at all times, so that they know when to go to the wall gravesite and to understand that every day is different. The project is also illustrated in a very beautiful way and the presentation of the main idea is truly convincing. For the jury, it is a clear winner in the category for Asia and Oceania.
The Alentejo, in the centre-south region of Portugal, is characterised by cold winters and excessively hot summers. This has shaped a particularly dense architecture with thick walls, confined spaces and small windows to control the temperature inside the houses. Over time, architectural elements like the `Alentejo chimney´ have been blocked, leaving the already dark, interior spaces with very little ventilation and triggering problems with humidity. To bring more natural light and quality to these spaces, the project suggests making the chimneys functional again and giving them a new purpose – to act as light channels.
The jury was intrigued by the simple idea and by its strong presentation. The project takes its starting point in a realistic situation and a real challenge, and subsequently suggests a solution that seems realisable as a very simple intervention. The solution for improving natural ventilation and introducing reflected light considers the hot summers and refers to the special light of Alentejo. The project is beautifully illustrated and very poetic in its description, thanks to the work of the Portuguese photographer Artur Pastor. For the jury, it is a clear winner in the category for Western Europe.
The project invites us to take a fresh look at architecture. At present, a very significant problem is insufficient lighting in buildings. But at the same time, there is so much sunlight. So how do we shape buildings to capture the maximum amount of natural light? The project suggests a change in the shape of buildings and their openings, where rectangular shapes increasingly limit the penetration of light into space. It also analyses various alternative forms that maximise the potential of natural light penetration as well as investigating the shadows cast by buildings.
After a long debate, perhaps the most intense among all the projects, the jury agreed on this project, which is more a manifesto than a design. It asks the relevant questions: do we need to design buildings to be the way they are today? And can we bring more daylight through a vocabulary of openings? The jury hopes that this project will inspire other students to be ambitious, to be a bit rebellious, and to pose questions − even if there is no immediate solution.
The winners of the category Daylight Investigations
For the category Daylight Investigations, the winning projects dealt with very concrete challenges: from how to utilise daylight to capture moisture and transform it into usable water in desertificated areas, to safeguarding pathways in remote rural areas with naturally occurring luminous stones, charged by daylight, to a richly imaginative proposal for redirecting solar rays to illuminate cities in the polar nights.
The proposal seeks to utilise daylight to capture moisture in the air in humid environments and transform it into usable water. Environments such as deserts benefit greatly from this implementation, as light showers often evaporate in the air before reaching the ground. The proposal looks at revitalising dry climate regions into functional and farmable land over time by installing the technology into square miles of areas at a given time and making the soil soft and hydrated for seed cultivation and allowing farmers to start tending the land. Overtime, the technology can also be developed as a form of water purification.
The jury finds it a very intelligent project − and the key issue, to use daylight (not just by itself but in relation to humidity and agriculture) shows great motivation and technical insight. The jury is intrigued by the investigations and ways of providing systems that allow the transformation of arid zones and infertile land. This is a good direction for the world to take, for its climate and for feeding the increasing population. The jury congratulates a convincing winner of their category for the Americas.
With the lack of road infrastructure and electricity in the mountainous topography of rural China, getting to school can be a very dangerous task for children – especially when coming home from school in the dark. By introducing a small amount of inexpensive fluorite to the pathways, the bright colours of the stones will glow for several hours at night when irradiated by daylight during the day. Almost all provinces in China have large fluorite mines and the coarse processing of the raw stone into pavement material makes is economically feasible for poor rural areas.
The project stems from a very basic need for safe passage between communities. The idea to build pathways made of fluorescent stones is as simple as it is realisable. Other projects have worked with applications, materials and beacons that can be charged during daytime for emergency situations or for finding your way at night – but the jury finds this case to be very well researched and presented, a project that thoroughly addresses a real problem and presents a simple and practical solution.
The project challenges, questions and raises awareness of the phenomenon of desertification, which affects 25% of the global land area − including the region of Almeria, Spain. It proposes creating a new monumentality as a landmark in the territory, where the soils and ecosystems are regenerated by setting up a water cycle based on atmospheric water. A mesh acts as a filter or a veil, designed to create a light and shadow scenography that evolves during the day. Thus, threatened and usually neglected spaces can become places with remarkable spatial, poetic and luminous qualities where people can gather.
The project is a truly interesting investigation. In addition to the challenges of desertification and the questions it raises, this project attempts to investigate the problem and find simple and realisable solutions. Its goal is to regenerate the soil with a special mesh or net that collects moisture from fog, dew and rain. The associated helium balloons also create spectacular and shaded places, and the way it works with humidity as a medium of expression of the light is truly appealing. The jury applauds a really good investigation that is very thoroughly researched and well presented.
There are cities that are immersed in darkness for most of the year, with inhabitants who live and work with the polar night on a routine basis. Biorhythms collapse when people do not experience dawn from day to day, causing higher levels of addiction, suicide and accidents. The project suggests directing solar rays from outer space to the clouds above the city – thus allowing citizens to have a dawn that is almost real and gentle light during the long polar nights that occur for weeks on end.
This project is different from all the other projects the jury saw and they were intrigued by the amazing cartoon-like presentation. It is very large scale, and the students are very courageous to take on almost a fantasy that brings light from space through many layers of devices to cast it over the clouds above cities. This project is a true example of out-of-the-box thinking and the jury congratulates the winners for this novel approach.
Find out more about the winning projects and see all other submissions here.