The previously unremarkable International House in Ashford is a striking landmark by night, thanks to a light art installation by Tim Downey and his team at studioFRACTAL. Mark Burgess reports

Light creates a night-time façade for International House at Ashford in Kent. The display, called Fragments, is designed to be invisible by day yet to change the character of the building at night.

International House is a nine-storey modern office building of unremarkable detail opposite the Eurostar station. The intention of the light installation was to add an interesting night-time spectacle and to create a visual marker for Ashford’s regeneration plans. Fragments was conceived and designed by Tim Downey – initially at Pinniger & Partners, but work was completed at Downey’s new design consultancy studioFRACTAL.

Downey and his team investigated a range of lighting options – from projections onto the building to sponsored LED screens – and settled on an abstract representation that would invert the proportions of the building at night. It would create stronger ‘bookends’ to the structure and a more fragmented main façade.

Balancing the need for a visual piece with restrictions on light pollution and installation equipment, the designers developed a lightweight LED installation on the building itself. A variety of colours – strong primaries and softer pastels – are used.

The installation reduces the geometry of the building to a series of horizontal and vertical lines. A colour-changing LED fitting was developed with similar proportions to the existing spandrel panels of the façade. The fittings were arranged in a structured way at the upper levels, becoming more fragmented running down the building.

The design team developed an unobtrusive cable trunking system

In contrast, strong wall-wash fittings were planned for the smaller end façades, creating a ‘bookend effect’. The team spent a lot of time wrestling with cabling installation problems. Although the scheme was conceived to be invisible, the cabling had to be run on the outside of the building to minimise disruption to occupants and keep costs down.

Seamless appearance

Working with LED lighting equipment supplier LightLab, Downey and his team developed an unobtrusive cable trunking system to carry all cabling and the fittings. Trunking was positioned on existing façade joints with angled wings to provide a seamless appearance and tight fit.

LED fittings are recessed into the trunking and all cabling carried back to the electrical distribution room through custom cable ducts. The entire installation is minimalist and neat – and hard to spot in daylight.

LED fittings are recessed into the trunking at existing façade joints

Similar LED fittings were prepared for the undercroft carpark – partly to ensure the main scheme was ‘grounded’ but also to provide a rich colour environment for building users. New white ambient lighting was also fitted to boost safety and security. The coloured walls and columns are the predominant visual experience – visitors are not aware of the increased white light because it falls onto the car park floor.

A series of lighting displays, programmed into the lighting control system, ranges from brief, rich and vibrant colour bursts through to softer pastel undulations. They switch on at different times of the evening, and the finished scheme offers a striking display to commuters, train passengers and Ashford residents.

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