CapitaLand’s Raffles City Chengdu is a project that embraces art on different scales. First, this entire integrated development, designed by world-renowned architect Steven Holl, is a gigantic city sculpture. By pushing the buildings to the edge of the site and allowing them to be shaped not by a sculptor’s carving knife but by the requirements of sunlight, its form is unique. Next, two installations of urban scale placed in prominent positions on the building elevations. One of them, the History Pavilion by Holl himself, is both an auditorium and an abstract composition of planar weathering steel; the other, the Light Pavilion by the late Lebbeus Wood, is a complex installation which we will cover in detail in this article. Last but not least, human-scale artworks positioned at places that one can easily come close to, including the ever popular Panda Family sculpturelocated right at the main entrance.
Lebbeus Woods (1940- 2012, USA) was trained as an architect. He once worked in the office of modern master Eero Saarinen and spent much of his professional life writing and teaching. He produced many drawings of experimental architecture and these were collected by various institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. What is very special about him is that none of his design was ever built, except one – The Light Pavilion, a project specially commissioned by CapitaLand for Raffles City Chengdu and for which Woods collaborated with his partner Christoph Kumpusch. But sadly, Woods never lived to see its completion.
A Pool of Lights
Facing the main road, the Light Pavilion is installed in a square recess on the façade of one of the perimeter blocks overlooking the central courtyard of Raffles City Chengdu. The recess measures about 14 m x 14 m x 8m (deep) and the installation is huge. It consists of a number of “light beams” constructed with translucent white polycarbonate sheets clad around tubular steel structures. The light beams are anything but regular. They bend and kink and intersect with one another, and seem to have been imbued with so much energy that they burst out from the square enclosure, wild, dynamic, unkempt, contrasting with the coolly articulated and meticulously assembled glass and concrete building elevations that surround it.
Because the installation is unblocked, it is visible from far away, an eye-catcher during the day and a beacon at night. And this is no ordinary beacon. Inside each light beam are continuous strips of RGB (Red, Green and Blue) LED lights, which can be programmed to change colours in infinite combinations. This is a beacon that can dazzle, if it wants to, but perhaps dazzle is not quite the right word, as the light glows ever so softly and evenly from each light tube, thanks to the translucency of the polycarbonate material.
Dive Deep In
For the ultimate experience of the Light Pavilion, one should visit it at night. Integrated with the light beams is a series of staircases and platforms that will allow one to access different parts of the installation, and to experience it from different vantage points. Because the walls, ceiling and floor are all lined with mirror-like stainless steel plates, there is an illusion of infinity in almost every direction, and there is a fascinating abstract painting to be captured whichever way the camera is pointed. One is bathed in ever-changing multi-colour light and space and time seems infinite whether you look forward or backward. Suddenly one gets this wonderful feeling of lightness, as if swimming in a wonderful pool of light, as free as a fish.
This article is contributed by CapitaLand Chief of Art Management, Francis Wong Hooe Wai