Left: Rain Room by conceptual artists Random International
debuted at the London Barbican in 2012 and went to MoMA in
New York the following year. Overleaf: Epiphyte Chamber created
in Seoul, Korea, is one of Toronto-based architect Philip Beesley’s
LED-lit Hylozoic Structures
What is public space? Both the cultural and political scholars are teasing the social connotations of that Marxist question, as boundaries blur between
private, commercial and government land ownership.
When we sip coffee under a new glass canopy on the
roof deck of a historic stone post office, do we know
(or care) who owns the particular square metre of
ground (in legally transferred airspace) that our feet
right now are touching? If we steal someone’s handbag
in a shopping mall, does it matter that a private agency
pays the salary of the security guard who restrains
our liberty before the police arrive? These are touchy
matters in academic debates.
City governments are increasingly allocating long-term BOOT (build-ownoperate-transfer) contracts to
entice commercial developers into once-taboo public-private partnerships (PPPs) to transform derelict
docklands, industrial zones and heritage buildings for
Astute leaders of major developments now see light art
as a priority strategy to activate new potentials for old
land assets. As well as installing prominent outdoor
fixtures, they favour light art to help brand and make
memorable the indoor courts and skylit atria of
shopping malls, hotels, office buildings, and public
museums and galleries.
Obviously skylights are installed to flood interiors with
daylight and are not effective at night, when creative
installations using artificial light are intended to shine.
But how many people will be walking through a public
interior after business hours? Office foyers and
government buildings are usually locked after 6pm,
and then these zones are not ‘public’ interiors.
However, spectacular light sculptures, perhaps suspended
from high foyer ceilings or installed on walls around
central lift cores, can be remarkably effective after-hours signals of building prestige. Although confined
indoors, these can be viewed through glazed walls by
peak-hour commuters. As night descends, they offer
sparks of splendour to citizens in transit – especially
dazzling on gloomy or rainy evenings.