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Manuel Abendroth, Jerome Decock, Els Vermang

Size: 70 * 4 m

Technique: stainless steel structure with lexan diffusers, LEDs, custom tailored electronics, reactive software


LAb[au]’s light integration for the 70m long pedestrian tunnel at Toronto’s Union station is based on 96 metal frames. They are placed at a regular interval of 30 inches, which corresponds to the average human footstep length. In other words, the 70m long tunnel corresponds to 96 human steps. In reference to Etienne Jules Marey, it takes ‘a man walking at ordinary speed’ 50 seconds to cross the tunnel.


Each vertical stud of the metal frame is subdivided into 5 sections, equipped with individually controlled LED rails. The horizontal beams are equally divided and equipped with sensors tracking the presence of a person below. A captured signal from a sensor switches on the corresponding LED segment or switches off an already illuminated one. This on/off switch follows a simple binary principle driving the installation. It mirrors, over the length of 70 m, the individual passage of a person in the form of a light trail. From the superposition of the individual imprint emerges a more complex pattern, one of urban flow. Just like in any stream, it is the interaction between individual elements that creates a complex collective behaviour, a pattern. In this manner, the installation displays motion patterns between: a light graffiti; painting with light on the scale of an individual and; a light motif, visualising urban flow on the collective scale.  


The division of the metal frames into 5 segments originates from a sonic principle, the pentatonic scale. A virtual ‘play head’ travelling along the installation is progressively reading the captured signals, hence notes emit from the metal profiles. The rhythmic sounds are diffused by 96 speakers allowing a ‘spatial’ experience of the sounds travelling through the tunnel as pedestrians do. This step-by-step reading is similar to that of a ‘step sequencer’ device for musical instruments. One of the advantages of the pentatonic scale is that it offers endless permutations while always remaining ‘harmonious’, constituting a chord, a sequence in tune. The variation of the play head speed permits the synchronisation of the system with urban flow. Consequently, variation is obtained through the endless combinations of light and sound, plus the varying speed of the ‘play head’ equalling rhythm. 


The pentatonic scale is deeply embedded in our minds, allowing immediate recognition and anticipation. It can be found in all kind of music styles all over the world; it is a ‘glocal’ scale and its usage seems appropriate for a place of local (= national) and global (= international) traffic such as Union Station, where daily more than 60,000 people pass through. In this manner the sonified flow becomes a melody carved into our mind. Just like a randomly captured snippet of a song on the radio, in urban transportation or a shopping mall, the recognition of something familiar accompanies us for a longer time.


This translation of the concept flux by the means of light and sound is strongly related to the architectural and urban realm - cities have always been shaped by natural, economic and infrastructural flows; presently increasing volumes of information and communication further contributes to their form. Union Station is a hub of intense traffic and as such an ideal location to extract data from the environment to create a collective flow motif. The installation proposes a contemporary image of environment qualities and, as in the tradition of landscape painting, it directs our view towards the way we perceive our surroundings/time. 

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