About Arboreal Lightning

Arboreal Lightning is a vast site-specific interactive lighting installation weaving through the filigree architecture of the Camden Roundhouse. It transforms sound and gesture into an immersive luminous experience with its tree-like fibres shimmering in response to music and movement Bundled LED strips burst from the stage and soar above the performers, their branches twining along the Roundhouse structure and into the heavens. The project was commissioned by Imogen Heap as the centrepiece for the Camden Roundhouse’s Reverb 2014 Festival. It was conceived and designed by Atmos, a multidisciplinary art + architecture + design practice that works across scales and media, from small-scale product-design to large-scale master plans; specialising in bespoke public installations.

We are joined by Alex Haw, Designer and Director at Atmos who is here to answer a few questions on this innovative project.

ARCHITAINMENT: Welcome, thanks for taking the time to interview with us, Alex. Lets get straight into it; our first question is: Where did the inspiration for this project come?

ALEX HAW: Human Nature. Our tussle with being organic, yet kings of artifice. Our own vulnerable fleshy wetness, yet our fiercely intellectual cerebrality. Basically, Imogen Heap and my mutual love and admiration for so many things both human and natural. Trees aren’t just amazing, seductive organic sculptures – that happen to be at the cornerstone of  our lives (and our key architectural supplier); they’re also our key metaphor and a diagram for how we describe so much of our lives. Few things connect sky and earth so effortlessly; suggest strength so robustly, yet frailty so delicately. Few things remind us so continuously of time – and both annual and diurnal change, as well as almost agelessness.”

ARCHITAINMENT: Can you describe your creative process?

ALEX HAW: “Think; draw; discard; redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw; present; redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw, redraw; make.”

ARCHITAINMENT:  What were your expectations of the project, how did you hope the audience would perceive the installation?

ALEX HAW: “We were worried about time, but excited by the team and moment and venue. We weren’t sure how various things would behave, not how we would even build it or hang it, nor how responsive the LED product would be at the potentially-laggy end of 100s of metres of ethernet and XLR cable. We hoped the audience would lose their inhibitions, and let down their guard and just sink into it like an old sofa, enwrapped by light; and i think they did.”

ARCHITAINMENT: Did the reaction meet your expectations?

ALEX HAW: “Partially (i have elevated expectations). An incredible and hugely unexpected number of people were ecstatically effusive and wildly enthusiastic, while some occasional figures were (perhaps surprisingly silent). I loved getting a hug from the roundhouse’s head of music – and loved seeing him whoop up the tree – and loved the kind words i got from Imogen Heap, our commissioning muse, once we’d opened.”

ARCHITAINMENT: Do you work with light regularly? What are your thoughts to working with light? Is working with light more challenging?  Was this your first time working with interactive lighting?

ALEX HAW: “As architects, we always work with light in some way, though often in a more modest fashion, and almost never as interactively. if you look through our portfolio, you’ll find a range of slightly older works that were all solidly interactive, or at least responsive. The art commissioning market seemed to crack and die just as we were starting out, so we haven’t done much since apart from a few installations using camera vision and projection. We’d dearly love to do more lighting installations, but just don’t get asked. It’s not overall more challenging; though the risks of technical failure are probably much higher, so are the rewards – everyone loves a good bit of lighting, which is still as close to magic as we get in everyday life.”

ARCHITAINMENT: In terms of the production for the show, what prep work was done to ensure it all ran smoothly?

ALEX HAW: “As much as poss. testing and testing. putting as many good people onto each detail and area as poss. having backup plans.”

ARCHITAINMENT: What was the biggest challenged faced with the project?

ALEX HAW: “Lack of time and money. We got news of the arts council grant at the end of june and had to be installed by mid august. With 4,800 individually woven LED nodes and 3 kilometres of lighting we didn’t know much about till then.” ARCHITAINMENT: Did the final installation change much from the original brief/concept? What were the reasons for this?

ALEX HAW: “Its shape bent to accommodate the restrictions of the existing building, and was forced to find new routes due to the late emergence of the fact that some parts were simply inaccessible. we trimmed the original 8km of lighting way back due to lack of budget (we had hoped to find a sponsor who’d pay for more LED). we moved away from coils of tubular enclosure towards a track-based system because of the product we’d specified. we moved away from the original plan for CNC-miling plywood substrates because of fire-rating and fragility, and away from milling plastic because of cost. we made all inputs sonic for simplicity and to poetically make audience and performer equal in their weaponry.”

ARCHITAINMENT: What was the most rewarding element to the project?

ALEX HAW: “The gasps and tears of joyfulness.”

ARCHITAINMENT: How would you categorise your own design style?

ALEX HAW: “Complex, meaningful sensuality.”

ARCHITAINMENT: And finally, any parting words, warnings or advice to all the individuals wanting to undertake an interactive lighting installation?

ALEX HAW: “Get as much time as you can, work with brilliant people, get everyone on board, inspired towards a common goal. Simplify wherever possible and focus your firepower.” Many thanks to Alex for taking the time to talk to us; we really enjoyed his answers and hopefully you did too! Why not check out the atmos website or follow Alex on Facebook or Twitter.