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Light has changed society

A conversation with the architect and artist ISA STEIN (on the right in the picture) about the relationship between (day)light and architecture

The business activities of the ISA STEIN STUDIO range from architecture to art, with both disciplines enriching each other, as was the case for the new office building for Internorm in 2013. Vision, connection, architecture spoke to the founder Isa Stein about light in this complex field.

Vision, connection, architecture: Today, modern glasses and window constructions allow the previously closed wall to be replaced completely with glass. This allows maximum daylight to enter the building, but at the same time, there is a certain loss of privacy. How do you manage this discrepancy?

ISA STEIN: The requirements for buildings have changed in general. In office architecture in particular, the use of glass as a substitute for a wall has been advancing for some decades.

From a historical perspective, the house was a place of retreat, and therefore the ability to see inside was kept to a minimum. Building physics also played a role of course. Small windows and lots of wall area made it easier to heat houses.

Technical progress gives us new options. Today it's possible to build a glass palace and to consume a lot of energy. The challenge, however, is on the one hand to build architectures that are ecological, i.e. that still enable us to protect the environment, and on the other hand to meet our social needs. That means, as you would say, maintaining the necessary level of privacy. In our project — the headquarters of IFN Internorm — we tried to create a balance between transparency and a private retreat. Its architecture can help a building fulfil its function. An office building has to meet different requirements to those for a private residential house.

I call this the "architecture of association".

VCA: In the new office building in Traun, the internal walls are made of glass. This means that they guide light into the central building core and create a high level of quality while the building is in use. But how do you still achieve a spatial separation in this case, or a feeling of demarcation between rooms and the corridor?

ISA STEIN: Office buildings and residential houses have different requirements. Privacy means something different in each case. In office buildings, we tend to refer to areas of retreat. To understand the precise requirements and the degree of interaction between employees in a company, we hold lots of conversations with the owner. At IFN Internorm, communication is important because development activities are also taking place at this location. However, the peace to conduct your own work is equally a prerequisite. We tried to meet these parameters by covering the glass partitions between offices and central areas individually with film. The issue of identification and localisation was again important here. The film covering was undertaken specifically for the company and we implemented design drawings of window apertures for the film covering.

This enables us to achieve translucence on one hand, and on the other hand meet the specific needs of the company.

Light is something sensual and may therefore also provide surprises.


VCA: Natural light changes over the course of the day. Do you incorporate this change in your architecture?

ISA STEIN: In this case we had exactly the right partner at our side, and we benefited from them a lot. IFN Holding has a market leader in UPVC windows in the form of Internorm, but also includes other companies, such as the shading manufacturer Schlotterer.

Schlotterer has developed blinds with light deflection that we were able to use in both new buildings and old buildings. The light deflection deflects the beam angle such that a large quantity of daylight is directed deep into the building.

VCA: In addition to daylight, each room has artificial lighting. What options does artificial lighting offer in design that daylight perhaps does not offer, and how do the two types of lighting supplement one another?

ISA STEIN: We all perceive daylight as natural and comfortable. Artificial lighting is intended as a supplement to provide workstations with the best possible lighting. Individual controls allow the workstation lights to be operated individually. In the general areas we used indirect light. We wanted to create new moods that are surprising in an office building. Light is something sensual and may therefore also provide surprises.

In the new building as a whole, the objective was to create a zero energy building with the option of upgrading to a plus energy building, and therefore we used only LED technology.

VCA: As an artist you often work with light as a design medium — in the Hotel am Domplatz in Linz, for example. Why?

ISA STEIN: Light is rather poetic. In the project you just mentioned, it is a beautiful feeling "to draw" with light, to design something and have it created and then see it disappear again. Light is like a thought, like a dream. If you engage with light, it is rather sensual. And light has changed our life. Think back to the time when we had only candle light, or paraffin lamps. Light has changed society.

Photo: Isa Stein (right) with Anette Klinger, co-owner of Internorm International GmbH