Licht Kunst Licht illuminates an underground bike garage with wheel-inspired fixtures, transforming it into an inviting home for 800 bicycles.
As a type, underground parking has a bad name. In most of these concrete volumes, says Marco Serra, chief architect of Novartis, “the walls are dead.” But lifeless building is not the calling card of the global pharmaceutical company, which has populated its various campuses with works by Frank Gehry and Alejandro Aravena, among others. In 2014, Novartis assigned Serra to reconceive parking for 800 bicycles – which it has inserted beneath a new park at its Basel, Switzerland, headquarters – as a work of architecture better suited to the company’s reputation.
Almost immediately, Serra thought of Lina Bo Bardi’s legendary Coaty Restaurant in Salvador, Brazil. Completed in 1987, the largely windowless, concrete interior featured sinuous corrugated walls that evoked gently flowing curtains – the opposite of entombment. Serra realized that adapting the Coaty concept to a bicycle garage would allow riders to use the perimeter wall as a navigational device, following its curves to the entry ramp or to one of the garage’s two stairways. To underscore the wall’s use as a horizon line, he tapped AZ Awards finalists Licht Kunst Licht as lighting designers.
“When we started the project, there were these round cut-outs in the ceiling, which were necessary due to structural reasons,” says Martina Weiss, director of the Bonn, Germany–based studio, which also has a Berlin office. “When looking at Marco’s design, we had the idea that these recesses would be the perfect place for lighting – luminous ‘wheels.’”
Produced by German manufacturer Trilux and installed in three rows of five luminaires – with a 16th light inserted off-grid to mark a staircase – the bespoke fixtures consist of an annular slanting shell made of translucent white PMMA divided into 12 segments. LEDs are embedded in the shell’s integrated channel, and they shine in a 120-degree beamspread. That illumination extends uniform 4000 K light across the thermoplastic to create a graphic ring effect. “It beautifully washes those perimeter walls to make them seem inviting and friendly,” says Weiss, citing the importance of creating a feeling of safety in underground spaces.