Integrated into the facade of Arizona State University's newly finished Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, this public artwork, advances the principals of “green" design by using a solar-powered convection chamber to reduce the heat load on the building's south-facing interior stairwell and produce a kinetic artwork that projects an ever-changing display of subtle colors and light across the stairwell glass.
Developed by the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture Public Art Program, the work, titled Aldis, was designed by Baltimore artist Paul Deeb, who worked closely with the building's architectural team, HDR and California architect Steven Ehrlich.
“I felt very strongly that, considering the enormous amount of thought and effort being advanced by the city and ASU with respect to green design, our piece would have to incorporate similar concepts to be successful," Deeb said. He accomplished this by designing the stairwell facade as a shallow chamber sandwiched by two glass walls. The 71-foot-high chamber is vented at the top and bottom and acts as a “solar chimney," drawing warm air upward. The flowing air helps to cool the stairwell on hot days by channeling heat away from the building's surface. It also provides the force to produce the artwork's effects of swirling light.
These effects come from 600 highly reflective aluminum air foils that spin inside the chamber and reflect light onto 102 specially designed glass panels that make up the glass face of the stairwell. Deeb likens the effects to those of “a coral reef made of light." seen underwater or in a large aquarium.
The display is visible from both inside and outside the building, day and night. The intensity, coloration and movement of the reflections change with the angle of the sun and heat of the day. Special lighting creates dramatic effects on the glass, which can be viewed from Taylor Mall after dark.
Deeb was chosen to create the artwork through a competition that drew 178 applicants from around the world.
Many technical obstacles had to be overcome in the creation of the work, requiring not only the technical and creative resources of the artist, but also the engineering expertise of HDR architecture and the on-site expertise of Sundt Construction. To withstand the summer's intense environmental conditions, the piece uses a litany of advanced materials, such as “super elastic titanium," more common to aerospace than artwork. The finished light engine was named after the Aldis Lamp (invented by Arthur C.W. Aldis), a marine signaling device that uses shutters to produce pulses of light.