Lubell . Fernández

Buoyant light

source: velux . design team: Claire Lubell, Virginia Fernández

The Canadian Arctic is a territory defined by the vastness of the landscape, the dominance of rock, rugged vegetation, snow and ice, and abundant fauna. Within its vast area are scattered remote communities whose lives depend on the natural cycles for subsistence.
The solar cycle is a tool for understanding other changes in the land--the fluctuating tides and currents, the rising temperature, the melting of the land and ice. But the land of the midnight sun also plunges Arctic communities into darkness for up to four months of the year.
While imagining its potential implementation through the Arctic, Buoyant Light takes Igloolik, an Inuit community of 1600 at 70 degrees North, as a site. It is home to the internationally recognized Artcirq, a circus and Isuma, a film production company, as well as a research center and a strong arts community. Like much of the arctic, this island is witnessing a more acute rate of climatic change than other parts of the world; melting of permafrost, rising sea levels and rapid sea ice changes are threatening traditional modes of living from the land.

Buoyant Light frames light in a context where the sun does not always set and does not always rise. The project proposes to harness the abundance of light from May to August, in order to offset the lack of light from November to February by the harvesting of summer light and subsequent storage of energy for the long winter season. A small portion of the energy gathered by the balloon is used to power the buoy’s mechanisms, reducing the reliance on batteries and diminishing maintenance, most is stored to provide light in the winter and the rest is kept in portable batteries that can be used for other purposes. Buoyant Light introduces a connection between light and the tracking of other environmental changes. Solar balloons are attached to buoys used by researchers for
gathering data on tides, currents, temperature, salinity, sedimentation and ice profile. This data is currently collected to be used by researchers across the Arctic; however the project proposes an interface between the information collected and the communities, pairing up functions to provide vital real-time information.
The main role of the buoy is to measure the depth of the ice throughout the year, and therefore the rate of freeze/thaw which is fundamental to the Inuit life. As an island, the inhabitants of Igloolik must cross the ice in order to reach hunting grounds, a part of life which has become increasingly dangerous with the unreliability of the ice. The thickness of ice is colour coded according to an international standard. The data collected by sonar measuring in the buoy will be communicated through corresponding colour in the balloon. Not only does this provide the Inuit with real time knowledge of the surrounding ice conditions, but it dots the vast open landscape with spheres of light and colour, identifying locations and orienting travelers.

Buoyant Light addresses three different needs:
The largest balloons, close to the shore, provide the community with immediate visual access to information. Acting as a traditional lighthouse, they mark the location of the town for approaching travelers and vessels. Lowered in the winter to protect them from higher winds and more frequent storms, the balloons cast light onto the ice, forming a space for meetings, celebrations or performances The balloons further out in the open waters, act as way-finding devices for hunters and travelers. Once distributed throughout Arctic waters, they begin to act as a soft network connecting remote communities, while also providing widespread data collected for international researchers.
Finally, the balloons on land are used to delineate gathering spaces around key buildings in the town. A few clusters measure the change in permafrost (frozen land) detrimental to the structural stability of buildings. In arctic communities where there is little urban framework or strategy for growth, the project helps to activate community spaces and suggest nodes of activity. Over time, smaller solar balloons could be used to provide a new sustainable lighting solution for the Arctic communities, improving energy consumption costs and the safety of inhabitants.

Buoyant Light suggests a new interpretation of daylighting in a context where extreme conditions demand innovative solutions.
Through the use of light, the intervention monitors and communicates environmental changes without being a hard infrastructure and leverages the needs of the global research community with the social needs of the local Inuit. Recognizing that in this fragile environment any change has powerful implications, the project proposes an almost ethereal intervention that would introduce a new seasonal cycle of colour into the landscape and improve the life of the community through light.

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