Solar Hymnal

Daylight investigations - Region WESTERN EUROPE

Jaan Gröndahl

Janne Järvinen

Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki


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Retired gasholders speckle the post-industrial landscapes of Europe. Solar Hymnal proposes to transform these unique structures into future memorials; to our collective fossil fuel past, a visceral reminder of society’s ability to undergo difficult transformations. Under changing sun conditions, the installation begins to create an ever shifting chordal tone, as the white curtains form a beacon like collage of reflected light, shadow and diffuse glow.

Solar Hymnal reimagines technology developed by Aernoudt Jacobs in their mechanical sculpture Heliophone 2015, into a large scale habitable intervention. Using a phenomena first discovered by Graham Bell in the late 19th century, the ‘photoacoustic’ effect, utilizes light energy to produce sound without electronic amplification.

Solar Hymnal requires minimal alterations to the existing gasholder structures. To prevent further structural degradation, the existing structure is covered with rust encapsulating paint, requiring little surface preparation. A suspended lightweight aluminum space frame suspends the solar collectors and horns above the ground. The curtain elements are suspended with taut steel cable.

Incoming sunlight is focused on a photoacoustic element with a parabolically shaped reflector. Each reflector is positioned to maximize sunlight capture at a specific time of day. The photoacoustic element uses a rotating perforated disk to split the incoming light into discrete fragments before hitting a sonorous material. The sonorous material reacts to the pulses of light by rhythmically expanding and contracting: creating soundwaves. Adjusting the rate of the rotating disk, allows one to produce different frequencies with each photoacoustic element. The large horn mechanically amplifies the produced sound. As light hits different collectors at specific times of day, different tones gradually overlap, a daily chordal progression.

Like the distant foghorns of a lighthouse in poor visibility, aural sensations take over a lost visual connection with the original artifact. Driven by the sun, the installation encapsulates a repertoire of the Mother Earth in an intimate soundscape, chronicling an evolving storyline of our past and present, telegraphed in directions dictated by the wind.