Outstanding lighting design for Berlin's Futurium

Berliners and brothers, Tim and Jan Edler are known for the mesmerising media facades, digital surfaces and lightning designs they create for architectural and urban settings across the world as realities:united. One of their more recent works was the lighting design of Berlin’s Futurium, a project realised in collaboration with Richter Musikowski architects and Zumtobel, amongst others.

The lucent entrance hall of the Futurium in Berlin, Germany. © Christoph Meinschäfer
The brothers and founders of realities:united Jan and Tim Edler © Steffen Jänicke 2012

That realities:united was involved in the design of the Berlin institution that looks into the future, couldn’t be more appropriate. The architect siblings behind the studio have been artistic and innovative mavericks since they started working together. Their first venture was in the transdisciplinary art collective Kunst und Technik, which, in tune with the post-modern times of a post-wall Berlin, called home the former animal testing laboratory of Charité hospital in the centre of the city. Fast-forward the decades and since 2000 they have been working under the mantle of realities:united, establishing the studio as a pioneer in mediatecture (the design of medially augmented spaces) and designing media facades.

Back in 1997, the brothers, who would later be nicknamed ‘the Masters of Light’, created their first light project with Light in Monbijoupark – the same park where Kunst und Technik was based. A year later they launched Flussbad, a project that is still ongoing, which seeks to transform the banks of the River Spree and Spree Canal in Berlin’s historic centre for its citizens. The sheer diversity of these two early projects prefigured the wide range the duo is still offering today. But if the name of the studio seems to be highly apt, that is merely in retrospect, says Jan Edler: ‘In our early years, we were very much looking forward to technologies that would lead to augmented realities which would enable people to perceive space in a different way. Back then, this technology was still deeply hidden in university labs, and we were fascinated by it. We started to develop projects around possible content of space production or space perception of such technologies, and for a short time we believed we would become a specialised studio dealing with that, which is why we called ourselves realities:united. At the same time, we were of course slightly aware of the fact it was a good name to also look at all the other very different projects we were doing, that on first sight didn’t really fit together…'

The studio gained its first international plaudits with a light and media façade for the Kunsthaus Graz, built as part of the Austrian city’s celebrations as European Capital of Culture in 2003. In this project, the Edlers applied one of their signature approaches: looking at the potential of a situation, and more often than not, reprogramming the original task. ‘Kunsthaus Graz was not a commission to do the façade,’ Jan Edler explains, ‘it originated from a much more abstract commission to think about the use of media technology in the building.’ realities:united managed to convince the Kunsthaus Graz’s architect Peter Cook to integrate its concept as a real part of the building. ‘They were dreaming of a very communicative transparent façade that would enable a direct communication between inside and outside.’ The original plan of a transparent building hadn’t materialised but the BIX façade ensured the power of its architecture to expand its reach.

Futuristic staircase design highlighted with PANOS infinity and PANOS evolution luminaires. © Christoph Meinschäfer
Luminaires illuminating through a remarkable ceiling construction. © Christoph Meinschäfer

Another example of their reprogramming approach is Museum X in the German city of Mönchengladbach. ‘It’s still one of my favourite projects. When the Museum was closing for renovation, the director asked us to develop a sign for the time of closure. The Museum wasn’t doing well at that time and the Museum director was afraid it would disappear from the landscape completely. So it was crucial to place the Museum in the urban fabric. We did a reprogramming of the original brief in the sense that we wouldn’t design a sign for the Museum; we would do a ‘Trojan museum’ as a sign for the Museum! So we built a temporary, fake museum focusing on the redevelopment of the city. In many of our projects we work like that: we try to discover something that remained undiscovered till that point. And to make use of that.’

With a mix of temporary and permanent works and installations, other significant projects by realities:united include Big Vortex (a public art proposal for Bjarke Ingels’ waste-to-energy plant in Copenhagen to blow smoke rings), and the aforementioned Flussbad Berlin, which plans to give locals and visitors much more than clean water to swim in. The brothers’ work can be seen in museum collections (MoMA), private collections, as well as in public art collections in Europe, North America and Asia.

The expressive architecture enriches the city centre of Berlin. © Christoph Meinschäfer