Smart Stargazing in Genk

Photo courtesy Alkatech.

The Belgian city of Genk in Limburg recently switched on a fabulous new civic lighting installation called “Genker Ster” (Genk Star). The piece of light art was designed by creative lighting and visual design practice Paining with Light, and enables the community to enjoy the fun and excitement of a unique ‘architainment’ concept all year round.

The permanent lighting installation was the brainchild of Genk Mayor Wim Dries. Ambient lighting has been part of the vibrant and forward-thinking city’s festive experience for the last decade, however the new Stars can now make an atmospheric impact throughout the year.

Once the project was green-lighted by the city council, a tender was issued for a concept design and specification which was won by Painting with Light.

The design – comprising the 275 stars – was chosen both for its aesthetics, smart technologies, innovation and functionality.

A second tender was then issued for the technical design and manufacturing of the Stars, which are distributed around the city centre … attached to building facades and other objects. This was won by another local company, Alkatech, and also involved close consultation with Painting with Light’s creative director Luc Peumans and his team.

The illuminated Stars feature four elegant, varying length curved elements winding around a centre-point and tapered at the ends, held in place by eight prongs. The Stars themselves are constructed from brushed aluminium.

Each Star contains 2,064 LEDs which can change colour, twinkle and be programmed to create multiple effects.

Painting with Light is also based in Genk, so everyone in the company was delighted to be involved in the project.

“It’s a great honour to be asked to imagine and deliver an active, living and sustainable contribution to life in Genk using the art form I know and love. I hope it will engage people and add to the bustle and energy of the city,” stated Luc.

He explained that the concept and thinking behind the structure of the Stars was to create an attractive shape that was timeless, universal and globally secular, but that could also be associated with Christmas. It had to please everyone as well as delivering a touch of magic to the urban downtown environment.

Meeting all these parameters was the challenge, and arriving at the final shape was an evolutionary process, however Luc’s experience in the fields of entertainment and architectural lighting, storytelling and media concepts all contributed to their winning product.

Photo courtesy Alkatech.

Every pixel of each star contains two LED packages. The first is RGB for a full range of saturated colours and the second is a combination of warm and cold whites and amber … for a comprehensive array of authentic-looking whites. These are also ideal for the cosy, golden amber glow required for the Christmas season.

However, this complete flexibility of the Stars means they can be programmed to reinforce or reflect a number of occasions … far more than just traditional Christmas lights.

Painting with Light already has an advance calendar of upcoming events in the city, like May Day, etc. and including the home match dates of nationally ranked football team, KRC Genk.

The Stars have already become part of Genk’s social fabric – highlighting occasions by running special colours and lighting sequences. All content has also been supplied by Painting with Light, and new content will be produced as required according to activities in the city, establishing a library of material that can be stored for future use.

The Stars also make long-term financial sense as a far more cost-effective solution for the city, rather than spending money putting up and taking down a single festive lighting display each year (as was the case with the traditional Christmas lights).

The installation utilizes a unique control system developed by Alkatech, with adaptability at its heart. Every LED pixel in each Star can be individually controlled to display around 270 trillion colours and is sent data via a cloud-based server which is synchronised by the internet clock.

Data is sent via a 4G SIM card embedded in the Star, and can be accessed locally or remotely via LedNet, a control platform devised by Alkatech as a potential SmartCity comms protocol. This can also be used for other tasks like monitoring air quality or activating / accessing other devices.

The LedNet devices can receive instructions via Ethernet, WIFI or – in this case – SIM card, and they can be programmed via a calendar app and also support live streaming. The City of Genk can control and change / update the calendar App via smartphone or web page as needed.

Art-Net compatibility means a LedNet controlled system can be integrated into an entertainment lighting system that might be installed temporarily for a special concert or a festival staged in one of the city’s public spaces … so the Stars can be integrated and run as part of their light show.

With the exception of the LEDs, all elements in this project have been created, developed, designed and invented in Belgium, with 80% of that ‘Belgian’ DNA coming from the Limburg region itself.

Luc concludes, “A system like this can add value and great vibes to any city, space or place for that matter! I can envision many future uses for this technology including theme parks, visitor attractions and all types of built environments”.

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