Creating a dialogue with art at the Fabrique des Lumières in Amsterdam

The latest in a series of digital art centre features interactivity and 17-metre artwork from some of the world’s greatest painters. Paul Milligan reports.

The idea of digitising art to present it to a new generation is nothing new, but no one does it quite like Culturespaces. The company currently manages 8 digital art centres around the world (New York will be number eight and is to open as this magazine goes to press and a ninth will open in Dortmund, Germany next year). Each site, from South Korea to Paris has been hugely successful, drawing in massive crowds to its immersive mix of art, music and technology. We covered the launch of the first site, the Atelier des Lumières in Paris in 2018, which has since attracted more than three million visitors since opening. The latest addition to its stable of digital art centres is the Fabrique des Lumières in Amsterdam, which opened its doors to visitors in April. The Fabrique des Lumières is housed in the former gas plant of Westergasfabriek, which was built in 1885, before being converted in 1967 into a cultural space. On the technology side of things, the site includes more than 100 projectors, 33 media servers, spatial audio, and is the first of the Culturespaces venues to include an interactive area for visitors.


The AV for Fabrique des Lumières was designed and installed by French integrator Cadmos, for whom this is the seventh Culturespaces venue it has worked on. As explained by Cadmos founder Roman Hatala, the choice of venue is always a huge part of the experience and to make that decision Culturespaces has a very specific criteria; “It's always a refurbishment of an existing venue, but one that doesn't exist for concerts or shows. Usually they take an old building with historical value and transform it. They want to create a dialogue between the images of the art pieces and the building. That's what’s quite interesting in these projects because they are always a tailor-made development.” Instead of being daunted by the prospect of installing lots of cutting-edge AV kit in a historical building that for the most part is being left in its original state, with exposed walls hundreds of years old, Hatala welcomes the task; “We like to work on these projects because it's always interesting to find solutions for such constraints. For example, either the roof doesn't hold enough load to bring in projectors, or the sound is moving out from the space. We have many challenges to face each time we study a new building, but that makes it interesting.”

The importance of the architecture plays such a big part in these experiences that the technology is very much a secondary concern admits Hatala. “Our goal, since the first site we worked on, is to make all the technical installation as invisible as possible, to leave the space to the building, and to the images. We don't want to have a venue full of trusses or full of equipment because they are too visible, it's not the purpose of the site.”

The first part of the process is to visit a series of venues before making the final decision, and it’s a process that Cadmos is involved in, so it can give its opinion if technology will work in the space or not. What was it about Westergasfabriek that Cadmos liked? “This was a site on which they’d already held fashion shows and private events, so it already had a truss on the roof. The proportions were nice with long walls and big lines of walls, which is interesting for the images and the content creation. In choosing the venue its more about the atmosphere and the perspective of the volumes, could people see larges images here? Because in large scale prediction you need to have a long distance to embrace it with your eyes, that’s the key point, it can’t be too narrow or not too small or have too low ceilings.”

As in other sites, projection dominates the space, and the projection area is 3,800 m2, with part of the walls reaching 17-metres high. Projection relies on 102 Epson PU2010 and PU1008 projectors, fed by Modulo Kinetic media servers by Modulo Pi. The kit consists of three Modulo Kinetic Designer workstations, and 30 Modulo Kinetic V-Node servers equipped with four outputs. Cadmos used the media server throughout the project workflow, including study, simulation, edge blending, outputs warping, media playback and show control.

In addition to the regular projections, Culturespaces created an interactive area at the heart of the exhibition hall. The introduction of interactivity within the immersive experience wasn’t introduced without a great deal of thought says Glen Loarer, production manager at Culturespaces: “We’re looking into ways to enrich the visitors’ experience without altering the main immersive exhibition. Interactivity comes as a plus, it offers a complementary experience.” Implementing interactivity within the Fabrique des Lumières came with some challenges admits Loarer. “We have many visitors so equipping each person with a physical sensor would be very difficult. Relying on touchscreen terminals would hinder the experience too. Interactivity would be accessible to a few persons, and visitors would have to form lines and wait to access the experience.”

To introduce interactivity while preserving the experience, Culturespaces chose laser detection. The interactive section consists of two facing walls of 90m2 each, and the floor in-between. On each wall, 1 x ROD4 plus scanner laser by Leuze has been installed. The whole interactivity is then handled by the Modulo Kinetic media server. Culturespaces entrusted content studio Holymage with the creation of the interactive program. Guidelines for the artistic proposal included interacting with the works of Klimt without altering the works of the Austrian artist: “In terms of interactivity in our field, some effects are possible, and others are not since we need to preserve the integrity of the paintings. For example, content distortion is not an option here as it would alter the artwork,” said Loarer.

“We wanted to create a playful experience in which the audience would be involved,” adds Xavier Mailliez, creative director, Holymage. “Unlike the observer position within the main exhibition, here they become actors thanks to the interaction with the content.” Besides preserving the artwork projected, the creative studio had to consider other constraints too, “We had to anticipate the number of visitors that would access the experience simultaneously. The experience must work visually without an audience, or with dozens of visitors at the same time” said Antoine Géré, creative director, Holymage. The surface of the room was another important element he adds, “In this area, walls measure more than 5 metres high. This parameter has proved decisive in finding an interaction that would use the walls’ surface fully.”

Based on these elements, Holymage proposed a system of interactive vertical stripes that appear when touching the facing walls, thus revealing the content of the artwork projected on the walls and the floor. Technically speaking, visitors’ hands or bodies are detected by the ROD4 plus scanner lasers when getting close to the walls. The laser being supported by Modulo Kinetic, the media server receives the position of visitors detected in real-time, which triggers the stripes, and reveal the content projected. If visitors are going along one of the two walls, the interactive stripes will follow their movements.
Cadmos arrived on site in early January, by which time most of the construction work was happily complete. “It's one of the first sites we've worked on that when we entered it was a dust-free area and we had space to work in with our forklifts,” says Hatala. “It was great because we were able to spend three months on the installation, usually it’s just one month of hardware and cabling everything. Here we had one month of adjustment and setting up all the communication between all the equipment. The last element was geometrical adjustment and getting the show content right.”

The biggest challenge on the project was a factor of the building’s age says Hatala. “Because it's an old building the roof and the walls are quite thin. During the construction period we found when it was windy the building would move a little bit. There were also some storms so we had to adapt a suspension system for projectors because they were moving with the weather conditions. We had to fix some spring isolators for the projectors to be able to deal with the wind. Because they projectors are attached to each other it was very challenging.” The projectors play a fundamental part in the success of these venues, and with 17-metre high images they have to be the best they can be.

Why did Cadmos chose Epson this time around? “We tested a lot of equipment, but the choice was decided by the pixel size and optic lens available from different manufacturers. For this one, we chose to work with Epson because it had a specific periscopic lens we needed in the venue, as it gives you a very wide angle with a lot of shift possibilities.” Audio also plays a big part in creating such an immersive experience. Like the other venues, the choice was made to go with Nexo, “We used the same technology as we did in Paris because we are looking for the same kind of result,” explains Hatala. “We have one channel per speaker so you can map sound around the whole space as you can route sound to each speaker and merge between those within the space.” All the audio is Dante controlled.

The shows are run on a day-to-day basis by an in-house AV team, who control the show on Modulo kinetic with a specific user interface installed on a control tablet, which has all the features the teams needs to make sure it runs smoothly and the big audiences go away happy.

Kit list


Nexo ID-24T loudspeakers, NXAMP MK2 amplifiers, IDS-110 subwoofers
Yamaha MRX7D processors


Epson EB-PU2010, EB-PU1008 projectors with ELPLX02S, ELPLU03 lenses
Euromet Arakno mounts
Lightware HDMI-OPTJ-TX/RX90 fibre optic HDMI extenders 
Modulo Pi Modulo Kinetic media servers, Kinetic Designer workstations, Kinetic V-Node servers
Netgear M4250 series AV-over-IP switches


all pix
Credit: Culturespaces-Eric Spiller
Credit: Culturespaces-Sophie Lloyd





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