In 2020 we began designing a dramatic centerpiece for a high-end residence on a private island in the British Virgin Islands. The goal was to link the open-air ground floor with a second-story viewing platform. Our design intent was to create a dynamically illuminated staircase that combines cutting-edge materials and advanced world-class lighting content.

Tropical ipe hardwoods were combined with a bamboo-polymer hybrid diffuser to blend the sculptural form with the natural look and feel of the rest of the property. The subtle diffusion layer creates a softer illumination from the LEDs when lit, and fits seamlessly with the appearance of bamboo inlay within the ipe hardwood when at rest. The fabrication design was done through Rhino with Grasshopper parametrics allowing the team to create intricate digital fabrication and wiring diagrams during the design process.

The lighting design team, Digital Ambiance, and build/engineering team, One Hat One Hand, worked closely throughout the project to best implement the structure and the embedded LEDs. The result is a seamless aesthetic, with no visible wires, connections or hot spots behind the diffusors. Many weeks were spent on-site installing the pre-fabricated pieces, wiring the electronics, and programming the final installation.

Digital Ambiance used a custom addressable LED product made specifically for this project. It was designed to be IP68 submersible and features a “failover” circuit preventing a single LED failure from disrupting the data signal.

Digital Ambiance also developed their own custom LED drivers allowing them to run pixel data over long distances, a necessary challenge to overcome to enable this design. They coupled these drivers with an advanced volumetric control software, SMODE, which gave them the ability to paint lighting patterns in 3-dimensions. This allowed them to treat the entire property like one large canvas and control all of the addressable pixels from a central system we specifically designed for this type of volumetric project.

The programming of this installation was a main consideration from the very onset of the project. Digital Ambiance specializes in advanced volumetric lighting, and over the years has developed a whole set of tools that allow them to drive patterns across 3 dimensional canvases such as this. They treat all pixels the same, whether they live within video screens, abstract LED sculptures, projections, or any other form of dynamic light source. What this means is that when they design content, they design looks that can flow through an entire environment, creating true immersion. This system is specific to Digital Ambiance’s process and used exclusively by their firm. It allows them to create works of art that are unique and completely bespoke with content only limited by our imaginations.

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