The library of the University College of Borås is a building within a building. The entrance is through a glass façade from an open space created by the junction of Allégatan and Järnvägsgatan. The cubist room within a room also has a glass wall. The artist realized very early on that both books and students would need to be protected from the ravages of the sun pouring through the glass. “My task consists of forming a sun barrier in the entrance hall”, Eva Stephenson-Möller (b. 1950) claimed when describing Kontrapunkt (Counterpoint) in November 2001.
So this function was included from the start; the decorative detail that the library staff call “our spots”, and that has already become an unofficial signature for the university. Kontrapunkt is Eva Stephenson-Möller’s first monumental textile work and the artist’s delight at being able to work with lots of colour and to try out her circular forms on a grand scale, free from the rectangular limitations of woven fabrics, is unmistakable. That the library was opened just when the University College of Borås was having to cut back the number of students to save money was, perhaps, an unhappy coincidence, but it has sadly served to diminish the enthusiasm that Kontrapunkt radiates. There are students today who see the wall covered in brightly coloured spots as a game of ludo; a symbol of the fact that some are welcome to join in and some not.
Eva Stephenson-Möller’s sun barrier is huge. The glass façade covers 192 square metre and comprises a network of 5 x 5 panes of glass glued together. Where it forms the outside wall it is doubled. The five parallel lengths of the barrier are raised and lowered in this space. The gigantic curtains are made of polyester-reinforced woven plastic. They are automatically raised and lowered by a regulating system steered from a light metre on the façade. When the light measures less than 6 000 lux, the barrier is not visible. The illuminated inside of the library then makes it the beacon in the post-industrial darkness of Borås that the university college was intended to be. If the light metre measures 6 000 or more lux then the curtain is slowly lowered behind the first horizontal row of glass panes. If the light remains bright, the next row is covered a few minutes later. And so it continues until the entire façade has been transformed into a series of red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple spots or roundels on a white ground. The resulting surface forms a square. In this way the work lends support to the library building‘s striving – even in full sunlight – to be not just a symbolic but even a practical beacon at the end of the busy Allégatan. Konstrapunkt is readily visible all the way down to the roundabout by the newspaper building and it acts as a very useful landmark at the end of the street; a clear improvement to the urban environment.
Inside, in the library, the sun barrier creates shade without darkness. In the pale winter sunshine, the light is gently filtered through the structure of the building as though through the leaves of a tree and the colours remain in place. When the sunlight is strong in summer the colours spread inwards like refractions from a prism. In this way Eva Stephenson-Möller’s Konstrapunkt turns the façade into a living element, something that mediates mobile light and shade into the library itself.
The French architect Jean Nouvel was the first person in our time to use the advanced technology to regulate light and shade in the interior of a building with his epoch-making Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. In his building metal shutters are constantly heard to be in motion and the visual expression of the building is never unchanged for any length of time. In Borås – the textiles capital of Sweden – it is a case of textile architecture and a rather less complex regulatory system working over a longer time span. But here, too, image and building are in symbiosis with each other. True functionality requires them both.