At St Paul’s Cathedral, sound becomes light through an installation by Pablo Valbuena

‘Aura’ by Pablo Valbuena at St Paul’s Cathedral for London Design Festival 2023 (and until early November 2023) makes sound tangible through light

St Paul's Cathedral at London Design Festival 2023
(Image credit: Ed Reeve)

Experience St Paul’s Cathedral like never before: for London Design Festival 2023, artist Pablo Valbuena created Aura, an installation that makes sound tangible through light. The unique thing about the London Design Festival is its ability to animate London landmarks with imaginative and exciting installations by leading creatives of our time, and this new commission makes no exception. 

St Paul’s Cathedral for LDF 2023: ‘Aura’ by Pablo Valbuena

St Paul's installation at London Design Festival 2023

(Image credit: Ed Reeve)

Valbuena was inspired by attending evensong at the Cathedral to create his beacon of light that responds to sound across the building, whether it’s people’s murmuring or the sound of the organ and choir during services.

‘My father brought me here when I was ten, and I probably didn’t come back for 30 years,’ said festival director Ben Evans, who also commissioned John Pawson to create a temporary installation for the space in 2011. ‘We are very privileged to be able to be in this space, a place where everyone is welcome.'

St Paul's cathedral at London Design Festival 2023

(Image credit: Ed Reeve)

A vertical beam suspended from the Cathedral’s cupola, Aura listens to the sounds generated across St Paul’s, transforming them into a tangible light that responds to their intensity and pitch. ‘The piece is about experience, about the rituals that take place in the cathedral,’ says Valbuena. The piece not only responds to a spectrum of noises across the building, but its light also bounces across the golden mosaics surrounding the cathedral’s upper levels. ‘The piece is intended to be seen from across the space: it formalises the sounds in a scale that is visible from everywhere in the cathedral.’

As the monumental commission was unveiled at the start of London Design Festival, Valbuena cited philosopher Byung-Chul Han: ‘Rituals are to time what a home is to space: they render time habitable.’

St Paul's cathedral

(Image credit: Ed Reeve)

The project is part of a series of activations to mark the 300th anniversary of Sir Christopher Wren’s death. Dubbed 'Wren 300', the programme delves into the architect's vision: the festival, in conjunction with Bloomberg Philanthropies, has commissioned two projects that look at the architecture in a new light. In addition to Aura, another commission includes Halo, by Studio Waldemeyer, at St Stephen Walbrook Church.

Aura by Pablo Valbuena is on view until November 2023

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.

With contributions from