Closing the Open System

Review of Nicolas Schöffer’s ‘La Tour Lumière Cybernétique’ (1973)


  • Nina Stener Jørgensen Estonian Academy of Arts
  • Guillaume Laplante-Anfossi Université Sorbonne Paris Nord



This essay looks at the algorithm written by Franco-Hungarian spatial artist Nicolas Schöffer for the Tour Lumière Cybernétique, a cybernetic light tower created for Paris’s La Défense district in the 1960s and ’70s. By revisiting the tower’s computer programme, this essay aims to understand how it was thought to operate as an open system by receiving data from its surrounding environment.

The review of the programme questions how the probability distributions Schöffer included in the algorithm to ensure a random treatment of predictable city data was imagined to avoid stagnation, repetition and programmatic saturation, all elements essential to maintaining the tower’s open framework. The goal of the essay is to provide a coherent interpretation of the computer programme as well as a comprehensive description of its mathematical elements, so that future readers of La Tour Lumière Cybernétique can gain an insight into the behaviour of the tower.

Author Biographies

Nina Stener Jørgensen, Estonian Academy of Arts

Nina Stener Jørgensen is a PhD student at the Estonian Academy of Arts, Faculty of Architecture. Studying architectural models of participation from the 1960s in light of today’s so-called smart city, her PhD research focuses on producing a genealogy of what could be referred to as a post-participatory condition in architecture.

Guillaume Laplante-Anfossi, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord

Guillaume Laplante-Anfossi is a PhD student in mathematics at the Université Sorbonne Paris Nord. His research on operads and polytopes focuses on the study of higher algebraic structures arising in algebraic topology.


Schöffer, Nicolas. La Ville Cybernétique (Paris: Tchou, 1969).

Schöffer, Nicolas. Le Nouvel Esprit Artistique (Paris: Denoël/Gonthier, 1970).

Schöffer, Nicolas. La Tour Lumière Cybernétique (Paris: Denoël/Gonthier, 1973).