Insight | Urban Environments: Renewal, Overlay and Legacy

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The ephemeral nature of light provides a unique opportunity to constantly curate and adapt the experience of the urban environment after dark. By building flexibility into lighting schemes for the public realm, we allow for the possibility to create different ambiences in response to changing conditions or requirements over time.

Starting with a carefully choreographed base lighting condition, we consider how an overlay of light (and infrastructure) might support one-off, occasional, seasonal, or temporary events and installations that can help underpin a vibrant social night-time economic area.

This ‘base’ condition expresses the character and identity of the area. In theatrical terms, it is analogous to the 'front of house' lighting: a carefully integrated design that supports the quiet enjoyment of the everyday. It is timeless, permanent, and allows room to 'turn up the volume' if required – or similarly visually ‘quieten things down’. In some cases, where an area is being regenerated on the back of an internationally or nationally important event this layer of light not only contributes to the initial success but then remains part of the ‘legacy’.  

There is then the opportunity to 'overlay' additional lighting onto the base condition. This often allows for a more super-charged or altered condition – to impress, create buzz and excitement, or, in the case of subtler interventions, a point of difference that will draw attention and help increase footfall. Often themed around specific events this is lighting is generally temporary in nature.

In some cases, we may be designing an 'overlay' condition for specific reasons or a known duration. For others, it is a provision for future possibilities that may include co-creators such as artists, designers or other collaborators. It requires creativity and experience to anticipate what those opportunities might be and how they can be supported while also accounting for the practical needs of all those using the area, especially any local residents who may otherwise be disturbed by the presence of more dynamic lighting, however temporary it may be. Regardless, we always recommend the provision of additional electrical, mechanical and data infrastructure to help future-proof the public realm lighting design.

King’s Cross, London

The benefit of curating public space on an ongoing basis was front of mind when we developed the lighting masterplan for the King’s Cross area in 2007 working with Allies and Morrison and Townshend Landscape Architects. As a result, the base layer of public realm, architectural and landscape lighting was devised to act as a flexible backdrop against which Argent Related could then stage a wide range of events throughout the district.

By example an events organiser was part of the briefing process in Granary Square, helping inform our future-thinking on how the space might be amplified with pop-up and temporary installations over the course of the year.

This led to an open and clutter-free response resulting in the large lighting masts that provide general illumination to the area.

London 2012 Olympics

As Lighting Design Advisor for the Olympic Delivery Authority for the London Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012, we developed and oversaw the delivery of a detailed lighting strategy to ensure design cohesion, consistent quality, energy savings and minimal lighting pollution across the multiple public spaces and buildings that made up the Olympic Park. This required us to engage and collaborate with a wide range of design and construction teams for the different areas and venues.

The lighting strategy included full consideration of the ‘legacy’ condition, ensuring a smooth transition from the Games to post-Olympics use. In addition, the London Organising Committee (LOCOG) appointed us to provide concepts for the temporary lighting of various landscape and structural elements both within park and for city venues.

This lighting was present only during Games time, designed to amplify the park's appearance, bringing unique identity, informing branding, adding character and improving wayfinding for safe circulation.

Wembley Park

This holistically designed three-stage project transformed the journey between London's famous Wembley Stadium and Wembley Park tube station. Informed by our original Lighting Masterplan for New Wembley the lighting project was integrated with a bold new architectural and landscaping vision by Dixon Jones Architects and Gross Max, that saw both gateway conditions at either end of the route – Bobby Moore Bridge and the Wembley Steps – become key to the success of the scheme.

Skilfully blending digital media and light art with precision-engineered adaptable lighting, the design makes it possible to tune the ambience in response to variation in crowd density and occasion, from daily use to major events.

In addition, the bespoke columns are engineered with a load capacity suitable for the future addition of digital banners.

Millennium Dome

The Millennium Experience was billed as ‘one amazing day’. Focused around and within RSH+P’s seminal clear span tensile fabric structure, the Millennium Dome, the temporary 365 day ‘expo’ became the catalyst for the regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula, now a thriving retail, commercial, cultural, entertainment and residential quarter of London. The lighting design was developed not only to enhance the experience of the exterior and interior of building at night but also its unique landscape setting on the bend in the river. Highly experimental at the time, the lighting design not only played with contrasts of light and darkness but also illuminated the public realm with no recourse to light columns, area floodlighting from the building or other techniques that were more prevalent at the time.

It was one of the first consciously ‘dark’ regeneration landscape projects we worked on. The project also included a strategy to plan and deliver the legacy lighting to the wider environs.

Following the millennium year, the building and its setting went on to be re-purposed as the O2, one of the UK’s largest and most successful venues. As part of this we both added to and built upon the original base lighting scheme to deliver the after dark experience for ‘Peninsula Square’, the gateway public space that remains a vibrant and thriving space today.