Lighting Focus - Dramatic highlights

Special lighting features create dramatic focal points for a vast, cutting edge retail and hospitality development in Chengdu, China.

Edited By Jill Entwistle

Client SKP
Architect Sybarite
Lighting design Speirs Major
Landscape designer James Corner Field Operations
Advanced engineering Eckersley O’Callaghan
Water features The Fountain Workshop
Feasibility studies Buro Happold
Fire protection engineering Arup (Shanghai)
Local architect UDI

WHILE THE aspiration for any lighting is to create a cohesive narrative for an environment, it also plays a pivotal role in providing punctuation and drama. Particular light features or light treaments act as beacons, navigational points, signifiers of special spaces and, ultimately, provide visual delight.

SKP Chengdu is by any measure an epic and ambitious development. A massive submerged high-end retail and hospitality development – five floors and half a million square metres of mixed-use retail 30m below ground level but including daylight access – it is designed to be cuttingedge in both sustainable and smart city terms. The vast civic park which overlays the development is a series of landscapes which form a botanical roof.

Image Credit: Nick Kuratnik / Courtesy Of Sybarite

The overall aims for the lighting design by Speirs Major were to make the varying zones ‘feel legible, comfortable and accessible after dark while also creating enticing visual cues to attract people to the retail and hospitality beneath’. The sheer scale and the destination nature of both subterranean and above-ground spaces cried out for special lighting features.

‘Activating the site at night with a stunning after-dark identity, the lighting design also plays an important role in enhancing the signature SKP style, creating a vibrant atmosphere, and supporting intuitive wayfinding and navigation,’ says Speirs Major. ‘Bespoke lighting fixtures inject further magic, creating special moments in key locations.’

Central Cube

Image Credit: Nick Kuratnik / Courtesy Of Sybarite

The glazed Central Cube marks the access to rail links to the city. The outer glass walls are washed outside by water, while inside a folded origami-like structure surrounds a stand of bamboo. The light creates a beautiful glow with gentle animation in the water-washed glass but equally provides vital functional light for wayfinding and orientation.

The scheme is designed to avoid having any light within the soffit of the internal structure, keeping this pure and unobstructed. The edges of the cube are lit both internally and externally, with a wash of light revealing the soft ripples in the water. These also create pleasing reflections in the pools beneath while preserving a view through to the centre of the cube.

Soft uplights within the bamboo forest create texture and interest.

SKP Chengduz

Set within a greenbelt site in China’s south-western province of Sichuan, SKP Chengdu is the largest ever sunken and sustainable luxury retail masterplan. It comprises three interconnected spaces – two distinctive underground retail environments, overlaid with a vast civic park. Covering 260,000 sq m, 99 percent of the buildings are underground. Created in just over three years, SKP Chengdu is a dense, walkable, mixed-use development connected by road and rail lines to the city and airport. Criss-crossing the park, canyon-like avenues cut into the landscape connecting the 500,000 sq m of submerged retail environments known as SKP-N (North) and SKP-S (South).

A low carbon, smart city development, according to architect Sybarite, the project ‘consumes energy based on scientific calculation and leverages the latest technology to achieve energy saving, environmental protection, pollution and emission reduction, and low carbon production methods’.


The Supernova is a bespoke light feature and was conceived as a ‘sun’ that would appear to act as a central light source within SKP-S. Inspired by stars, planets, gravitational waves and the connection of time and space, it is a massive 8m in diameter. It comprises three layers of triangular perforated panels that move and rotate about a giant luminous hemisphere, creating a mesmerising otherworldly effect.

Its glowing core was created using a series of RGB floodlights within a frosted and textured hemisphere. Surrounding this is a further three layers of tessellated metalwork, reflective on the outer face and matt on the inside. Each of these layers features a different pattern, and as the layers rotate slowly, alternate layers moving clockwise and counterclockwise, the endlessly shifting pattern of openings creates a mesmerising effect of sparkle and shadow.

Mirrored walls for escalators

Each entrance to the retail environment is designed to have its own character. One of the more spectacular effects is created using gold mirrored cladding. In these spaces, snaking lines of continuous LED linear light integrated into the structure above serve a threefold effect of contributing circulation light, creating a strong graphic effect and generating gentle reflections in the gold surface.

Image Credit: Nick Kuratnik / Courtesy Of Sybarite

Behind the cladding, linear LED up/downlights in the cavity provide light that catches on the edges of the squares that make up the material, delivering a glittering effect.

General lighting

Image Credit: Nick Kuratnik / Courtesy Of Sybarite

The lighting design for the common spaces, avenues and concourses reinforces the SKP brand and design language. Details are fully integrated, and the lighting focuses on enhancing the signature curved surface elements, ‘folded’ textured facade details, and revealing the material qualities of key vertical surfaces.

In SKP-N, the lighting is designed to feel positive and luxurious while allowing the merchandise to remain the primary focus. SKP-S is the cutting-edge, fashion-forward zone. Here the design is more brutalist, and this is reflected in the monochromatic light and an industrial aesthetic.

Tower of Life

The six Tower of Life water sculptures rise 26m and 39m above the ground. With 5,328 nozzles, 2,700 sprays and 5,300 water pumps, they create their own micro-climate.

Dramatically lit, they play an important role in wayfinding after dark, acting as a beacon that marks the presence of the subterranean retail complex beneath. The lighting design highlights the stepped form of the towers, with light grazing downwards from a series of concealed rings of projectors (more than 8,000 fittings in all), revealing the motion of the water that flows over each section. The sectional design also allows for animations and light shows for special occasions.

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