Light and Tech: Less is more at the Lighting Design Awards

Lighting expert Jill Entwistle takes an in-depth look at a trio of winners from the Lighting Design Awards who take a less-is-more approach

Low Budget Project of The Year
Bamboo Pavilion, Taichung World flora exposition, Taiwan
Lighting design: OuDelight
Architect: ZUO Studio
Construction: Champion Construction
Lighting supplier:Athene Technology

There is an argument that low-energy sources have in some ways been counterproductive. By their very nature they have encouraged people to light more things, and things that wouldn’t have been lit before with a more profligate source. But good lighting is about quality not quantity, about judiciously highlighting what is important, necessary or aesthetically pleasing.

Three of this year’s winning projects in the Lighting Design Awards are exemplars of understatement. In each case the lighting is spare in its use, sympathetic to architectural structure and, especially in the case of the Muh Shoou Xixi Hotel, unafraid of the dark. By definition they are spaces that feel pleasant to inhabit.

Arguably all are helped by contemporary architecture and uncomplicated materials. Clean lines and smooth planes allow a more streamlined scheme than baroque or rococo intricacy. That said, in the hands of the less accomplished, the plain plane has often been known to inspire superfluous scalloping and pointless colour on the nature-abhors-a-vacuum principle. In all three schemes, restraint is the hallmark. A lesson in less is more.

The Low Budget Project of the Year winner at the Lighting Design Awards. Credit: Shih-Hong Yang and Studio Mill Space

The Bamboo Pavilion was a temporary exhibition hall built as part of the 2018 flora exposition in Taiwan. Inspired by the central mountains of the country, architect ZUO Studio used local green building materials – Moso bamboo and Makino bamboo – for the main construction. The idea was to evoke a walk through a bamboo forest, allowing visitors to glimpse the sky above the ‘forest canopy’.

The natural materials and straightforward but lyrical structure did not call for an ostentatious solution, which was just as well as the budget for lighting equipment was just £10,000. Using the same fittings with different source specifications and reducing any frills helped keep the scheme on budget. ‘A dimming control system, for instance, was not affordable as part of the solution,’ says lighting consultant OuDelight. ‘All the interior and exterior fixtures come with the same housing but different LED light sources with various wattage and beam spread angles.’ This allows even illumination of the interior double-height structure, which also glows like a lantern at night, complemented by exterior uplights to the vertical struts. The night-time image is helped by the water pool surrounding the pavilion, fully exploited to create reflections of the lit architecture.

As with all good lighting, the scheme is designed to put the architecture first rather than advertise its own presence. ‘With careful planning, this low-cost lighting system achieves the purpose of revealing the beauty of the architecture and its material to visitors without their being aware of the role of the light,’ says OuDelight.

The pavilion proved one of the most popular sites for visitors, constantly appearing on Facebook and Instagram. ‘I think the most precious part is that we demonstrated to the general public and government bodies what can be done with lighting design,’ says OuDelight.

Hotel Project of The Year
Muh Shoou XIXI Hotel, Hangzhou, China

Lighting design: PRO Lighting Consultant
Architect: GOA Architects

Sitting in the Xixi wetlands of Hangzhou, the Muh Shoou Xixi resort hotel covers an area of 7,000 sq m within a landscape of 36,000 sq m. The lighting is minimal and respectful of the surrounding natural environment with a scheme that is designed to be as natural in feel as possible too. ‘The architecture and landscape were built relating to the mountains and rivers, and the hotel’s demand for lighting was the same,’ says Beijing-based lighting consultant PRO.

The involvement of the lighting designers at the start of the project has allowed the lighting to be stitched into the architecture and be sensitive to its surfaces and textures. ‘The lighting of the hotel architecture and landscape exploits the design rhythm,’ says PRO. Some buildings are restored structures, the light revealing ‘the ageing texture of the rough materials’. The landscape lighting is designed to ‘reflect the atmosphere of harmonious coexistence between human and nature’.

The hotel path is bordered by lush vegetation on both sides, with custom-made lanterns providing the main lighting. Elsewhere, trees and lights appear randomly, but are in reality carefully located to create an ‘atmosphere of wildness … a dialogue with nature’.

The interior lighting resonates with a Japanese sensibility in its simplicity, and in the use of light and shadow. Much of the lighting is linear, literally delineating the simple lines of the architecture. The subtle illumination reveals natural materials and details, and is the antithesis of the brighter, brasher light levels of many typical hotels.

Heritage and Faith Project of The Year
International Presbyterian Church, Ealing, West London
Lighting design: 18 degrees
Architect: Piercy and Company
Building Services: Arup

The building is a new extension to the existing Drayton Green Church and is used for worship, as well as providing space for administrative offices. The new building wraps around the existing Grade II listed structure, retaining the link to the original chapel. As with any religious space, the lighting scheme had to respond to both the unique form of the building as well as its liturgical nature.

On entering the building, the entrance reduces in scale through a pleated roof form, guiding visitors to the main worship space. Lighting is integrated into the architectural fabric throughout the whole building, featuring only where required, ‘so the light fulfils both form and function,’ says Christopher Knowlton, director at lighting design studio 18 Degrees.

The main worship space features a complex folded roof structure that sits over a large open area without additional structural columns, referencing the vaulted spaces of a traditional church but reducing the perception of the building’s scale on a residential street. Daylight floods into the space through a number of window apertures, so the artificial lighting is designed to augment this natural light on drab days and into the evening.

Soft uplighting around the perimeter accentuates the geometry of the ceiling and bounces diffused lighting back into the space. This is supplemented by downlighting integrated into the ceiling structure, which can be set to just illuminate the leader of worship or musicians, or the levels can be increased to light the space for activities and community events.

The controls are operated from a wall panel at the back of the space so that they are easy to access and use. ‘All of the lighting is controlled via small zones, so that the building users can create a range of lighting emotions through the use of subtle and soft light,’ says Knowlton.

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