Jill Entwistle takes us through some of this year’s award-winning lighting installations.
MANY ARTISTS have an identifiable style, a hallmark. Olafur Eliasson is perhaps more difficult to spot. He works with a wide range of materials and media, from watercolours to water, mirrors to metal, volcanic stone to stainless steel. And light: white light, coloured light, daylight, strobe light, gas light, monochromatic light (turning room and occupants into an unnerving black and white tableau) and absence of light.
The ‘Our Time on Earth’ exhibition at the Barbican in London earlier this year. Image Credit: SPEIRS MAJOR/TIM P WHITBY
He is not strictly speaking a light artist – his MO is much broader than that – but a significant amount of his work explores aspects of light, most famously in the UK with the Weather Project at Tate Modern in 2003, the creation of a massive sun in the Turbine Hall.
Beauty (first shown 1993), installation view at Long Museum, Shanghai, 2016. Spotlight, water, nozzles, wood, hose, pump. The apparition of coloured light shimmering in a curtain of mist depends on the light projected from a precisely angled spotlight, as refracted and reflected by the water droplets, meeting the eye of the viewer. The rainbow’s appearance changes depending on the viewer’s position; no two viewers see the same rainbow. An early articulation of Eliasson’s idea that the viewer is a necessary co-producer of an artwork. Image Credit: ANDERS SUNE BERG
His works have ranged from the monumental to the miniature, literally building-big and river-wide through to just 12cm in diameter. They have not only been as big as buildings, but part of buildings – a synergy of art and architecture (the façade of Harpa, Reykjavik’s 2011 concert hall, a soaring cliff of hexagonal glass tubes and mirrored panes inspired by Iceland’s volcanic geology) and even actual buildings (Fjordenhus House in Denmark, lit from within at night and visible from afar like a lighthouse).
Room For One Colour (first shown 1997), installation view, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, 2005. Monofrequency lamps. A room with white walls is lit by monofrequencylamps. These lamps emit only a single wavelength of visible light (589nm), effectively reducing the viewer’s colour perception to tones of yellow through yellowish grey to black. Similar lamps are often used to illuminate tunnels, since a narrow colour range has the effect of sharpening vision and heightening sensitivity to contrast. Eliasson makes frequent use of monofrequency light in his work, but this is the only work that entirely consists of it. Image Credit: ANDERS SUNE BERG
A lot is done with mirrors, and even smoke, or at least fog. In fact such is his skill at illusion that you wonder if he didn’t miss his metier as a magician. He squeezes out all the possibilities of reflection and refraction. Water, mist, mirrors (in many different ways and permutations), dichroic glass, projection screens and strobing are all employed to bounce light around, to diffuse and confuse, distort and disturb. He not only explores perception of space and materiality, but the very nature of seeing. His understanding of light is quite profound.
The Weather Project (2003), site-specific installation created for the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, London. Monofrequency lamps, projection screen, haze machines, foil mirror, aluminium, scaffolding. A semi-circular screen, backlit by around 200 monofrequency lights, was made to resemble a sun when combined with its reflection in a giant foil mirror that also served to visually double the volume of the hall. Fog machines released varying volumes of mist into the space, creating the appearance of an internal weather system. By walking to the far end of the hall, visitors could see how the sun was constructed; the structure that supported the mirror was visible from the top floor of the museum. Image Credit: TATE PHOTOGRAPHY: ANDREW DUNKLEY/MARCUS LEITH
He has used monochromatic light, for instance, because of its effect on the eye and brain. ‘It ‘activates them in a different way from how they are activated by the full spectrum of colours,’ he wrote in an introductory essay to the National Gallery’s 2017 exhibition, Monochrome: Painting in Black and White. His work Room for One Colour (1997) has the entire space illuminated by monofrequency lamps emitting light of around 589 nanometres in wavelength, the yellow region of the visible spectrum.
‘At first you see only a saturated yellow light that makes all colours appear to be shades of yellow, grey and black… The experience may vary, but the most obvious impact of the yellow light is the realisation that reality outside is very much conditioned by our perception of it: vision itself is not objective, and this realisation can help us begin to see ourselves and our world in a different light.’
The Open Pyramid (2016), installation view, Long Museum, Shanghai. Steel, aluminium, foil mirrors, wood, paint (black), spotlight. A large square pyramid of mirrors was suspended within the large central gallery of the museum with its base 2.5m above the floor. A spotlight cast a bright circle of light through the open top of the pyramid on to the floor below. Visitors walked under the pyramid and looked up into its mirrored interior, where the angled walls reflected floor, spotlight and viewers, vertically rotated in a disorienting virtual space above. Image Credit: ANDERS SUNE BERG
Those who visited one of his recent exhibitions a few years ago at Tate Modern not only experienced the concept as an introduction to the show but in the lifts they arrived in.
Phaidon’s latest monograph on Eliasson’s work, published last month (October), is a fully updated and expanded edition of Olafur Eliasson: Experience, first published in 2018. This revised edition is the most comprehensive book available on his work, spanning three decades of his career, tracking his practice from the 1990s to the present day and including 18 new projects from 2018-2022. It features more than 500 coloured illustrations, along with writings on and by Eliasson. Featured projects include The Weather Project (2003), which drew more than 2m visitors to London’s Tate Modern, and Your Rainbow Panorama (2006–11), the now iconic 360-degree walkway on top of the ARoS Aarhus Art Museum in Denmark.
The publication of the book also coincides with a solo exhibition featuring an overview of three decades of Eliasson’s work, running until 29 January 2023 at the Palazzo Strozzi Foundation in Florence. As Michelle Kuo, Marlene Hess Curator of Painting and Sculpture at MoMA, writes in her introduction to the book, Eliasson stands apart from his light art forerunners and even contemporaries.
‘Eliasson’s penchant for breaks and ruptures, heterogeneity and plurality, sets his work apart from a previous group of light works from the 1960s and 1970s, from the uniform Ganzfeld ambiences of Robert Irwin, to Stanley Landsman’s all-encompassing galaxies of light, to Otto Piene’s frictionless, slowly revolving, immersive Lichtballets,’ she says. ‘By contrast, Eliasson’s dazzling kaleidoscopes and rainbow panoramas are startlingly capricious, endlessly fluctuating. Their mercurial field of sensations opposes stasis, the vertical, and the hieratic; they are anti-monuments.’
Born in 1967, Eliasson grew up in Iceland and Denmark, where he studied from 1989 to 1995 at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Based in Copenhagen and Berlin, he founded Studio Olafur Eliasson in the German capital in 1995. It has an extensive team of craftsmen and specialised technicians, architects, archivists and art historians, web and graphic designers, film-makers and administrators. They also work with structural engineers and other specialists, and collaborate worldwide with cultural practitioners, policymakers, and scientists.
As well as site-specific installations around the world, he has had exhibitions at major international art galleries, including the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Tate Modern and Britain, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. In 2014 his exhibition, ‘Contact’, opened the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
Title: Olafur Eliasson: Experience
Author: Olafur Eliasson,
Pub Date: September 2022
Extent: 488 pages
Size: 305 x 238mm
He has created a series of interventions for the palace and gardens of Versailles, and in 2007 designed the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion with Norwegian architect Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.
Much of his recent work reflects his concern for the environment. Since 2012, Little Sun, the social business founded by Eliasson and engineer Frederik Ottesen, has produced and distributed solar lamps and chargers for use in off-grid communities, and has worked to spread awareness about the need to expand access to clean, sustainable energy to all (www.littlesun.com). In 2019 Eliasson was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for renewable energy and climate action by the United Nations Development Programme. The Huffington Post named him one of 18 Green Artists who are ‘Making Climate Change and Conservation a Priority.’
LIGHTING THE FUTURE
The iconic 109 rotunda of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, with its lighting systems reimagined for the 21st century. Image Credit: PHILIP VILE/TOM NIVEN
AS OUR AWARENESS of the importance of lighting quality has grown – including its profound effect on human health and psychology – so has the necessary pressure to reduce carbon emissions and energy use. At first sight, this presents an apparently conflicting set of aims, and a temptation to fall back on calculations and number crunching as the first priority of a lighting scheme.
The thrust of the Build Back Better Awards – which range beyond lighting but which nevertheless have it as a key category – is about quality and quantity. About how to improve without necessarily bringing a reductive, utilitarian mindset. How to creatively resolve problems of carbon embodiment and energy use without sacrificing the crucial principles of human wellbeing and the creation of a pleasant environment or pleasing artefact – this is really what design should be about by definition.
The following are the Platinum-winning schemes in the lighting category of the 2022 awards, ranging from a state parliament to the state-of-the-art Elizabeth Line.
PLATINUM: exceptional exemplars with the potential to transform and disrupt their sector
GOLD: for candidate products and projects that exhibit true innovation and unique points of difference
GREEN: products designed and made with an exceptional commitment to the circular economy and sustainability principles, as opposed to merely low energy
THEATRE ROYAL DRURY LANE, LONDON
LIGHTING DESIGN BDP
For the first time in a century, the Grade I-listed Theatre Royal Drury Lane has been completely refurbished to cutting-edge production standard, from the back of the house through the auditorium to the original 1810 reception rooms by architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt. Central to the £60m project was revealing and restoring Wyatt’s foyers and staircase – arguably the most impressive Georgian sequence of public interior spaces in existence.
The Theatre Royal has always been something of a lighting pioneer and was one of the first to implement innovations such as whale oil, gas and, later, electricity. It continues that tradition by representing the West End’s first use of dimming technologies across an entire theatre, maximising flexibility and creating a nuanced ambience in conjunction with LED sources throughout.
Image Credit: PHILIP VILE/TOM NIVEN
‘The lighting is so intrinsic to the space that part of our idea was to create a sense of timelessness – the feeling that the lighting has always been that way, but you can’t quite tell when it was installed,’ says Colin Ball, lighting director at BDP.
Each space was researched through archive records to determine the original intent of the lighting. From the outset of the design process, drawings and publications from the theatre’s history were studied to determine the focus of the lighting in each space, whether low level standard, wall sconce or chandelier.
Rather than replicate period fittings, the intention was to make them look contemporary, yet appropriate for 1810, with updated equipment to meet modern illumination requirements. All the diff users in the chandeliers and sconces were hand blown and cut, according to 19th-century techniques.
The lighting is integrated within the original historic forms and uses a consistent layer of hidden spotlights and local accents to ensure all ages and visual impairments are catered for at every stage of the theatre experience; from first stepping into reception (high contrast reduction), legible orientation to aid wayfinding, subtle reduction of light levels to allow eyes to comfortably adjust and high contrast accents to primary stairs to prevent crowding. Each of these functions and more was required from a historic luminaire and, if not local, then a secondary integrated and hidden accent was used.
The three crystal bowl pendants in the foyer (by crystal specialist Wilkinson), for instance, were scaled up to 2m in diameter and fitted with a series of diff use lamps and chrome spotlights to create a balance of ambient wash and focused spotlighting.
Attention to detail was scrupulous. BDP’s lighting team worked closely with Haworth Tompkins Architects to determine how each paint finish looked in daylight as well as under the warm candlelight that transforms each space in the evenings.
Hidden fittings with controlled, low-glare optics deliver the light levels and uniformity required for a public space, with particular focus on any changes of level for routes where congestion could become an issue. In an inspired moment, the BDP team realised that the lamps in the hands of four muse statues in the Rotunda could be used to deliver the emergency lighting.
To keep the light levels as low as possible throughout the day and evening BDP designed the optics and finishes of the corridors and spaces as a sequence to ensure that the eye can comfortably adjust from daylight into the relatively low 50-lux interior of the auditorium. Each change of level or collection of vertical details are illuminated locally to create a space that appears ‘warm’ rather than ‘dark’.
In the auditorium each Edwardian fitting and local ceiling moulding was redistributed and increased in density to provide a uniform modern standard. Existing fittings were tested and subjected to calculation models to demonstrate in advance the improvements to lighting. Where the visual duplication fell below the requirement to read a programme, a series of discrete hidden ceiling details were included to ensure that every seat enjoyed a good light level at the correct angle.
LINE WIDE DESIGN, ELIZABETH LINE, LONDON
LIGHTING DESIGN Equation Lighting Design
The design concept was a modern, minimal and functional transport system that made the passenger experience practical but pleasant. Given the less sophisticated but rapidly developing technology at that point – 2009 – the team took the bold decision to commit to an LED-based scheme, despite London Underground’s desire to stick with fluorescent.
Indirect lighting is used in the concourses, escalator tunnels and platforms to emphasise the space itself, rather than drawing attention to the luminaires. Uncharacteristically for utilitarian transport environments, there is a clear distinction between the use of ambient and accent lighting. Intuitive navigation is also helped by using a cool white colour temperature (5000K) for the areas classified as ‘transition spaces’ while warm white (3000K) is applied in ‘wayfinding spaces’.
The various luminaire components are carefully integrated into the architectural design, a family of custom-designed products with a similar aesthetic and visual appearance.
The use of indirect lighting and the use of luminaires with diffuse luminous surfaces create a more visually comfortable environment with fewer shadows and veiling reflections.
While many transport hubs rely on downlighting, good vertical illuminance was prioritised in the lighting design to improve facial recognition of fellow passengers, and make the space more legible and visually interesting.
Maintainability, continuous refurbishment of luminaire housings and component recovery principles were embedded in the design of luminaires and systems to ensure the extended design life of the lighting installation. Equal access for people with disabilities and reduced mobility was also one of the cornerstones of the design.
The project’s key suppliers included Future Designs, Designplan and Designed Architectural Lighting.
OUR TIME ON EARTH, BARBICAN CENTRE, LONDON
LIGHTING DESIGN Speirs Major
AWARD Platinum + Green
Our Time on Earth, which showcases creative solutions for climate change, is a temporary exhibition designed to travel for five years after it finished in London’s Barbican in August. When commissioned to produce the lighting design, Speirs Major challenged itself to create ‘its most sustainable project ever’.
Led by senior lighting designer Benz Roos, the team devised four key principles for the project: use as much existing equipment as possible; design with a minimal number of luminaires; specify light fittings suitable for the circular economy; ensure the visitor experience is excellent.
Image Credit: SPEIRS MAJOR/TIM P WHITBY
‘Circular economic and minimal embodied carbon were crucial principles from the start,’ says Roos. ‘The relatively new CIBSE (Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers) guidelines, TM65 and TM66, helped us direct the specification towards circularity and low embodied carbon.’
The team assessed luminaires on the market and found that the ZTA spotlight from Stoane Lighting was the ‘natural choice’. It has an ‘excellent’ TM66 rating of 2.6 and was the winner of both Build Back Better platinum and green awards in 2011.
Image Credit: SPEIRS MAJOR/TIM P WHITBY
Dr Irene Mazzei of Edinburgh’s Napier University was brought in to assess the overall design data and concluded that the new lighting would have embedded carbon of 2,263kg. The drivers alone were responsible for 472kg of this, or 20 per cent. ‘To put this in context,’ says Roos, ‘38 seedlings would need to grow into trees for at least 10 years to offset these emissions.’
Roos says Mazzei’s environmental sustainability assessment was an ‘eye-opener’ for the team. ‘Until now our studio has always put the experience and the visual effect of the light as the primary focus at concept stage, with the choice of equipment not considered until later in the process,’ says Roos. ‘This relatively small project has allowed us to begin to adjust our approach.’
STATE PARLIAMENT OF BADEN-WUERTTEMBERG, STUTTGART, GERMANY
LIGHTING DESIGN Licht Kunst Licht
AWARD Platinum + Green
Licht Kunst Licht and Staab Architekten collaborated on a scheme which brings both diffuse and direct natural light into the debating chamber. The renovation involved installing 12 large circular skylights with a diameter of 2.60m and 36 smaller ones with a diameter of 0.80m inserted flush with the flat roof. The smaller ones bring reflective light into the space through a translucent and satinised ceiling made of plastic panels.
Image Credit: MARCUS EBENER
The larger openings have conical light tubes which emit diffuse light from their translucent surface, as well as bringing direct light to the space. The daylight is supplemented by LED light sources.
Each seat is guaranteed a direct and nearly unobstructed visual connection to the sky.
WINNERS: PROJECTS AND INITIATIVES
PLATINUM + GREEN
Our Time on Earth, Barbican Centre, London – Speirs Major
State Parliament of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Stuttgart, Germany – Licht Kunst Licht
The Plas Y Brenin Dark Sky Renovation Project located in the heart of Snowdonia national park
Line Wide Design, Elizabeth Line, London – Equation Lighting Design
Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London – BDP
GOLD + GREEN
Plas Y Brenin Dark Sky Renovation Project – Dark Source
Lighting as a Service programme – Brighteco
Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry’s Gold prize winning special exhibitions entrance
Sustainable Design Freedom – LumiAdd
We Share The Night bat ‘superhighway’ Frederiksborgvej, Denmark – Light Bureau
Vitality Relight – Whitecroft Lighting
Renew: Reuse: Rebel – Rebel Light
Alexandra Palace, London – Ridge
Cumbria dark sky lighting – Thorn Lighting and Cumbria County Council
BRE refurbishment – Silent Design
Special Exhibitions Entrance, Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester – PJC Light Studio
For full details of all winners, including product concepts, go to: www.buildbackbetterawards.com/winners-2022