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Place: Light First - iGuzzini lighting challenge

Place: Light First roundtable: the invited architecture practices and lighting designers discuss proposals for using lighting to enhance their chosen schemes

Architecture 00, AY Architects, Erect Architecture, Office for Subversive Architecture, RCKa Architects and vPPR Architects team up with lighting designers to enhance a building or urban environment using light as the principal design tool

At a design challenge event held at iGuzzini’s headquarters in Guildford on 9 June, the AJ and lighting specialist iGuzzini asked architects to create a proposal to demonstrate successful integration of light with architecture.

Each of the six invited firms - Architecture 00, AY Architects, Erect Architecture RCKa, vPPR Architects and the Office for Subversive Architecture (OSA) - were paired up with a lighting designer to discuss and improve their schemes.

iGuzzini contends that the integration of light and architecture is too often considered at the end of a project’s design development. If incorporated at an earlier stage, iGuzzini says, light can play a significant role in breaking up and defining space, underscoring a building’s angles and curves and increasing public enjoyment of a place.

The six responses to the design challenge focus on using light to rejuvenate urban public realm and transform people’s experience of the city. They range from smaller-scale initiatives involving a bus or a park, to large projects involving a skyscraper and, in one scheme, the night sky.

At the smaller-scale end, Architecture 00’s scheme seeks to transform the view of the capital as seen from the top deck of a London bus. The scheme, ‘#Lightbus’, proposes reducing light levels on the upper decks so that London’s buses become mobile observation points. This would enable commuters to see, in Architecture 00 co-founder Lynton Pepper’s words, ‘wonderful bits of London that are normally obscured by the reflective glare from existing lights on the bus network’.

At a roundtable discussion at the event, iGuzzini sales and marketing director Ian Stanton agreed that revamping city lighting strategies can have a significant impact on public perceptions of often dull and congested urban space. He said: ‘London is a world-class city with world-class architecture and world-class lighting designs. This project enables people to see the city from a different dimension.’

Paradoxically, darkness is a recurrent theme of many of the proposals. ‘At first glance, our proposition contradicts the very reason for being invited here,’ said Anthony Boulanger, partner and co-founder of AY Architects. His project, ‘Night Sky Square’ (overleaf), aims to reintroduce darkness into the city. It proposes using existing railway infrastructure in Kentish Town, where AY is based, to create a dark corridor leading to a new square next to the Underground station, so the whole area becomes ‘a darker place, where one can experience the night sky’.

The project also seeks to tackle the thorny issue of energy and light wastage. Said Boulanger: ‘We are shocked that, when you are asked to design buildings, there’s always that pressure to make them environmentally sustainable - to be smart, to react and be energy-efficient - but the same considerations are rarely taken into account when it comes to lighting the urban realm. We were interested in establishing ideals about how to be more responsive with the urban realm in reducing wastage of light.’

Delegates agreed there is too much light wastage in towns and cities, much of it owing to a presumption that light is equated with safety issues. ‘We need to ensure there is ambience in darkness, but that the site still feels secure,’ said Susanne Tutsch, director of Erect Architecture.

‘Cambridge is officially the darkest city in Britain but it also has the lowest crime rate, so this belief that safety is akin to light is absolutely wrong,’ added Colin Ball, associate lighting designer at BDP. He said: ‘We find that, as long as space is occupied, it is secure.’

The solution, delegates agreed, is for lighting design to feature more prominently in planning policies drawn up by local authorities with input from lighting designers.

Environmental sustainability featured largely in another project: OSA’s proposal to turn a tower in Eindhoven into a symbol of renewable energy. Described by OSA director Karsten Huneck as ‘pure performance’, ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ reimagines the building as a rechargeable battery, creating a light show on and around the tower. ‘The project is very critical about the whole issue of sustainability,’ said Huneck. ‘It is also kind of ironic: when we build, we release energy.’

Other schemes seek to demonstrate how an abundance of light can animate space.

‘Light can be used as a catalyst for activity,’ said Russell Curtis, director of RCKa. He proposes an exuberant lighting scheme to revive Ladywell Playtower, a crumbling Grade II-listed Victorian bathhouse in south-east London.

Tim Downey, founder of Studio Fractal, who collaborated on Curtis’ scheme, said: ‘By using lighting to transform the site into a magical fairyland, we can help people discover the whole of a site, come backwards and forwards, and meet people.’

The thread uniting the six schemes is light’s ability to delight and entertain the viewer. Jessica Reynolds, director of vPPR, proposes a scheme to subvert the obvious purpose of light - to increase visibility - and instead make buildings disappear. It comprises wrapping central London towers with LED screens to project live images and make them appear transparent. It is, commented AJ acting editor Rory Olcayto, a playful way of addressing the serious issues of London’s housing crisis and increasingly complex skyline.

The proposals, with comments from the architects and lighting designers and case studies from iGuzzini, are published over the next five weeks.

Readers can join the conversation about adoption of light in the built environment in a Twitterview hosted by the AJ and iGuzzini on 30 July #PlaceLightFirst

The architects

■ Anthony Boulanger, co-founder, AY Architects
■ Susanne Tutsch, director,
Erect Architecture
■ Jessica Reynolds, director,
vPPR Architects
■ Russell Curtis, director, RCKa Architects
■ Lynton Pepper, co-founder, Architecture 00
■ Karsten Huneck, co-founder, Office for Subversive Architecture

The lighting designers

■ Tim Downey, founder, Studio Fractal
■ Paul Nulty, founder,
Paul Nulty Lighting Design
■ Jeff Shaw, associate director, Arup
■ Hiroto Toyoda, project designer, Speirs + Major
■ Robert Honeywill, director,
Maurice Brill Lighting Design
■ Colin Ball, associate lighting designer, BDP

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