The RIBA has launched an international contest to reimagine the Christmas lights display on Oxford Street in London’s West End
Open to teams of architects and lighting designers, the competition seeks ‘inspiring and innovative’ proposals for the annual display of lights and colours, seen by an estimated 40 million visitors to the area.
The project is backed by New West End Company, Transport for London, and Westminster City Council. It aims to reimagine the festive decorations which first spruced up the 1.9km-long street in 1959. The grand unveiling of the completed winning scheme will coincide with the opening of Crossrail in December.
New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrrell said: ‘Our global call for concepts for the redesign of Oxford Street’s Christmas lights will ensure that the 2018 reveal moment is the most spectacular to date, bringing more visitors than ever to London’s West End so they can be the first to see the new lights for themselves .’
Chris Wilkinson, director of Wilkinson Eyre and RIBA Adviser for the contest said: ‘This is a great opportunity for designers to present their creative ideas for the Christmas Lighting in the Oxford St District and to make a spectacular show for everyone to enjoy.’
Oxford Street is a major thoroughfare connecting Marble Arch and Tottenham Court Road. Originally a residential address, it became a major shopping centre in the late 19th century and is today home to many flagship retail premises and department stores.
The lights are typically switched on in mid to late November and remain until 6 January. Celebrities invited to throw the switch have included Bob Geldof, Linford Christie and the Spice Girls.
Four shortlisted teams will receive £3,000 each to further develop their designs and attend interviews following an open call for anonymous conceptual ideas.
Judges include Tyrrell, Wilkinson, Westminster City Council deputy leader Robert Davis, London’s deputy mayor for culture and creative industries Justine Simons and Anya Hindmarch of the Royal Academy Development Trust.
The deadline for applications is 26 March
How to apply
No 1 Aire Street
Tel: 0113 203 1490
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company
Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company
Why are you holding a contest to rethink Oxford Street’s Christmas lights?
The Oxford Christmas lights are iconic – visited by thousands of visitors and residents alike each year. The idea to re-launch the lights with a global call-out stemmed from our desire to provide emerging and established design talent with a platform; this is a fantastic opportunity for an architecture specialist or lighting designer to showcase their work on a global stage and truly make their mark. The timing felt right for us to refresh our approach and elevate the already inspiring display to the next level.
International and national entries are welcome, this is because we are very much aligned with the city’s ‘London is Open’ messaging; being as inclusive as possible. The calibre of judges who are currently confirmed showcases our commitment to shining a spotlight on pioneers in the field. With world class talent such as Designer and Trustee of Royal Academy Development Trust Anya Hindmarch, and Executive Editor of Lighting Magazine Jill Entwhistle judging the entries and with the backing of Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) whom we are partnering with to run the competition, we are confident we will be putting on a spectacular show this Christmas.
What is your vision for the new lighting display?
We’ve chosen not to be proscriptive with the design guidelines, as we’re hoping to be surprised by the designers and architects. I’m looking forward to seeing how the space is interpreted when designers are given a free range. This is a huge site to dress, covering nearly two kilometres with beautiful heritage buildings, existing and ongoing works already in place and a mixture of facias into which we can fix the lights: a successful design would take into account the idiosyncrasies of Oxford Street. Sustainability has to be a factor in everything we do – it runs through all of our projects and will absolutely be taken into account during the judging process.
What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?
There’s no shortage of architecture and design talent locally and internationally; we are hoping we will have a varied array of artists entering the competition who want to bring their vibrant ideas to life. This is an opportunity for designers and architects to make their name. Aside from media exposure and recognition, the participants who make it to the final round will receive an honoraria payment of £3,000 + VAT for their work in this round.
Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?
This is the first time we’ve run a competition of this type – if it’s successful I think we’d all love to keep opening ourselves up to new inspiration and expertise in this way. Hopeful designers will have to watch this space for details…
Are there any other similar annual lighting scheme projects you have been impressed by?
A recent lighting scheme of note was Dubai’s record-breaking 2018 New Year’s Eve light show which encompassed the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa. Run by global property developer Emaar, the show broke the Guinness World Record attempt for the largest laser light show on single building and was repeated on a weekly basis for the month of January. The impressive display of light and sound was prepared by 300 experts and 80 musicians over five months. This is just one of many global examples that have impressed us in recent times.
I also have to recognise the incredibly iconic festive lighting schemes in New York that are prominent throughout the city - from Grand Central Terminal to Gantry Plaza State Park, Times Square, and Rockefeller Center, which have inspired us to think big this year.