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Place: Light First roundtable - full transcript

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iGuzzini lighting challenge roundtable full transcript

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.

Rory: Okay, so we want to have a general discussion but we’d also like to see everybody’s schemes.  I mean, obviously they’re going to be published in The Architects’ Journal over a six week period, the idea is that the first one we publish will have a little bit about the background to the project, today’s event, so capturing what’s happened today in the workshop session and then the roundtable, and then we’ll start with the first project, and then for the next five weeks we’ll continue to publish them. We’ve got a kind of running order here of how they’d like to look at each project, and first up, I guess it was alphabetical, recently renamed Architecture 00, and Speirs and Major. So if you could…?  Does everybody know each other?  Shall we go round and introduce each other or do you know each other? 

All: Not really.

Rory Olcayto:   Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about the practice and the light and design firm as well, and then tell us about your project?

Lynton Pepper:    Architecture 00 is a fairly young practice, we don’t just do architecture, it’s more of a platform for people to be able to do what they want, so we have lots of investment accounts, social spaces, and there’s only about five architects. We basically look at what the problem is and see what the most economical answer is, even if it’s not building a building.

Hiroto Toyoda: I’m from Speirs and Major, we are an architectural light and design firm, although we like to call ourselves designers working in light, so we don’t just do architectural projects, we do from a single room and take the whole lighting master plan for a whole city, so we work on various projects.  We have about 30 guys, most live in London and a smaller studio in Edinburgh.

Rory Olcayto:   Thank you. So could you tell us about your project, which has the hashtag ‘light bus’?

Architecture 00/: Light Bus

Lynton Pepper:    Basically the idea was find to find the most economical way to effect the biggest change and provide a nice level of light within the everyday use of London.  So we took the whole of London as seen through the London bus network as our starting point, because it’s already existing, and then what we’re planning to do, there’s two options. The first prime option was just to use everything existing, so if this was a [unintelligible 05:12] project you wouldn’t actually pay to have anything new, but in order to create light we plan to have lights in the upper deck of London buses turned off in the centre of London during dusk and dawn, so you have a very delightful moment of viewing London, eg St Paul’s Cathedral, going over bridges, Buckingham Palace, etc. etc. 

So a whole variety of wonderful bits of London that are normally obscured by reflective glare from existing lights on the bus, so the idea is you just dim them down, or turn them off while the bus is between stops.  The addition to the bus would be a £2 circuit which would link between the proximity detectors of bus stops and buses, at which point they would dim up, so you’d have safe access onto the bus and off the bus, see your seats or your newspaper or crisp packet, and then you’d take off from that stop, the proximity detector which is roughly 10 metres from the stop, the lights dim down and you perceive the light from the whole of London.  So that’s effectively it. 

Downstairs will be lit, so if you want to read or if you feel in danger upstairs you’d sit downstairs, upstairs would just have infrared cameras if you’re worried about security.  Yeah, the other thing was providing the name for the idea, it’s called De-Light, so it’s un-light if you like. That’s basically it, providing moments of delight for Londoners every day, perhaps tourists use it more during those hours, it’s cheap, it’s effective, and then saves electricity. The other option is doing this for a new type of bus. I particularly dislike the lights on the new Routemasters due to the fact that it goes straight into my retina, is providing like an under seat LED and one lux luminescent strip down the centre of it.

Hiroto Toyoda: It’s just about keeping everything dimmer at eye line. I mean, the relationship of light is a classic all-time architectural problem. Obviously, safe light without causing glare in the glass, really keeping it low level, obviously putting aside things like CCTV requirements, all of that, didn’t really touch on that today, but I think we can certainly, provide we feel enough ambience, doing away with any down lighting.

Lynton Pepper:    So if we look at the amount of light produced by London streets generally, the amount of light you get inside the bus from existing lights should be enough to hit the minimum requirement. 

Rory Olcayto:   Interesting.  So how did you ‘alight’ on this idea? As you said, it’s not always about doing a building, and you’ve obviously applied that philosophy here.

Lynton Pepper:    Yeah, but when we look at projects it’s always about the reality and the economics of it, and to do something that can have a big effect on people’s everyday life without doing too much economically is very difficult. It seemed like a big scale thing to do for not much, for a small scale amount.

Rory Olcayto:   I mean, I’d like this to be open, so it’s not just me directing questions diagonally across the table. It’s obviously a really provocative project, and I suspect there might be difficulties with it as well?

Jessica Reynolds: It’s like this really nice, atmospheric, without people falling asleep.  Is there a way to wake them up with the light?

Lynton Pepper:    I mean, the lights would fade up again to normal levels, so if you doze off… Generally, if I get very tired in the centre of London on a Saturday, I will get on a bus and have a nap, so I feel very comfortable on buses!

Russell Curtis: Falling asleep on the circle line is one thing…

Lynton Pepper:    I woke up in Willesden once, but that was a particular night.  Yeah, if you fall asleep on a bus all the better!

Susanne Tutsch:  You actually have to have fewer stops almost, isn’t it, because that is constantly on or off?  It should be one or two.

Lynton Pepper:    That’s one of the benefits of the London transport system, there is traffic and there is generally in the centre, so yeah, it’s an automatically adjusted system.

Tom Ravenscroft:  A lot of the night buses have fewer stops as well.

Lynton Pepper:    It’s not just a bus, it’s a De-Light bus, that’s what we call it now.  This is just like two hours at dusk and dawn, so it’s not like it’s the entire night time, because that would get probably very frustrating and probably quite dangerous, but it’s just that time of the night.  So it will change during the year, so seasonally it will be 4 o’clock to 8 o’clock, to 9 o’clock, it will be different throughout the year and just be adjusted to that.

Tim Downey:    And is it everywhere?  I mean, you can imagine that there are certain parts of London which are more successfully lit than others. In a way the effect would be more pronounced if, let’s say, you’re crossing Westminster Bridge.

Lynton Pepper:    Exactly.

Tim Downey:    That’s the point, so rather than having it everywhere?

Lynton Pepper:    Yeah, it’s like the centre of London, so sometimes Richmond, but London, for example, everyone who comes to visit London I tell them to get on the number 12 bus because you see lots of attractions.

Susanne Tutsch:  And it doesn’t have to be just tourists, just everyday passengers that are interested.

Lynton Pepper:    Yeah. Initially I’d imagine you’d do it where people want it, and then create, but we predetermined saying it’s the whole of London because we might want it.  So it’s not for me to say that that’s…

Colin Ball:         But if you’re travelling, you’re commuting, let’s say you’re travelling on a bus every night or every morning if you get up early enough, in a way you could vary the journey. So rather than illuminating, effectively illuminating or ‘de-lighting’ the same thing every day, it could be that this week it’s going to be St Paul’s or this week it’s going to be something else.

Lynton Pepper:    Yeah, yeah, and that’s a nice idea of that.

Paul Nulty:       You’re going to be doing it like a plane cabin.  I mean, plane cabins basically night flight, everything’s off, and if you want a light you have a personal light, or you just go downstairs.  The only difference is you’re not travelling through darkness at 35,000 feet, you’re travelling through London, which is already lit.

Tim Downey:    Well maybe they’re variable on the local level on a bus. So that tonight I want the church tour, so you kind of choose from that somehow that the lights just go off when you’re passing the church.

Rory Olcayto:   You know there’s this culture of adverts where there’s a product that being pushed and somehow the person involved with this product is able to control it, it’s like you see these, the first 10 years we’ve seen variations on these kinds of adverts, it seems kind of linked to that, this idea that the city is our toy to experience, and it’s very much about the way cities are going, it’s just one big fun leisure palace for everybody. What I want to know is what is this project actually about, like what’s the essence of it in terms of energy saving or whatever?

Lynton Pepper:    Well no project is one something, it answers a whole host of questions, so doing the same thing, yeah, you turn your lights off, you save some energy, but this is more about just a general delight in the sense of your seasons, of your day, which you generally lose travelling well lit streets.  So the times when that bus is doing that lights off thing will be different throughout the year, and so sometimes the bus times, sometimes if you leave work, it’s never the same thing.

Colin Ball:         As I’ve said, it’s a symptom of changing of technology, where LED technology has enabled us to do photo responses.  What LED does is if you switch them down 50% or off 50% of the time you’re actually getting that energy saving, so then that feeds into electrics, reduced batteries etc. The ecological aspect of it is enormous. Fluorescent technology just wasn’t feasible, so we’re still lighting spaces to 50 lux permanently, which we just don’t have to do anywhere ever, so we should be doing it on buses in passive ways.

Tim Downey:    It’s this thing about choice, isn’t it? So when we design an office we don’t do it uniformly, we like some spaces where maybe you want to work in a down space and work with natural light.

Colin Ball:         And where you need it.

Tim Downey:    It’s your preference, and it’s providing more preference and more choice.

Ian Stanton:     I also see it as well, coming from a lighting perspective, is that London’s a world class city, we have world class architecture, we also have world class lighting designs, and this enables people to sort of see our city from a different dimension at night and see the quality of the light and design, because the city has a completely different personality at night and, as you said, behind glass you can’t see that if it’s illuminated too high, so let’s show it off and show people we have world class in all these disciplines.

Colin Ball:         The underground system 15 years ago installed a system where the platforms only illuminate to their full level when the train is there.  Once the train leaves the whole platform dims down, and only comes up suddenly when the train comes in. That was installed at least 15 years ago.

Erect Architecture: Promenading Light

Rory Olcayto:   Thank you very much, that’s a fascinating project and I’m looking forward to seeing it published. So next up is Erect Architecture and BDP, so if you once again tell us a little bit about yourselves and then explain the project?

Susanne Tutsch:  Okay, about ourselves, Erect Architecture, we do quite a bit of architecture, predominantly social and educational, community centres. We also do quite a lot of play projects.

Colin Ball:         BDP is a very large, multidisciplinary company.  Lighting, there’s 18 of us spread around the offices, but we work within the corporation and also independently as well.  Again we work on projects on every scale, from [unintelligible 17:24].

Rory Olcayto:   And your project today is called Promenading Light?

Susanne Tutsch:  That’s the working title. There’re quite a lot of little images here that are actually quite difficult to see, but maybe a little bit about the context. We’re doing a public realm project for Vauxhall, which is connecting the Nine Elms area of the South Bank. The concept for that is the Promenade of Curiosities, which is one part of the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, that’s where you used to go to be amused, to see, to be seen, and also the curiosities come from [John] Tradescant, the famous botanist who collected during his travels - apart from plants - all kinds of curious things of interest, and he’s buried in the garden museum. So it’s this idea that you use one that’s really the public realm and you collect these existing and new curiosities on route, so you become this collector as you move through. We were quite interested in the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, during this original competition framework the gardens have actually just been renamed from Spring Gardens back to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, and we’re quite interested in this notion, I mean, it is quite a large place with a viaduct, there’s a place in the Pleasure Gardens called Ketterman Hill or Brokeback Mountain during the days when the families moved in. So it’s a huge array of people using this all year round, it’s a 24-hour park, it’s very, very urban, and we’re quite interested in this notion of…

Rory Olcayto:   A 24-hour park?

Susanne Tutsch:  Eventually, yes, but then the clubs spill out at 3 o’clock, that’s when…

Rory Olcayto:   Vauxhall has got a lot of clubs, hasn’t it?

Susanne Tutsch:  So to have this place of amusement, and the original Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens was quite interesting, the decline was some people or some historic accounts attribute that to the arrival of electric lighting, which was when the magic suddenly disappeared. They used to have lovers walk the dark walk, the slow walk, all kinds of different atmosphere, that suddenly disappeared, and there was this whole spectacle, they had hundreds of oil lamps and they were able to light them within limits, which is actually quite a feat if you have to imagine all these little lights connecting. I think they could be wrong, I think it didn’t, and they always had fireworks and performances. So we were interested along those lines to imagine that loads of people come back to this park and do all kinds of impromptu performances or hang out, and it becomes this very active place again. We’ve got a light that’s sort of dancing above the park, like the famous Madam [unintelligible 20:47] on her a high rope above the park, and the light sort of illuminates the spectacle but it’s low key, just a couple of people walking along a dark walk, or a group gathering somewhere with some performance going on. I think it is about getting this atmosphere, these different atmospheres of darkness and light and spectacle and wild walk and lovers’ walk sort of back into the park.

Colin Ball:         We’ve been speaking a lot about the structural feasibility of this.  To use modern technology, we can put a cloud of LEDs into an environment and float them between the trees; it’s all relatively straightforward using continuous systems. The issue comes in once we start looking at responsiveness, digital technology, whether its cameras, microphones, hazard detectors etc. We’re getting a lot of stuff and equipment, so one thing we’ve been talking about is where such equipment gets hidden, do we end up with a forest of architectural columns or are we hiding all of these junction boxes.  We can strap these things to the trees, but we end up with, again, electrics cables etc. So we’ve very much been looking at how we detail that so the focus always comes back to what would it affect, as well as the aspect of bringing darkness into a public space, where we know our eyes can work perfectly well at 0.2 lux rather than 5 or 10, we can reduce the light level to one hundredth of what it would be in the surrounding areas, but to create this as a sparkling presence in the park we would look at creating an entry condition that’s very dark.  So then looking at people issues, it’s a public space, it’s a public domain, how do we lower the levels so much but just to ankle level so that you can see safely etc., and making sure that the ambiance in its darkness still feels secure. So we’re thinking actually that the whole responsiveness of this could actually be making the place feel more secure, if someone does want to lurk among bushes, if there’s all these lights dangling above them [laughs] then you know someone is there in the bushes, you know?  So whether that becomes actually a marketing aspect [laughs].

Susanne Tutsch:  It’s quite funny because I didn’t want to overtake that discussion about the atmosphere, but this is a super-observed space because the MI6 is on the other side from this park.

Rory Olcayto:   Is that where the IRA bomb was set off from?

Susanne Tutsch:  Yes, allegedly. It’s an incredible constant concern of Secured by Design, about the security of the park, so the question is how one can… but it shouldn’t be the main thing.

Colin Ball:         I’ve worked on street lighting in Cambridge etc.  Cambridge is quite officially the darkest city in Britain and it’s also got the lowest crime rate, so this belief that we have in the lighting industry or belief publically that safety is akin to light is absolutely wrong and it’s a by-product that sells marketing. What we find is as long as there is occupation of the space, that’s what provides security, not lighting.

Rory Olcayto:   What’s jumped out is when you said that initially when illuminated light came in the magic was lost, and that to me seems at odds with my sense of, like, the 1890s and Paris being this incredible illuminated city and the fact that new electric light products really brought this new magic to the urban experience.

Tim Downey:    A different magic.

Rory Olcayto:   A different magic, but it made me think here, if you’re going to talk, there’s something genuinely magical obviously about this park, there is a kind of spark there that people are attracted to, for whatever reason. Looking at this design, for me it would work best if there was absolutely no sense that those lights existed at all. You know that poem by Richard Brautigan, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, and it’s about this kind of hi-tech pastoral landscape that talks back to you, it’s kind of embedded with technologies and they come alive when humans kind of interact with that space? That would just be so incredible, if there was no sense of any kind of technology, but then with human behaviour activating it somehow.

Susanne Tutsch:  We had a lot of conversation about this very thing, and interestingly it’s black, so all the architects are just trying to be very slim.

Rory Olcayto:   But is that possible, to do that, to have such discreet technology in this environment, or are we a little bit…?

Colin Ball:         Yes, yes. There’s one product that won an award last year, it was a glass bauble that’s entirely a crystal lens that just has a single filament of carbon fibre suspending it. It was developed with the finances of McLaren behind it, but all the metal components etc all disappeared by the properties of refraction, so there was no visible place where the light was coming from. So that’s just a glass bauble suspended during the day.

Susanne Tutsch:  What’s also interesting, you pointed out, you showed me an image where you can actually achieve something that’s quite three dimensional in terms of the appearance of the volume of light, a few lights of different brightness can be in a single place to achieve that, and I wasn’t quite aware that you don’t need this incredible density of light.

Rory Olcayto:   What about some feedback from the rest of the team? What a fascinating presentation.

Tim Downey:    What we normally get from projects where you get a fantastic idea of this magical floating light, and we often get challenges like this where you have lovely architectural frames for similar ideas.  It’s not so much the lights that we have problems hiding, it’s all the kit that’s required to feed them, the cables, the transformers, all the stuff that has to hold things up, that kind of thing, and that’s usually where great ideas like this tend to start to flounder. It’s then having to convince the vast range of people that you have to put things in, the contractors, the engineers, all these kind of guys, that everybody has to play their part in hiding the kit, so that the end result is light, and then we have a fantastic project. But it’s the communication skills in getting everybody else to buy into it. I think what’s really important is trying to get an original idea with the support of the lighting designer to create a daytime ‘look, no hands’, a night-time ‘look, magic’, and to get everybody to buy into that process all the way down the line requires the design team to communicate that again and again and again, and contractors to buy into it as well, the people who build it. How would you present this to the people building it in order for them to capture the magic and to get enthused about it, ‘Yes, we can do this’?  So technically it’s possible, but it requires people to want to do this, how would you do that?

Susanne Tutsch:  I think you have to just try with lots of imagery, literally, from the atmosphere, the lighting and the cloud.

Lynton Pepper:    One thing I find is it provides a forum to enable people to do different things, so some of it ethereal, some of it much stronger: so performances. Your thing about quite a lot of kit. I think the fact that it will enable people to perform but there’ll be something else happening here, but it enables people to do stuff they couldn’t do before that.

Colin Ball:         To go back to invisibilities, all those creating a cloud of the familiar in a way – we were looking at creating this very single, black, tiny column to be embedded among the trees, if every tree had one single column that was exactly the same as well as this stuff that disappears, it’s one little detail. It’s about looking at it in a systematic basis - to get the technology into parks without it being the object.

Jessica Reynolds: I’m curious about the cloud-like aspect of this. First, it’s the kind of linearity of route, because in a way it seems slightly different, like one is a rhythm and the other is more like this whole cloud that could turn on and off in different areas. Could you talk about that?

Susanne Tutsch:  You’re talking about the lower image?

Jessica Reynolds: Yes.

Susanne Tutsch:  I don’t know if it’s quite like that. We started to draw it much more criss-cross so there is much more flexibility, because otherwise you are much more tied down to specifics, but I think it should be a loose element.

Tim Downey:    People should choose their way through.

Susanne Tutsch:  Yes, much more flexibility to that.

Rory Olcayto:   Okay, thank you very much. Two projects in, we’ve not seen any architecture yet!  So Russell and Tim, can you address the balance?

RCKa: Ladywell Baths

Russell Curtis: Well RCKa is a small practice working mainly on residential projects, we do many things but largely residential at the moment, but our work is quite community focused, so we do community centres, a lot of the resi stuff is also based around the idea of creative communities.  Our project is based on that theme. What we’ve done, is take an existing building, which is actually a building that we’re working on at the moment, a derelict Victorian swimming baths down in Ladywell. People might know it, it’s Ladywell Baths. It’s been pretty much empty since the 1960s, a fire destroyed part of it in 2006, and it’s a Grade II listed building, a big headache for Lewisham Council, who don’t know quite what to do with it. We’ve done various schemes for it over the years, none of which have really gone anywhere, but what we were exploring here was this idea of how you can use light as a catalyst for activity, how we can introduce new lighting features to create some kind of other uses or to gather people, a bit like we were talking earlier. Now the kind of device that we came for this, there’s an interesting texture to the tower, so there’s a cylindrical tower in front of the building, and at the base of it its pitted all over with indents, and when people were queuing to get into the baths they would take their coins to pay and they would grind them into the brickwork, and it’s covered, its pitted with these amazing circles.

Susanne Tutsch:  While they were waiting?

Russell Curtis: While they were waiting to get in, so they would just sit there, and you can see at the base of it, it’s got this amazing texture to it.  So we thought ‘Well this is a result of human interaction, this is how people have overlaid themselves on this or their activities on this space’, and we wanted something, to introduce this platform for other activities to happen. So we’ve got these series of lit circles that kind of focus activity around the tower, so we might inhabit the tower itself, it could have a bar or something on the ground floor which opens out onto the area at the front of the building.  But what we want to do is to have these series of lights, a series of rings which allow you to inhabit the space at the front of the building, but also that react to you, so the more people that gather underneath them the brighter the lights become – but what we also want to do is take some of those lights and scatter them around the local area, so into the park next door, so you kind of start to gather people. So you might see a light in the park or in the woodland or wherever it is and that guides you towards it, and then you see another one, and maybe as you pass beneath one light it’s aware of your presence and lights another one in the distance, guiding you towards this events place. We wanted this idea of seeing enigmatic, mysterious lights in the distance, that guided you through the local landscape to this place where people gather, and there might be other uses that happen, cinema or bar or whatever.

Rory Olcayto:   What’s going on with the tower?

Russell Curtis: Well we thought, because we wanted something that was maybe different, this is like a beacon, so that’s the main space everything leads to. We wanted to repurpose this building, so it was an idea of creating a building or creating a beacon for this kind of catalyst.

Rory Olcayto:   A solid object?

Russell Curtis: No, that was going to be up lighting of some description, so that actually shines into the sky, which obviously comes with its own lighting challenges!

Rory Olcayto:   What’s really fascinating about this is using light to create what looks like architectural volumes almost.

Russell Curtis: Yes, we wanted those to repeat the idea of the cylindrical tower, so that in each of these lights the rings also then becomes almost like a volume that you inhabit rather than just be a feature.

Rory Olcayto:   So, Tim, how could you do that?

Tim Downey:    How would I do that?  Right. This was quite unusual in that actually it’s not one of those projects where we have to start by saying ‘Right, you can’t do that, you can’t do that, you can’t do that, we have to change it all’.  It’s all do-able, it’s more about the balance of lighting.  What we’ve been talking about is the re-creation of a building and how it could be used now.  It’s a monument; it’s got a fantastic life, a past life of its own, and what we thought we could do was bring that previous life to light, so to speak. So the big thing for us that we connect to this project is the building itself, we can actually see a lot of the building in this image. What we would do is light the building as a centrepiece and then the halos, these fireflies of lighting activity that can occur around it. Think of this image as a single frame of a movie, so each of those halos can come on and off over time as people use the space, but the building is always the centrepiece. Probably the one thing we would do is replace that big searchlight of light with the building itself, so the building becomes the centrepiece. You can see towards the top of the tower a series of windows.

Rory Olcayto:   Those are actual windows?

Tim Downey:    They are actual windows, yes. That’s the main circle of light and each of the halos around the site come from that, so they lead back to that centre place. Light is being used here to guide people, to help them explore, to help them discover ‘moments of delight’, to coin a phrase that was used before. There are technical challenges in terms of holding these things up, but we think we’ve come up with a series of ways we think it can be done. For example, with the use of LEDs and modern control technology we can make the lighting react to people and we can help tell a story and create something where the entire park becomes something that’s used at night, whereas at the moment its not, it’s only used by day.  So by lighting and using it in such a way that it becomes a magical fairyland we can help people discover this whole site and come backwards and forwards and criss-cross and meet people, it becomes a real social media. It’s exactly the kind of project that can be represented around the world using social media, so it’s fantastic to interact with. We think it’s a great project.

Rory Olcayto:   So are they static, those hoops?

Russell Curtis: They are static, well the quality of lighting changes because we want that to be…

Rory Olcayto:   But are they fixed positions?

Russell Curtis: Oh they’re fixed positions, yes. What we were thinking was that… we originally started doing a plan to work out where they might go, but actually it’s more subtle, the position needed to be decided from the routes that you might take, to understand where… you know, you stand under one and then you see one in the distance, and it’s just enough to give you a hint of what might be happening, and that leads you gradually from one point to another, so they would be fixed positions.  I think what we were quite keen to do was make sure that they almost weren’t grounded, so find a way that the support structure… it might be high-tensile cable or something, so you completely divorce it from the ground, so you’re not seeing a point where the power, for example, comes from a post or whatever, and might be away somewhere, so that they just feel that these things hover in space in the landscape.

Tim Downey:    They’re not necessarily lights either - something we would look at is whether they could be reflective, cats’ eyes, reflective materials that you see on bike jackets, that kind of thing. So instead of having lights up there with the necessary cables to support it, the lights could be in the ground and these things could just be little points of something reflective, to make them even lighter.

Rory Olcayto:   Like drone technology! They’re hovering, like literally hovering.

Susanne Tutsch   Clearly its hovering technology isn’t it, because we were looking for that as well.

Russell Curtis: Or a big magnet, like a train or something that you pass, maybe there’s a magnetic way of hovering the thing in space.

Jessica Reynolds: I really like volumes of light, reminiscent of Anthony McCall and his artworks. I was wondering about the ground, because obviously what it reflects onto will really affect how bright it is. Is it just grass?

Russell Curtis: Well we had a conversation about this and I think it’s important that because it’s almost a found space, that we don’t want to then start putting hard landscaping in or whatever it is to make it work, it’s important that these things almost just happen where they happen, and they don’t really have relationship with the trees, some of them are round trees, some of them are maybe suspended by the trees, but the important thing is they’re overlaid on the plan. They’re completely divorced from it, so it doesn’t matter whether it’s a bit of grass or a bit of paving slabs, whatever, it’s independent of that and it’s hovering above it, so that the light itself is creating the space rather than the surfaces that you interact with.

Jessica Reynolds: I guess eventually surfaces would be impacted.

Russell Curtis: But that’s a result of inhabitation, which comes back to this idea of people using the coins, in a way the light becomes the catalyst for things to happen.

Lynton Pepper:    Like in a greenhouse way, potentially more growth there.

Russell Curtis: Yes.

Lynton Pepper:    It becomes these weird spots.

Lynton Pepper:    Like fairy lights, UV stuff.  The thing I like about it though was that meeting system, eg for buskers, that would be fantastic. So maybe the whole thing actually, you look up, it all happens on the ground to enable all these other things to happen.

Russell Curtis: We were thinking a bit more like the way you’d imagine a fairground - you know, a tent on the playing field or something, it’s all darkness and you see this thing in the distance and that’s what draws you towards it, or a camp fire, people kind of gather round, it’s a catalyst for something else, which is quite interesting.

Rory Olcayto:   We’re going to have to move on, thanks very much. I should have said, Tim, you should have talked a little bit about the Studio Fractal. I’ll tell you anyway! Studio Fractal has recently completed King’s Cross Square.

Tim Downey:    King’s Cross, which actually is a great example of a listed monument in the background, public space in front of it that people can use how they wish, so it’s a good example of a space.

Rory Olcayto:   Now we’re edging closer towards a building I think! I can’t help thinking video games have had a big influence on all of our thinking in general, because even something about this ‘step into a light’.

Office for Subversive Architecture: Tower

Rory Olcayto:   Next up is OSA, Karsten Huneck and Paul Nulty. Can I just ask, when you answer the phone, when somebody makes an enquiry, do you say ‘Hello, Office for Subversive Architecture’?

Karsten Huneck:  Sometimes, yeah.

Karsten Huneck:  It really depends.

Rory Olcayto:   And does it put potential clients off if you say ‘subversive’?

Karsten Huneck:  I have not heard it but I’m sure it would because of the nature of the word. It’s a shame because it’s something we always get, the question is ‘What does subversive mean?’ and its subverting common views on space, architecture.  That’s how we started 20 years ago almost, when we started, we always say it’s a network for spatial experimentation, as we call it, and it’s not a practice. The practice I’ve now been running for three years, roughly, is KHBT, with my partner, Bernd Truempler, and we are based in London and Berlin, but we are also partners of the network, and the network is actually eight people, but it happens that Bernd and myself have been in England for a long time and done all the OSA stuff here, and a lot of others as well. The KHBT enables us to realise these things, because you need not just a practice, you need insurance. So for three years we have been running this architectural design practice, but we are still pushing boundaries with the OSA, so to speak, that’s the difference between it, but it’s always us and the same approach in a way.

Rory Olcayto:   Absolutely fantastic, loved it.

Rory Olcayto:   Paul, we’ve worked together before as well, maybe could you tell us a little bit of your background?

Paul Nulty:       Lighting Design, the practice, is three years and nine days old, about 25% of what we do is retail, high-end luxury retail, about 25% is luxury residential work, and we do a lot of hotels. We’ve got a very diverse portfolio, even Metro stations and extensions.  We’re 21 people, which is a reasonable size for a lighting consultancy, based at Waterloo - till we get kicked out - the Tower Building on Waterloo Station.

Rory Olcayto:   I’m just thinking of the planning.

Paul Nulty:       Yeah, I’ve very disappointed about that. We’re on the 15th floor so we see everything from the BT Tower to the Shard, you know, right the way down to Elephant and Castle. The only way is down, unfortunately, from there on in I think.  Do you know what, I would say this discussion we had for me was the reason we’re here really, it was such an amazing example, because I spent the entire meeting talking about surfaces and architectures, and Karsten spent the entire chat talking about what he wanted of lighting, so it was a complete role reversal, but it demonstrated why collaboration and two-way discussion is important. So it was quite fun actually.

Rory Olcayto:   Well I sat in with you a little bit and you told me about the project, really fascinating and I’m looking forward to hearing about it.

Karsten Huneck:  The project is a piece on a tower in Eindhoven. It’s actually about, we could say, light and performance, it could be a light scheme, but it’s based on Eindhoven’s actual ambition to be carbon energy neutral by 2045, and in that plan the tower plays a big role as a kind of energy generator, renewables, but also in terms of research. We took that away quite literally so the tower becomes the symbol of it, but then we also look at the architecture, and the architecture is very simple in a way, this horizontal banding, and that kind of expression we wanted to take as a starting point, and see it as a kind of battery or actual light of energy, which gets charged and discharged with the energy. The two key images are….one is the one where you just have the corona around the tower, so it becomes light, so absence of light, just a little border around, and then it gets charged by the moving, and there’s a film, I don’t know if you have the film on it?

Karsten Huneck:  I have to say it was a kind of performance, we connected it to Kraftwerk, the German electronic band, which experimented, was one of the first electronic bands, and what’s quite interesting about them is they were actually classically trained, and it was always the kind of contradiction between the electronic music versus the classical music. They are quite self-ironic in a sense, and we used two songs or pieces to accompany this kind of piece, that’s why it’s called Home Sweet Home as well.

Rory Olcayto:   Thanks, Karsten.

Karsten Huneck:  Yes, thank you. I mean, we had an amazing discussion, I think we could do it, you know?

Paul Nulty:       My immediate reaction was that this is easier than photo projection, no problem at all, video mapping, and then Karsten said ‘I absolutely don’t want to do it with video mapping’, so we did it the old-fashioned way. We split it down into two elements, the corona part of it and the charging indicators, for want of a better description. The first thing I said is, ‘Well, you need to understand the mindset, that you don’t see light’, and I think people often forget about that, you don’t see light, you see the surface that light interacts with. I suppose the question is, ‘What would you actually see?’, because it’s all well and good drawing a nice line on an image, and we agreed that you’d end up seeing the soffits if it’s a clear glazed façade, and actually that would start to detract from the form. So we had a lot of discussion about how we could make that a vertical surface and whether it was something to apply to the outside of the building or on the inside of the building, and actually we felt that something as simple as a gauze, theatrical gauze on the inside of the windows would work reasonably well, and you could probably then use, and I think Karsten was quite keen to use the existing lighting in the offices.  So it’s something that becomes like an opalescent surface, just scattered light, becomes a very simple device.  I mean, after that it’s really a case of how you control it and whether you use the existing BMS control system or whether we cheat and use a theatrical system that’s hooked in.

Karsten Huneck:  I guess there’s no controlling system, because it’s a 1970s building.

Paul Nulty:       Yes. So as a temporary installation you might cheat and put a bit of floodlighting in there or something, just to backlight gauze. If it were refurbished as a permanent installation then obviously you can do a lot more with it. There’s been much discussion about the corona, because again you don’t see light if you’re blasting lots of light at the back of this building, if it’s a lovely clear pollution-free day with no fog then you’re not really going to get many interactional particles in the atmosphere. If it happens to be a nice foggy day it will work really very well. So we had much discussion about whether we could put smoke machines up the building or hosepipes with pinpricks in it that scatter water off the side of the building, just to give something to interact with. I think in the end we said ‘Look, really it could be as simple as getting some very narrow projectors with framing devices just off to the side and actually we start to cheat a bit of light’, and we could then just capture a bit of soft framed light on the building, because actually we do like the building rather than the atmosphere around it, but ultimately if it’s a foggy day then it will still do the job, but it was just about describing the form of the building with it and obviously getting a reasonable amount of backlighting to it. Whether it’s entirely environmentally friendly I think is…

Karsten Huneck:  But the thing is that piece is really very critical about the whole being sustainable, when we build we release energy, so often we can predict the whole thing.  So it is of course kind of ironic, the piece, as well, just trying to be carbon neutral or sustainable.

Paul Nulty:       It’s very much a case of just making sure we’ve got the right surfaces in the right place to illuminate. The only other extra layer I said we would probably want to add is that there’s quite a lot of planting around it; I felt it would be quite nice to light some of those trees in a different tone, so as you can see, the very warm light illuminating the building, just as a foil really, a little bit of cooler lighting but very subtle, I don’t think it needs to be very much.

Rory Olcayto:   Go on.

Susanne Tutsch:  You said that it charges the building, or when does it perform?

Karsten Huneck:  When?

Susanne Tutsch:  Yes, is that related to something programmatic, lighting the circle or energy?

Karsten Huneck:  No, basically it just becomes a symbol of the charged object, it’s purely a performance of light at night.

Susanne Tutsch:  Okay.

Karsten Huneck:  It’s not literally charged energy.

Paul Nulty:       So representing it.

Karsten Huneck:  It’s representing what the plans are in the future, but it’s also of course, as I said, possible to become energy neutral. 

Tim Downey:    What you’ve shown is also quite directional, isn’t it, I mean, you see it from that point of view; you see the corona around it.

Karsten Huneck:  Absolutely.

Tim Downey:    And is that a particular viewpoint important?

Karsten Huneck:  Yes, it’s very important, and it’s also important that it does change.  We worked on another lighting scheme last year, where we created… it was quite different but anamorphosis, which means you can only see the actual piece from one point. So it’s quite deliberate that it disappears from other sides, and in particular from the other side where it’s super bright, and we talked a lot about that as well, how do we want these brightly-lit facades to appear, do we want a lot of spots? You said we could have just a couple of really, really bright ones that did the job, but that’s something we need to develop, what happens on this super-bright side and then on the fringe where you just walk around.

Tim Downey:    Is the building occupied?

Karsten Huneck:  That’s a good question.  Apparently it’s not now but they’re going to refurbish it in two years. It was a city hall.

Tim Downey:    We did a job recently similar to this, down in Ashford, which is the only building in not a very nice urban landscape next to the Eurotunnel Station. We put a light art sculpture on the building.  It started like this, which is what it could be used for, you know, video projection, and we ended up with lights on the building. The biggest challenge: we lit the sides of it for a very controlled viewpoint, which was from the station itself, as well as for the residents in Ashford, but the biggest problem was the occupants of the building, because what’s great about images like that is you’ve got a very theatrical set which is stark black and white/colour, whatever’s used, and then when the building gets turned on and all the people are using the different levels and they want to use the building, then whatever you add to it can’t interrupt what they’re doing to the building.  So anything projected on the building tends to become a problem and anything that you’re adding to the building then has to be something that doesn’t interrupt what they’re doing.  So that’s something, I think the use of the building really does tend to dictate what the design can be.

Karsten Huneck:  It could of course be really integrated, this kind of lighting.

Paul Nulty:       Yes that’s a question I posed, because ultimately no one wants to sit at a desk with a face full of glaring floodlights. You know, in reality, if that was something you really wanted to do, you’d have to go for blackout lines, look at light in the lines. You’re almost saying to the occupants of the building ‘You don’t get a view at night’.

Tim Downey:    But there’s also something about, you see these buildings at night which are completely unoccupied, all the lights are on, and when there’s something around that, rather than lighting the façade, for example, that the building management system lights the floor in any arrangement when the building is not occupied, that is maybe better than having all these offices illuminated with nobody in them.

Jeff Shaw:       It appears to me that’s something you might do before the building would be demolished, because it becomes this kind of stage for this performance, and the demolition is part of the theatre, and the halo gives that impression, it’s almost like a ghost of the building.

Robert Honeywill: It reminds me of the eclipse, that’s the thing, when the moon moves in front of the sun and you get the corona effect around it. There’s something, it’s additive but subtractive at the same time.

Lynton Pepper:    I don’t understand why.

Karsten Huneck: First of all of course it’s the use, at the moment unoccupied, and it’s quite important that it’s at the moment unoccupied and you can actually do this. It’s a performance that deals critically with the kind of aims they have in terms of energy.

Lynton Pepper:    So you don’t think they’ll be able to do it, that’s the critique, that they won’t be able to make it carbon neutral?

Karsten Huneck:  I would question it, but it’s interesting. No, they are not, and then of course the other thing that I said is that the actual building itself has an appearance, or buildings in general, it could be transferred, where you can do other things than just using it as buildings, in this instance the light performance.

Paul Nulty:       This is turning an entire building into a piece of sculpture in terms of light.

Rory Olcayto:   The other thing, again drawing from screen-based experience, is it’s like a mobile phone charging, isn’t it, we all look at that little thing going up, up, up. You know, I had to keep on going back to my hotel in Venice at the Biennale, because I kept on taking loads of pictures, and it’s such a curse, modern light, isn’t it.

Paul Nulty:       The missing link here, and I totally agree, is that you would want to tie it in, you’d want it somehow powered by…

Karsten Huneck:  It is, and of course it would be the aim, to do that without using any new energy, that could be ideal.

Tim Downey:    So that integrates into a sustainable power source.

Paul Nulty:       Be great just to get lots of people plugging mobile phones in and suddenly everybody contributes to it. When we were talking about controls we had a chat about you could literally get, because it’s a performance piece, individual rooms with little switches rather than having a complicated control system you’d get all of these people in a room turning a light on and off.  I always wonder about the tower blocks, I don’t know why people don’t get together, make a political statement – you’d see these massive great tower blocks – and get them like pixels.

Tim Downey:    There’s a very good reason for that, it’s because nobody can agree, they never agree on what to do.

Karsten Huneck:  There’s this building in Germany, Kiosk Computer Club, something like that, that did a thing called Project Lincoln Lights, which was using all the lights in the rooms to play games on the building.

Jessica Reynolds: Also the Standard Hotel in New York, when it opened it had a massive launch event with dancers in different windows, amazing.

Rory Olcayto:   And it was a building as well, so thanks!

Russell Curtis: If you’d wanted a building you should have briefed us!

Rory Olcayto:   I just thought architects: buildings! Next up is vPPR, Jessica and Jeff.  A little bit about yourselves first?

PPPR: Invisible Space

Jessica Reynolds: Yes! vPPR was set up five years ago and we specialise in housing and cultural projects in London and abroad, in China and Russia, and we’re particularly interested in researching the geometry and landscape in architecture and how that can create different organisations of public and private space.

Jeff Shaw:       We’re a multidisciplinary engineering firm, I’m part of the lighting practice within it, it’s probably quite similar to DDP. We’re reasonably large, worldwide we’re about 70 people - 70 designers - in London it’s only about 16 or 17. We work on very strange projects, as everyone else has said, I think that’s true, both within our projects with other clients and then as an independent design practice in our own right as well.

Rory Olcayto:   And your project’s called ‘Invisible Space’?

Jessica Reynolds: Yes, but basically the idea was to question, normally light makes things visible and we’re looking at making objects disappear. Our proposal takes quite standard recent camera, LED screen technology, which has been used quite a lot but is always experimented with in lots of forms, where you have basically a camera on one side of an object, an LED screen on the front of the object, and the camera relays live images onto the screen, so you kind of see through it, as it were. That’s the basic idea, but we’re applying it on an urban scale, it has political implications, addressing two particular themes; one is the housing crisis in London, providing affordable housing for everyone in the centre with an amazing view, and the second is the London skyline issue: building tall, what if we can do both things at once. The idea is that we apply this kind of dense screen, lenticular LEDs and 360-degree cameras to all facades of tall buildings, and also from the interior of buildings, you see out through this mediated screen as well, so it’s this very dystopian world.

Tim Downey:    Airships and prehistoric…

Jessica Reynolds: It had three modes of operation: this one is off, you can see in this diagram. This is when it’s on, so you could keep the skyline as is it today, and this one is where you can edit it, so you can make floating buildings or highlight certain bits of the city. So you’re talking about all the practical implications.

Jeff Shaw:       It’s reasonably technically challenging, we thought!  I think, to begin with, if you’re doing a media façade or big display screen you talk a lot about when is it visible, at night certainly you can do it but by day, repeating with sunlight, sunlight reflecting, and then we realised of course not only are we trying to emulate sunlight, because some of the time the sun will be behind the buildings so actually you need to recreate the sun on the other side. We need quite a lot of intensity: LED technology is moving forward, improved efficiencies. We did want to think about making it a sustainable solution as well, we have in the past worked on zero-carbon media facades where there’s photovoltaics integrated in the facades so the electricity generated by day doesn’t run out. I mean, this is a very crude diagram, photovoltaics on the roof would then power our media façade.  The 360 degree view is interesting, it’s like how do you do differing viewpoints?  You can’t just have a camera on the one side and the thing on the other. So I think there’s research going into invisibility, we’ll probably try and borrow from that. We’re looking at dome-shaped LED things so that you’d have differently angled views, and the cameras would have to be fish-eye lenses, and there’s a computer in the middle that will have to do quite a lot of work working out how one relates to the other. I think the other one is that the outside walls are solid, so views out would be a screen on the inside of the building.

Jessica Reynolds: Which could also be your computer, personal computer.

Jeff Shaw:       Yeah, and also the walls can be very well insulated, sustainable construction. This is a weird 3D section, but you’d have a big atrium in the middle of the building to bring in daylight and views, maybe even start mirroring sunlight into the atrium as well so that you’re still maintaining well lit apartments that are comfortable and nice.  Good community feel here because you’re looking over a courtyard, that sort of thing, maybe even some holes in the building to bring more daylight in, depending on the size and the scale of the building.  Interestingly we talked about taking architecture away, I think they could all just be monolithic blocks because you don’t see them.

Robert Honeywill: You could even go down as well as up. If you’re replicating on the inside a view, then underground you’d do the same thing.

Jeff Shaw:       Or you could do a view of underwater in the Thames.

Rory Olcayto:   I mean, it’s very much more David Copperfield than David Chipperfield!

Jeff Shaw:       And do you do things like if it’s a greyish day, we could project the building with sunshine and clouds, make it feel like a nicer day than it really is.

Jessica Reynolds: The idea was that you build into the system these deliberate enhancements, so it’s like this iridescence light and feel of these kinds of atmospheres, so it’s all about turning the sky into this…

Jeff Shaw:       Do shooting stars at night?

Jessica Reynolds: Do shooting stars.

Colin Ball:         It’s going to make landing at City Airport difficult though!

Jeff Shaw:       We talked about that, there are two options. One was you build into all planes a system that sees the buildings, or like in the movie, They Live! Or the other option is you do have a reactive element, that if an aircraft that doesn’t happen to have this equipment, or a bird, comes near the building it does come into view, so occasionally these buildings will reappear.

Tim Downey:    Where have you seen this from, that view?

Jessica Reynolds: Oh this is from the Tate Modern, but it could be anything.

Jeff Shaw:       The cameras will be integrated in the facades as well, and this is why it’s fisheye lens, 360 view. There are some technical things to iron out!

Rory Olcayto:   It is is kind of tuning into contemporary technologies, like invisibility is something that’s being researched.

Jeff Shaw:       Yeah, we do lots of research at the moment.

Rory Olcayto:   Japanese technology has recently produced a perfect invisible cloak.

Jeff Shaw:       I’ve got an app on my phone, that while I’m looking at the phone it’s filming what’s behind it, so the phone itself is invisible.

Colin Ball:         In the 1960s, during experiments on disguising tanks if they had to go on the horizon, they found if they covered them just in 50 watt light bulbs, once they switched them on the tanks vanished.

Jeff Shaw:       Well there you go.

Rory Olcayto:   There’s also the technology, augmented reality, which is still in development, but the idea of looking through a screen at a real place, you see something different. Obviously there’s some humour in this, although it’s presented very straight, I’ve got to say.

Jessica Reynolds: It’s got this flying dinosaur!

Rory Olcayto:   Apart from a giant seahorse!

Jeff Shaw:       Perfectly feasible!

Tim Downey:    Could you do this in Google Glass, where everybody puts a pair of specs on?

Jeff Shaw:       Well yes, we did suggest it. This is the film they make, where everyone wears glasses, so when they’re wearing glasses the skyline disappears, or the other way round, only certain people with glasses can see the buildings.

Rory Olcayto:   I think there’s something really serious about this project. There’s some serious implications for heritage, you know?

Tim Downey:    Well it gets round the whole of the view corridors, the whole issue goes away, doesn’t it.

Rory Olcayto:   Yeah, totally. At a very simple level, it’s not the same sort of technology, but the Walkie-Talkie has just recently been covered in a film that’s going to deal with its heat.

Jeff Shaw:       That replicated the sunlight pretty well!

Tim Downey:    There’s this book by William Gibson called Pattern Recognition - has anybody read that?

Rory Olcayto:   No, but I know it.

Tim Downey:    He talks about virtual reality art, where at any particular part of a city, if you put a pair of goggles on you can see a construct, an artificial city that happens to be there, and it’s only there briefly. An artist makes this particular thing, this particular object, and if you go there next week it’s gone, so it’s got this moving element to it, but its virtual reality, the rest of the population don’t know it’s there, it’s only certain people. There could be a really subversive element to this.

Colin Ball:         I was just wondering, could it be a passive/pattern system of just woven fibre optics, where the light is woven around the building in that way?

Jeff Shaw:       Yeah, when we did the place that sort of technology was described, but we didn’t really understand it, to be honest!

Tim Downey:    That’s honest.

Jeff Shaw:       We also spoke briefly about it, again this issue was how bright these would be, sort of Kindle-type displays where you’re using the external lights to light the building. So there’s some experimentation.

Anthony Boulanger:       What’s the impression at night and the day view?

Jessica Reynolds: At night you just see the sky, very dark, a few shooting stars as well.

Tim Downey:    So there are no buildings at all?

Jessica Reynolds: No, unless you turn it off and then you’ll see the actual thing, otherwise it will just show sky.

Jeff Shaw:       Or it would show you St Paul’s and that sort of thing.

Colin Ball:         They’ve achieved this in South Korea, haven’t they?

Jessica Reynolds: Yeah, exactly, there are lots of different precedents for this, and I think the main thing here is doing it on a whole urban scale, so it’s almost like [unintelligible 74:25] planning requirements and what would it mean.

Tim Downey:    Is the building stock of London so bad that you make it disappear?

Jeff Shaw:       This is about building lots more residences. This incredibly expensive technology will pay for itself but will be affordable.

Tim Downey:    You could completely bypass planning laws with this, couldn’t you!

Jessica Reynolds: Yes.

Paul Nulty:       Building planners will never know!  Four years down the line you could turn it off and go ‘Ta-da!’

Rory Olcayto:   So if I could move on to the final one.  Jessica and Jeff, thank you very much; we got another building, we just can’t see it.  We’ve got one more project to go, and it’s AY Architects and MBLD, Antony and Robert.



Anthony Boulanger:       Hello, I’m Antony, AY Architects.  We established ourselves in 2007 and we do a variety of mainly small projects, bit of education, residential, we do temporary installations as well, and we both teach a fair bit at the Bartlett in Westminster. 

Robert Honeywill: I’m Rob Honeywill from the Maurice Brill Lighting Design, MBLD, which has been a small practice now running for about 30 years, we are about 12 people.  Like many people round this table we try to do anything, any time, anywhere. So it could be anything, scale is not an issue for us, small, large, medium, we do master planning, residential, retail, hotel, museums, gallery, master planning as much as possible and just trying to diversify as much as possible. So we learn a lot from different areas and what that brings to different aspects of design. 

Rory Olcayto:   So if you could tell us about Night Square?

Anthony Boulanger:       The first one, our proposition, contradicts the reason for being invited. When we were looking at the brief and topic we were quite overwhelmed by the harmonisation of the sky with light, and the wastage of light and the disconnection that we now have living in a mega city like London with a good night sky. So we started considering it on different levels, one, as a kind of idealistic urban scale, and then the actual lighting design is something which goes down to the physical human scale. We were really shocked that when you design your buildings, the interior of buildings, there’s always a lot of pressure to get them to be environmentally sustainable, to be smart, to react, to be energy efficient, mechanical and electrical equipment, lighting, it’s all responsive. That doesn’t really take place in the urban realm, so we were interested in establishing a set of ideals about how we could be more responsive with the urban realm in reducing the wastage of light.  So we took our beloved Kentish Town, where we live and work, as the focus of our study.  Night Square, it’s a drawing, can you see it?  Kentish Town is undergoing a lot of change, there’s a lot of debate about the national rail sites being developed, it’s undergoing a huge amount of change. We would like Kentish Town to become a darker place so that one could experience the night sky, one could experience darkness.  The history of Kentish Town is quite interesting because it has a connection with Ken Wood, Kenwood House; Ken-ditch, Kentish Town, is where the Fleet River flows below our site.  So we wanted to use the existing railway infrastructure to create a dark corridor, which would create a new square at the junction with the railway and Kentish Town tube station, and the railway extends, the corridor extends, so you get some really lovely views of Hampstead Heath.  That’s the first place in London as you travel up through Central London, you get this opening up, and we’re quite keen that that is something we can take advantage of. 

So our proposal is to create a small square, which we call the Night Square, so that you can view the stars and the moon, and have an idea about the infrastructure of Kentish Town, allowing it to be dimmed. So the city becomes dimmed, the billboards are turned off, street lights are turned down, which are responsive to the use of the area throughout the evening. Then the design proposition, aside from the Square, which is part of that, there’s a kind of terraced… this is a very quick sketch, terraced square which would have a new dark corridor connecting up to Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill, which would be at that point. So that corridor would be demarcated by a path, which would allow an interaction on a human scale, literally a handrail which would light up as you interact with it, very low level LED diffused, possibly an embedded LED in the carbon fibre casement which would light up 10 metres before you and then dim down as you moved.  As you got on to Hampstead Heath, Parliament Hill, the idea is then you would translate that into some quite subtle, embedded floor, round spots, not literally spots in the ground but again something which is a marker.  The overall idea is a comment about the lighting of cities, and the arguments of crime, which we don’t really see that as being an issue because there is no evidence that crime is an issue in darker cities and there have been studies on that, but the other premise is about creating this connection with the green space, and it promotes all sorts of different things and works on many different levels, to connect to Kenwood House, and the idea is that from the Square you would see this line in the landscape which ascended to Kenwood House.

Robert Honeywill: I think that’s quite interesting, because you might have thought as soon as we met, walk in, turn everything off, and then that’s my job done, thank you very much!

Robert Honeywill: Here’s my fee! That was pretty easy. I think the bit I have to remind myself is obviously why we’re here, which is in order to try to say ‘Okay, well why is a lighting designer there right from the beginning, apart from part-way through, and how am I going to help that process at the very beginning?’ You might argue sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t, really it’s about getting there first and seeing what happens through that journey.  So from my point of view what I’m trying to do is just work out and contribute what the story narrative is through here, because to me it’s a beginning, a middle, an end in terms of an architectural journey.  So one of the things about this on the Square, obviously in terms of a responsive situation, is trying to accept that certain parameters within the normal public safety issues and the public lighting, public realm, you put to one side, and it’s all about the feeling of light and interactive light.  So we take all that away from the Square, so we would move everything, or we give people the opportunity, as you say, to turn on the light if they need it, but then this journey begins along the dark corridor with the handrail. 

What we’re doing is trying to feed in to how the technology, whether it’s LED or whether or not it’s electric luminescence and/or whether it’s something else, but something very, very minimal, that they contribute to that part of the journey here up to this point.  So really it’s all about that interaction with the handrail, and then when you get over to this part, where there is nothing, and we’re going from a dark corridor to a really dark corridor and there is nothing at all, but looking at possibilities like whether or not you referenced bioluminescence, can we use other types, like reflecting materials or paint, luminescent paint, that we can paint the trail all the way round here and try to let that create the pathway, but at the same time we know that we’re going to have a dark space. On top of that how do we use technology similar to using the moonlight and then using that light to react to touches of electric light, that would come on when that’s not being used, so the moonlight is also going to affect and interact with that.

Anthony Boulanger:       You describe your cloud as possibly being made of both reflective surfaces, that’s something - the moonlight to be that source of light through reflection. Then we thought about the pond being a reflective surface as well, which is related to the movement of the seasons.

Rory Olcayto:   Just a couple of things before we participate.  The drawing is lovely, lovely drawing, it looks like an unnamed star sign or something, the cosmos as well.  Do you know about the Full Moon Theatre, Peter Rice, in the South of France?

Anthony Boulanger:       Yes I do.

Rory Olcayto:   It’s astonishing.

Jeff Shaw:       The other thing I was going to mention is there are some roads, isn’t Amy Collen I think experimenting with roads with luminescent paint?

Paul Nulty:       They’ve stopped it, haven’t they?

Jeff Shaw:       Have they?

Paul Nulty:       Yeah, it didn’t work!

Rory Olcayto:   Well for those who don’t know, the Full Moon Theatre is a project in the South of France, I think it was done in the 80s or 90s, I’m not sure, by Peter Rice, the engineer who worked with Lord Rogers. I mean, he’s just a brilliant engineer who worked with a lot of things, architects, to create incredible projects, and this one was specifically for the theatre designer, to create a theatrical venue in the open air that just used moonlight, particularly from the full moon, and they used mirrors and reflective surfaces, whatever, to create this naturally lit stage in the darkness, which is just an amazing project, and it’s really nice to see that strand, again a kind of magical atmosphere just being used.

Anthony Boulanger:       Well it just seems like it needs to be a bit more on the agenda for urban planning, whether it’s an integration of the local authorities, with the highways and the lighting designers, it just seems so now, that there’s so much wastage of light, it just goes into the atmosphere, and most of Britain, I think there’s only 10% of Britain which actually you can classify as dark sky, where you can see.  I mean, there are children who have grown up that have never seen it.

Karsten Huneck:  That’s what I like about it, the reference to when we were young and we were excited about our first night walking trip in the woods with a pocket knife, and I think that’s like that with the handrails.

Jeff Shaw:       Like a fairy tale.

Anthony Boulanger:       The more institutionalised pocket light you can switch on and off if you need, otherwise you just step away when you want darkness.  It’s very poetic in a sense.

Anthony Boulanger:       Yeah, I think we would love to develop this project much better because we can see it’s good.

Tim Downey:    It’s got a lot of potential.

Anthony Boulanger:       It has, it can be a very beautiful thing as well.  I know, being a local resident, that in 10 years they’ll probably have completely transferred over the railway and there’ll be 500 new homes on there, which might give us lots of work.

Jessica Reynolds: Have you talked about the detail of the handrail?

Anthony Boulanger:       Yes. I mean, we started thinking about it might be this encased, glowing, carbon fibre piece which had LED or luminescence. It would need to be responsive to the touch if you want that transition, so it just came on and off as you passed by, but yeah, that would be a nice thing.

Robert Honeywill: And it has this double end, double side to it, doesn’t it, so that you have this… you basically see it, you’re experiencing it as you’re going down the path, but then you actually see it from the viewing platform, you’re seeing it on the other side as well.  So if nobody’s using it and therefore the interactive part is off, you’re still experiencing that from the viewing platform.

Colin Ball:         So it has to be touched in order to activate?

Anthony Boulanger:       I think very dimly.

Tim Downey:    Yeah, it’s a different view, and then it could be brighter.

Tim Downey:    You’ve got to see some kind of route ahead of you.

Anthony Boulanger:       Yes, there could be a condition when it’s very dimly lit, so you do have that line, which is something in the landscape.

Russell Curtis: But in a way it’s going to be quite nice not to see that, you can trust that, you trust the fact that this handrail leads somewhere, because in order to activate it you’ve got to hold on to it, so you take trust in the handrail to lead you on an interesting journey, you don’t know where it’s going to take you, there’s something quite nice about that. 

Robert Honeywill: Or you don’t activate it, so it’s the moonlight that’s leading you.

Jeff Shaw:       Yes, I do understand there’s natural light at night, I think that’s something we don’t think about enough, the Full Moon Theatre being a great example really.

Tim Downey:    I mean, this might be a really dumb question, but what if it’s overcast?

Anthony Boulanger:       Well still you’d have the handrail.

Robert Honeywill: If it’s an overcast day?

Tim Downey:    There’s no moonlight.

Robert Honeywill: Yes, absolutely, then you can choose either to be adventurous or you can grab the handrail.

Anthony Boulanger:       But it’s still the dark corridor.

Robert Honeywill: Yeah, exactly. I mean, the point is not to light it, it being a natural sense, so keep the darkness.

Tim Downey:    So what are we looking at, are we looking at the ground or are we looking at the sky, or are we looking at both?

Anthony Boulanger:       I don’t think you’d be looking at the ground, you’d be looking at the sky, and then when you’re in Kentish Town you would see this line appear in the landscape, and it’s about forming the connection between Kenwood House and Kentish Town.

Russell Curtis: And there’s a lot of parallels as well, the circles that lead you somewhere. I think the handrail leads you, so when you see in the distance a light handrail you think ‘Hey, I want to…’

Robert Honeywill: Yeah, but that’s another thing about when you get passed the handrail, you see this pathway, and that you have these little scribes of…

Anthony Boulanger:       Yeah, exactly.

Robert Honeywill: You know, markers of phosphorescent paint and maybe on the leaves or on the sides of bits of bark or rocks, and that’s kind of this organic avatar, pathway of going through.

Colin Ball:         But there’s an interesting cultural aspect to this as well with very low light levels, our eyes are really sensitive to red light, so if this path was lit in a saturated way…Astronomers use it for torches., you can keep the iris very wide, so your night vision stays unaffected, but the cultural aspect of putting a red landscaped street through the middle of London…

Rory Olcayto:   Thank you very much for your presentation. We’ve run quite a bit over but I think it was worth it because that for me was a really fascinating discussion. What jumps out at me, maybe I’m sounding too esoteric here, but the magical aspects to a lot of the projects, and coming back from the Venice Biennale, where Rem Koolhaas has been dominating there, where it’s just this empirical, really hard data approach to architecture. It’s been getting great reviews, you know, from Rowan Moore to Paul Finch bizarrely agreeing on something, they both loved this show.  Part of me felt it was so relentless and so grim, that architecture is just reduced down to doors and roofs and its elements, its building blocks, because that’s not just… architecture’s the thing that’s not that in a way; it transcends all of that, and the big success for me at the Brits Pavilion was that it provided this kind of weird shamanic kind of reading of British architectural culture since the war, and architecture is a little bit like magic in that you put together your own personal spell book, you know, ‘I’ll have a little bit of this, a little bit of that’, and you create this kind of potion or a list of ingredients for that specific project, and these projects here, it’s really inspiring to see, in such a short timeframe that you’ve all worked on, from my perspective thank you very much for producing such excellent work.

Thanks, iGuzzini, for providing the backdrop and inspiration for it to go so smoothly as well. We did not really deal with architecture too much, but the architecture was what you brought to it, going from a bus; we seem to be moving up in scale as well as we were moving through, a bus to a park, to cylinders of light in the ground of a landmark building, to a tower block pretending to be a rechargeable battery, to a cloak of invisibility for sky scrapers, and finally dealing with the entire cosmos.

Rory Olcayto:   They are absolutely brilliant. Thank you, and Ian, have you got a few words to say after seeing these?

Ian Stanton:     No, I would just like to thank everyone for their time and participation, because there’s been so much enthusiasm and creativity, so from our point of view it’s fascinating to hear everyone’s stories and coming at it from a different angle.  I hope it’s been productive for everybody, I appreciate your time because that’s very costly, so thank you everyone for giving us your time.  Hopefully this is the start of something we can develop and carry on.

Rory Olcayto:   Absolutely.  Thanks.

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