Living the hi-light

Theatrical lighting techniques have broken away from the entertainment industry and are finding their way into shops and restaurants.

We have all grown accustomed to seeing colourful and sometimes dramatic lighting accentuating the architecture of our buildings, perhaps the most spectacular examples being

I M Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre in Paris, and London’s Lloyds Building. No more staid white floodlights. But what about interior lighting?

Though building management systems are available to control our working environment, be it air flow or light levels, and fibre optics have made their mark in both retail and museum habitats, the more dramatic and theatrical

lighting effects have not been used significantly until quite recently.

Traditionally, the projection and control of light has been the domain of the entertainment and leisure industries – in the theatre, at rock

concerts, and for those extravagant product launches that car companies hold each year. As such, the equipment has been designed for short-term use and is often only available through hire companies. When it comes to permanent use, the problems of maintenance, service and lamp life all arise.

But the lighting companies are starting to bring this scenic technology to the architectural market and encapsulating it in “good looking” fittings. There is now a range of sophisticated fittings on the market, many offering different light sources and all with an array of “theatre” accessories – lens options, projector housings, glare shields, and gobo and gel filter holders.

Concord Lighting’s award-winning Control Spot range, designed by Robert Heritage, is one such fitting and has added to the “beach” atmosphere at the Peak Health Club. This glazed conservatory at the top of Carlton Towers in Knightsbridge was designed by Hersch Bedner Associates and completed last autumn. Lighting Design Limited has used the high-performance fittings with gobos and colour gels to project subtle leaf patterns on to the customers seated under the palm trees. The trees are also lit from below using Light Projects narrow beam uplights, and the bar has been back-lit with blue neon to give the impression of a swimming pool. A lighting control system gives the signal for the lights to come on at dusk.

Emanon is another high-performance (and expensive) projector designed by Roy Fleetwood for Erco Lighting. The DKNY shop in London’s Old Bond Street, designed by Peter Marino Architects of New York, opened last October with the Erco Emanon fittings already in place. The site was formerly a Japanese clothes store, and had the first fittings of their kind to be specified in the UK. Erco’s two newer ranges, the Stella compact projector and Pollux spotlight are also doing well. Stella was designed in collaboration with Swiss designer Franco Clivio, is produced in three sizes, and offers a variety of attachments. It has already found a home in the retail market at Dolcis in Oxford Street and McQueens software company in Edinburgh where gobos have been used to shine corporate logos onto the floor space. The smaller low-voltage Pollux spotlight has also been specified at the Sedgewick Museum in Cambridge where colour filters have been used to accentuate the exhibits.

Microlights is another manufacturer with scenic lighting in its portfolio. This has been used recently in the five-month production of Once On This Island, an extravaganza musical which ran at the now re-named Island Theatre in London’s Holborn. Imagination Entertainments created the “totally tropical experience” which hit you the moment you entered the theatre, taking the show from the stage to the front of house. The set was designed to be a permanent display, with bright sunlight and soft moon effects created in the Caribbean sideshows and projected palm leaves giving the impression of a tropical forest. Microprofiles and Microspots were used with Concord track.

A more permanent London experience is Planet Hollywood, the second branch of the now-famous chain to open. Jonathan Speirs Associates, working in association with Paul Gregory of Focus Lighting, was responsible for theming the space. Effects include the desert area where the lights were coloured with theatrical gels to give the sensation of sunlight; another area has a deep blue midnight sky created using fibre optic points set into the ceiling. The bar is lit from below using coloured neon underneath a semi-translucent resin acrylic bar top. Overall, the lighting is programmed to change and dim as the video screens come on.

Also worth a mention is the lighting control system introduced by Staff Lighting last year. Designed by Hartmut S Engel, the Teledancer spotlight follows a computerised programme of movement, initiated by a hand-held infra-red remote control panel. It is particularly suitable for the retail market and provides a moving spotlight to emphasise the goods on display while cutting through what are often highambient light levels. For shop windows you

can just reprogramme the sequence of theluminaires instead of replacing the fittings for each season’s new display.

But back to “theatrical” lighting. Vari-liteis possibly the leader in this field, providing automated lighting systems for touring events, rock concerts, and product launches. Now the company has brought its knowledge to the architectural world with a new division. Irideon showed its first architectural products at the this year’s Hanover fair on a colourful showcase stand designed by Jonathan Speirs. The AR500 luminaire has been designed for outside use and is an extremely intelligent fitting. It not only moves independently but can “talk” to other lights to initiate synchronised movement and colour change. The AR500 has been tried and tested from Croydon to Chile, and is soon tobe put to use internally at the Trocadero. Once again Jonathan Speirs Associates, in association with Alejandro Siñ, has produced a colourful, almost psychedelic lighting scheme designed to give maximum impact to the paying punters. “We wanted to involve the people in the light”, says Speirs, and seemingly he has – the lights track you as you move through the experience. I’m particularly looking forward to the flying neon sculptures.

And the future? Irideon is currently working on three new products for interior use which are miniaturised versions of the Vari-lite AR500. These will be launched officially at Hanover next year, although we may get a sneak preview at London’s Hilight exhibition in the autumn. Watch this space.

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