Architect: Wilkinson Eyre

Architect: Wilkinson Eyre

Exhibition design: Event Communications

Overall lighting design: The Lighting Architects Group

Lighting design for The Face of Steel and the Big Melt show: DHA Design Services

Magna is a suitably macho name for the large, muscular addition to South Yorkshire’s visitor attractions. The immense, cathedral-like shed of the former Templeborough steelworks in Rotherham has been, not so much converted, as appropriated for its new purpose as a science adventure centre. Dropped into the huge space, among the original artefacts, are four linked pavilions representing the elements of earth, fire, air and water.

Early on in the project architect Wilkinson Eyre and design group Event Communications identified that the creative use of light was paramount to its success. Jonathan Speirs and Mark Major, part of the Lighting Architects Group, were appointed to provide architectural lighting and lighting for the four exhibition pavilions. DHA Design Services lit the two show experiences.

‘When the lighting design team visited the site, there was no denying its power and drama, and this was reinforced by the remains of its former life,’ according to Speirs.

‘What would once have been loud and bright was now quiet and dark, yet still very powerful and we wanted to maintain this’.

Design workshops were held and local people spoke about a red glow emanating from the steelworks when it was in use. This became the inspiration for the architectural lighting as, ‘We felt that the low intensity of red light would act as a counterpoint to the dramatic lighting planned for the pavilions,’ says Speirs.

The external lighting is intentionally simple and restrained; red LED beacon lights punctuate the large mass of the façades and major gantry structures. Strong contrast is provided by metal halide luminaires fitted with red-and-blue glass filters. Inside it is no less dramatic. In the entrance hall, uplit ‘fog’ swirls against the glowing red walls and theatrical equipment projects textured gobo patterns on the floor. Within the subtle and mysterious architectural lighting, the pavilions are distinctively lit. For instance, red glowing mist in the entrance to the Earth Pavilion gives way to cool daylight in the quarry-like main environment.

Lighting installations have also been included in a more focused way to enhance the exhibits. In the Water Pavilion, a metal sculpture is lit internally to send shards of blue light reflecting off the cut-metal pieces in a random, swelling sequence, like the sea. The Earth level has a web of stretched ultraviolet-lit glowing cords that are animated by the movement of a ‘spider’ above.

Walking into the Fire Pavilion you face a series of broken screens – a projection show giving the visitor the impression of being engulfed in fire. Charred remains are internally illuminated with DMX-controlled linear full-colour LED strips, to look like burning embers.

‘Magna was not an easy project,’ says Speirs. ‘There were obvious difficulties of working within such a challenging building, but we welcomed that challenge.’ When Magna opened on 12 April, it was inundated by visitors and reached 15 per cent of the first year’s target in two weeks.

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