Claude Engle – Great Court, British Museum

The hidden courtyard of the British Museum was reclaimed for public use recently by its transformation into the Great Court – a 1ha public square enclosed by a spectacular, lightweight glazed roof designed by Foster and Partners. The original façades have been restored, the southern portico rebuilt and cafés and galleries incorporated into the space. Washington-based lighting consultant, Claude Engle, who often works with Foster and Partners, was responsible for the lighting. “The intention was to create enough light for the public to meet, eat and enjoy the space on a dull day and at dusk,” said Engle. The dilemma was whether to light the newly exposed façades of the museum building or to highlight the drum of the Reading room in the middle of the courtyard. It was decided not to place light fittings on the façades, but to light from the central drum outwards. “It meant that you would see a glowing glass ceiling, highlighting this very fine, elegant object,” says Engle. That was the easy part, the difficulty was how to throw the light on to the outer walls from the centre without blinding people when they looked up at the ceiling. In the end, a custom fitting was designed with a carefully proportioned elliptical reflector.

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