In the retail world, lighting architects Jonathan Speirs and Mark Major are best known for bringing shopping malls out of the dark ages. Bluewater was a huge project that spanned three years and involved lighting all sorts of features, from chalk cliffs to food courts. The result, a sea of blue when seen from the road, and an experience embracing both theatricality and simplicity, speaks for itself.
However, retail is certainly not the duo’s main area of expertise. The group’s range of projects includes hotels and resorts, corporate headquarters, city masterplans, museums, bridges and historic buildings in many different countries. In fact, the Speirs and Major portfolio is so impressive that you could say they are the Norman Foster and Richard Rogers of the lighting world (without the titles or the rivalry). Speirs and Major have done much to advance their profession, “Though we’re still unpopular at times,” says Speirs, “We’re making headway. Ten years ago the engineers saw us as a threat and would go out of their way to try to persuade clients that lighting designers were a waste of time. While old rivalries die hard, I think we’ve reached an understanding now and we’ve collaborated successfully on several projects.”
A measure of how far lighting design has advanced is the fact that Speirs and Major are currently working on plans for Heathrow Terminal 5, in spite of the fact that the public enquiry as to whether the project even goes ahead has not yet been resolved.
The work is split between two studios operating under the Lighting Architects Group banner, Speirs and Major (London) and Jonathan Speirs and Associates (Edinburgh). The arrangement has raised eyebrows in the business, but creating a huge practice is no
t what they’re about. “We grew out of the megalomaniac phase,” says Major. “We prefer to have two small studios that produce excellent creative work.” The two studios have a “healthy competition”, but also collaborate seamlessly on larger projects when required. A recently completed project is The Printworks in Manchester, a brand new entertainment centre which opened its doors at the end of last year. It is housed in the building that used to be the home of one of Europe’s largest newspaper printing centres and now contains 36 bars, 14 restaurants and a 20-screen cinema. Jonathan Speirs and Associates was responsible for both the internal lighting scheme and external architectural lighting. A colour change LED grid was used on two faÃ§ades – one in the main entrance, another dynamic fluorescent version at the rear.
Buchanan Street is the work of Jonathan Speirs and Associates. The studio won an international competition to light the premier shopping street in Glasgow with their proposal to illuminate it with blue light. They also proposed the buildings be lit in white so that they would stand elegantly proud of the street. The only concern was a public outcry from Celtic football supporters, who weren’t happy with the disloyal colour scheme. Speirs and Associates overcame the opposition by mocking up a whole city block, much to the delight of the punters, who loved the new look.