England’s Southampton City Council has launched its Halation project, illuminating the city’s historic 600 year-old High Arcades with color-changing linear LED strips from Pulsar Light.

The initiative to highlight Southampton's five medieval arches near the waterfront is the result of collaboration between lighting artist Simon Watkinson and Southampton City Council, under public arts officer Liz Smith. The project—part of the Southampton Public Art Strategy initiative—has been funded by the Area Investment Framework (AIF) and rubber-stamped by the Southeast England Development Agency (SEEDA) and Southampton Partnership. Halation will run for a minimum of 18 months.

Tyneside-based Simon Watkinson’s work (largely within the Old Town walls) is already familiar to the Southampton community, and he has turned frequently in the past to the local branch of Stage Electrics to help realize his ambitions.

This time the challenge was to soften the arches using lighting strips fixed to metalwork designed to simulate the timber frame construction that was a feature of Southampton’s Old Town. The metalwork “arms” in turn create three “virtual” arches within the five-arch superstructure, enabling the artist to mount a stained-glass effect.

Acting as project manager, Stage Electrics’ business development manager, Ed Gamble, considered how the artist’s concept might be implemented and proposed 55 lengths of ChromaStrip X3, Pulsar’s IP65-rated RGB linear LED strips, driven over a 7-minute time cycle by a series Pulsar ChromaZone RMX3 operating under generic DMX control.

He says, “We went to Pulsar because we are familiar with the product, we know it is IP-rated, and we know we can support it because the back-up is excellent. On top of that it has a very accurate beam angle of 45° so there is no overspill between the segments.”

Handling the DMX distribution from the master position in the central arcade is a concealed Swisson device—part of a range of DMX manipulation and sine-wave dimming products from the Swiss manufacturer, which Stage Electrics represents in the UK.

The criteria the installation had to meet were speed and sensitivity. In view of its history, the work had to be carried out under the close scrutiny of English Heritage and be non-invasive. Thus, it required its own ground support and the structure, sitting on a 600mm x 600mm x 300mm concrete pad, covered by ballast, and had to be completely self-supporting.

With the control gear likewise concealed in metal boxes, the metal infrastructure was fabricated and installed by local company Scroll Gates, with 8 x 900mm 1W ChromaStrips and 3 x 600mm 1W strips affixed to the metalwork frame in each of the five arches.

This provides the capacity for a near-infinite number of color combinations that are programmed into the 7-minute sequence, all done by Steve Brown.

Watkinson explains that the installation had to be carried out “at breakneck speed”—views echoed by Gamble and Smith. A project that would generally require at least six months to coordinate was delivered in two-and-a-half months, they say.

One of the biggest draws on both time and budget was bringing the power to the site, enabling the feature to be activated nightly via photo-cell (a solar time clock), and switched off daily at 1am.

Watkinson notes, “There was nothing psychological about the color sequencing, although it is possibly thematic in relation to the sea, and also brings out heraldic qualities. It is mostly based on the visual impression of stained glass and the shifting quality of the light.”

The structure itself was derived from Southampton’s timber-frame heritage (particularly in the archaeologically-rich French Quarter) and this provided the inspiration for the stained glass effect. “The walls have gone through a lot of permutations and I wanted Halation to emphasize these changes rather than be presented as a solid stone structure. The stained glass effect lessens the weight and creates new depths to the spaces. The idea was always to make it striking and simple, and I’m absolutely delighted with the result.”

Equally delighted is Smith. “We wanted to focus on the Old Town and its historic values, and this has become of huge heritage interest. I think it’s a credit to the project’s team that we were able to pull it off in such a short period of time. We are thrilled with the result, and I must say it has been great working with Stage Electrics and our own ground crew, led by Allen Miles.”

Commission:
Southampton City Council Public Art Strategy

Lighting Design: Simon Watkinson

LED Lighting: Stage Electrics

Lighting Equipment: 55 Pulsar ChromaStrip X3, 5 ChromaZone RMX3