Wearing two different hats, Jonathan Speirs, IALD, has helped to define company headquarters for two firms located in vastly contrasting architectural envelopes. In refurbishing an historic building for the Hammerson Group plc, in London, England, Speirs represented Speirs + Major, the London-based lighting design firm in which he and Mark Major are the principals. While designing interior and exterior lighting for John Menzies Wholesale plc contemporary headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland, Speirs wore the professional tam of his Edinburgh firm Jonathan Speirs & Associates. The two firms work together as The Lighting Architects Group, sharing resources as they work on projects in diverse geographical locations.
Ensconced in a prestigious London Park, the Hammerson Group of real estate developers wanted to give their firm a more contemporary flair. The building's landmark status determined many of the redesign choices, yet at the same time provided a classical backdrop for the lighting. "Our intent was to light the building in a forward-looking way," says Speirs, who took a modern stance in his choice of luminaires, lamps, and lighting positions.
The exterior of the 100-year-old building has a stone facade and glass conservatory on the first floor. The facade is softly illuminated, mostly from the inside. "By internally lighting the first floor conservatory we avoided the need to externally illuminate the structure," says Speirs. "This creates more visual interest and depth." Period lanterns mounted on railings at the front of the building were removed, refurbished, and fitted with Philips white SON lamps, which contrast with low-voltage luminaires illuminating the colonnade of the grade-A-listed building (the highest landmark status for a building in the UK).
Inside, the decision was made to avoid putting holes into the ceilings of the period rooms. Instead, walk-over dichroic low-voltage luminaires by Light Projects Ltd were recessed into the floors to highlight pilasters, arches, and the underside of a marble staircase in an atrium. The floors in the entrance hall are marble, while in other areas carpet is lined with a heat-resistant backing. "The recessed lights provide an element of indirect illumination and a very different first impression," Speirs says. Vented recess boxes allow heat to dissipate in the floor voids rather than build up on the glass covers. In contrast, there are downlights over the reception desk as the architects opted not to have lighting built into the desk itself.
One of the main "untouchable" features of the building is the central grand staircase, which sets off a pair of Sir Joshua Reynolds portraits and offers a view through a window into the atrium. Here fiber optics provided by Museum and Gallery Lighting Ltd were recessed into the ceiling with eight small lensed heads lighting each portrait. The fiber-optic illuminators, fitted with metal-halide lamps, are accessible from cupboards on the floor above. "This decision lessened damage to the detailed plaster of the ceiling and allows for easy maintenance," attests Speirs. The period chandelier hanging in the stairwell was refitted with incandescent lamps that are run at a low level to triple the lamp life. The light level for the chandelier is controlled by a Lutron Grafik Eye unit hidden in the grand staircase.
In the double-story atrium, Speirs added a custom-built skirting box to hide Light Projects low-voltage fixtures with bi-pin tungsten-halogen capsule lamps from Osram. The luminaires light the atrium's own staircase from below in an area where the landmark commission would not allow lights to be recessed into the floor. "During the day, the decorated vaulted ceiling of the atrium is lit with cold cathode uplighting that automatically and slowly fades out at dusk. This creates an 'atmospheric' ambiance that allows the space to be used for parties in the evening," he says. The lighting at ground level allows visitors to look up without getting bright lights in their eyes.
A waiting room for guests, which doubles as a model room, has been transformed with modern touches. Its classic ceiling has been lit with custom-designed, floor-standing uplights, since again the design team chose not to recess any fixtures in the ceiling. A low-voltage wire system holds framed photographs and provides 12V power to small wire arms that carry 50W MR16 lamps, one per photograph. Three-dimensional models that sit on seamless acrylic stands were lit internally, with fiber optics placed behind their facades. These are controlled by a Lutron Grafik Eye unit. The custom luminaires in the waiting room were designed by the Belgian manufacturer Moonlight.
Many of the period offices are lit with suspended direct/indirect compact fluorescent Uranus pendants manufactured by Borens in Sweden. To minimize glare on office computer screens and avoid a dark luminaire zone against the ceiling, the fixtures were adapted with perforated metal bottom plates to replace solid ones. In a meeting room, low-brightness, low-voltage Erco downlights accent tables, while Erco bi-pin low-voltage luminaires with wall-wash reflectors cover a wall with a display of art. Wall niches are internally lit with low-voltage lamps in 1/2"-square (1.3cm) strips, and sculptures are frontlit with an even wash by incandescent lamps. "The major refurbishment of the space took place with the client working in the building," says Speirs, "adding further complications to the project."
In contrast to the period splendor of Hammerson's London headquarters, the home offices for John Menzies Wholesale newsagents are strictly contemporary. The three-story Menzies building, designed by Bennetts Associates architects, is located in an Edinburgh office park master-planned by American architect Richard Meier. The building is designed in a U-shape with a glass box at the open end housing a staff restaurant, meeting rooms, and board room. "Our goal was to develop a lighting scheme that fully reinforced the architecture and would be visually appealing to the occupants," says Speirs, who also set out to meet all the relevant European lighting standards for office environments.
Speirs worked in close concert with the architect and electrical engineers Blyth & Blyth from the outset of the project. To create an integrated building, their design concept includes a lighting system built into the architecture. The system is based around a custom-designed fluorescent "raft" of continuous floating elements that nestle in specially cast concrete ceiling coffers which are painted white.
The raft concept was presented to three manufacturers who bid on the job. After two of them were asked to produce a 15' (4.6m) prototype, the Scandinavian company Glamox won the contract to manufacture the fixtures. The raft is composed of 4' (1.2m) T8 fluorescent tubes to provide both a direct lighting component as well as indirect lighting that illuminates the ceiling coffers. In between, smaller fluorescent lamps added for uplight assure that the coffers glow evenly throughout. The lighting was constructed so that office partitions could be built without altering the look of the lighting and the ceiling.
The principle of indirect illumination in the office areas was carried through into the building's atrium with its stainless steel sculpture. "You can stand anywhere in the space and look up into the volume and there is no glare from any of the sources," says Speirs, who used four recessed low-wattage metal-halide uplights by Kreon at the base of the sculpture, and low-voltage uplights on the cantilevered balconies that surround the atrium void. "The uplighting provides both key interest as well as reflected illumination," he says. Inexpensive fluorescent fixtures uplight both the louvered sections and solid areas of the roof. "This project looks simple in visual terms, but it was complicated to get to the end result."
The Hammerson and Menzies headquarters are like architectural bookends, their diverse styles separated by 100 years. But in terms of lighting solutions, they are companionable in approach with modernist choices set against backdrops from different periods. "Both required a lot of technical input and aesthetic consideration," says Speirs. His efforts were rewarded when the John Menzies project won the 1996 UK National Lighting Award for Commercial Spaces, and Hammerson garnered a commendation for the lighting designers.