A Roundup of Recent Award Winners from Lighting Architects Group

The UK-based Lighting Architects Group is comprised of two design studios, Speirs and Major (principal Mark Major) in London, England, and Jonathan Speirs and Associates in Edinburgh, Scotland. With architectural lighting projects spanning the globe, the firm has been honored recently for some pretty outstanding projects. "At the recent National Lighting Design Awards in the UK we won three out of six categories," says Jonathan Speirs, the principal designer that "speir-heads" both offices. The winning projects include the Magna Science Adventure Centre, and the IBM E-Business Innovation Center (the third is the new Gateshead Bridge).

Located in Rotherham, England, the Magna Science Adventure Centre, designed by Wilkinson Eyre Architects, was the winner of the Stirling Prize, 2001, and has been honored as a finalist for best display lighting system or installation in the FX International Design Awards, 2001, winner of the White Rose Award for Excellence in Architecture, and winner of the best exhibit lighting at the UK National Lighting Design Awards 2002.

The site of the Magna project is what was once the largest steel works in England. A red glow to the light serves as a memory, how people remember the place in its former incarnation. "We used a very minimal palette of color, and maintain a certain darkness," says Speirs. "Red was definitely the right answer." A series of Thorn Contrast luminaires with red glass filters provide the red glow, while Encapsulite linear fluorescent fixtures light the walkway that acts as an architectural spine throughout the center. On the exterior facade, red LED beacons punctuate the architecture with some of the massive industrial artifacts contrasted in a low level blue wash.

Inside, there are four exhibition "pavilions" based on the four elements--earth, fire, air, and water, and two show experiences. The Air Pavilion is the most spectacular, suspended as if it is floating in space like a glowing translucent cigar-shaped form. It subtly changes its appearance as a blue "sky glow" is broken by slowly moving clouds. Four times an hour the lighting responds to the increasing sound of the wind, with the cloud projections changing direction and slowly speeding up while the color slowly fades with the approach of the storm. Lightning flashes on cue with the thunder. As the space darkens and the colors recede, the exhibits become more striking with their integrated lighting. A very low white glow emanates from below the floor signifying the Earth Pavilion down below.

In the Fire Pavilion, a series of broken screens surrounds the visitor with projections of fire. As the fires die down the lighting takes over and flickers throughout the space within structures of burnt embers. A fire tornado that runs every eight minutes forms the central focus of the interactive space. The vertical surfaces and saturated red floor flicker with a fiery red glow. The exhibits stand out in white with each graphic carefully framed.

The Water level is entered from below a rippling steel structure incorporated with blue lights that randomly cast rippled reflections around the space. This Pavilion is entered through two over flowing tanks of water that interact with the AV projections, by bubbling, steaming, or downpouring. The main space is saturated by a realistic blue/white ripple projection emanating from the floor perimeter. All spotlights within the space project through the acrylic water tanks, pulsing from turquoise to cyan.

A very different kind of lighting illuminates the IBM E-Business Innovation Center on London's Southbank. Designed by Gensler Architects, this cutting-edge corporate venue won an Award of Merit at the International Illumination Design Awards, 2001 and was the winner of "best workplace" at the UK National Lighting Design Awards.

To spice up the corporate environment, the lighting designers used Martin Professional MiniMACs and Color Kinetics color-changing LEDs, including iColor Cove fixtures. "We also used the Martin Director transponder system," explains Speirs. "This tracks someone as they walk around he space and the lighting changes as you go on a guided tour."

This is also not your ordinary corporate digs with rows of gray cubicles in a dim space. Instead there is a think tank with bright red sofas, and a room with whiteboard on the floor. "These are spaces for the creative staff to go to chill and think," says Speirs, who added to the fun in the "experience theatre" by placing 1,400 fiber-optic points in a grid on 1" centers on the floor, ceiling, walls, and even the back of the door, with 14 Martin fiber-optic illuminators to light the matte black room. "It's as if you are floating in space," says Speirs. "The room dematerializes and it's hard to see where the edges are."

A project closer to Speirs' home base in Scotland is the Mills Mount Restaurant, right in the famous Edinburgh Castle. Designed in conjunction with Hugh Broughton Architects, the restaurant is open to the public during the day and by night is used to hold private functions. The brief for the lighting designers was to create a fluid and versatile space, which is light and airy by day and much more dramatic after dark.

In keeping with the historic architecture of the castle, says Speirs, "the approach to the restaurant was carefully considered and highlighted with small in-ground fittings." The entrance itself is marked in a similar fashion and the warm glow from the interior serves to welcome guests.

Inside, custom-made cold cathode luminaires wash the pitched ceiling and create the feeling of space while floodlights wash down the timber cladding to lift the form of the architecture. Adjustable downlights, contained within a floating raft ceiling, are focused onto the dining tables to provide a touch of intimacy, while soft uplights add a glow to the soffit.

Dimmable tungsten-halogen floodlights with linear T8 lamps are concealed above the stretched fabric of translucent canopies in the restaurant. By day, white light filters through onto the tables below and by night the canopies subtly infuse the space with softly colored light from red, green, and blue glass filters. "For added drama, the lights can be programmed to saturate the canopies with vibrant and changing color," adds Speirs.

It's been a busy, and rewarding year for Speirs, Majors and company. To top it off, Speirs and Major have just relocated their London offices (as of October 14, 2002) and can now be found at 11-15 Emerald Street, London WC1N 3QL, England, phone: 44-207-067-4701, fax: 44-207-067-4701.