Taking four years from initial design concept to project completion, the re-lighting scheme of St. Paul's Cathedral celebrates Sir Christopher Wren's magnificent architecture through the use of a flexible, layered lighting approach and minimal intervention to the historic building fabric. Speirs and Major Associates divided the lighting scheme into three discrete systems: general, architectural, and theatrical.
Photo: Tim Soar Taking four years from initial design concept to project completion, the re-lighting scheme of St. Paul's Cathedral celebrates Sir Christopher Wren's magnificent architecture through the use of a flexible, layered lighting approach and minimal intervention to the historic building fabric. Speirs and Major Associates divided the lighting scheme into three discrete systems: general, architectural, and theatrical.

Completed in 1708 by Sir Christopher Wren, one of Great Britain's most beloved architects, it is hard to imagine that St. Paul's Cathedral would provide the site for one of the most interesting and innovative lighting schemes recently completed in London--a city full of cutting-edge projects by glittering star architects. And yet London-based lighting firm Speirs and Major Associates (SMA) has produced a quietly stunning and high-tech design at St. Paul's as part of a greater restoration begun several years ago in honor of the cathedral's 300th anniversary, which will commence in 2008.

Speirs and Major Associates was approached in 2001 by the St. Paul's Fabric and Works Committee, the group responsible for the upkeep of the cathedral, to produce a lighting scheme as part of an invited competition with several other locally-based firms. "When we were first asked to do the project, we were surprised," says Mark Major, founding partner of SMA. "Most of the other designers had a stronger background in historical and ecclesiastical projects." Major believes that his firm's experience working with big budgets for large public projects was an important factor in earning the client's trust.

Major notes that the firm knew the project would take both extensive care and planning to balance a new lighting system against a sensitive historical context and limited infrastructure. "We explained our process," says Major. "We made it clear that we didn't want to turn the building into a monument." Approaching the lighting with the desire to offer an accurate and appropriate scheme, SMA looked to the cathedral's lighting history for guidance. Illuminated only by candles for its first 130 years, the cathedral saw its first gas system in the 1830s, which was slowly built up over the next seventy years. In 1903, gas was replaced by an electric system that was later updated in 1930 and then overhauled again in 1962.

The history of lighting at St. Paul's emphasizes the importance of technological innovation with subsequent designs. "The cathedral has always been at the vanguard of technology," Majors describes. In the 1960s, the lighting redesign saw an early implementation of a sophisticated central control box to manage the lighting for the entire building from one location. Now, the designers have successfully married a far more advanced systems control mechanism and the latest in low-energy lamps and flexible fixtures with a desire to create a subtle mood that would highlight, rather than overwhelm, Wren's design. SMA also had to consider the day-to-day operations of the cathedral, which, in addition to serving tourists, also requires maintenance and security lighting.

In order to reconcile the needs of the space and client, Speirs and Major began by dividing the lighting into discrete systems: general, architectural, and theatrical. General illumination includes lighting at the entry points, basic liturgical spaces, and throughout the main floor of the cathedral. This lighting system is represented by classical fixtures, which include six pre-existing chandeliers along the nave, twelve new brass chandeliers throughout the cathedral, several gasoliers from 1897, and smaller sources including candelabras and wall sconces. These fixtures are modified by additional concealed sources to give the appearance of a greater luminosity. Above each of the existing chandeliers, for example, hangs a brass-encased fiber-optic sphere housing three spotlights, which emit a low-level warm light that mimics the light typical of a chandelier, but without the glare characteristic of the electric chandeliers installed in the 1960s. Additionally, 100W spotlights hidden in the cathedral's triforium are specifically designed to intersect with existing fixtures to create the impression that the candelabras, chandeliers, and gasoliers alone light the interior.

That the designers were so concerned with verisimilitude speaks to the degree with which this was a project of preserving historical integrity. Ironically, in order to create the "mood" of non-electric lighting, Speirs and Major designed flexible light systems--integrating and coordinating hidden spotlights--that could completed in 1708 by sir christopher wren, one of great britain's most beloved architects, it is hard to imagine that St. Paul's Cathedral would provide the site for one of the most interesting and innovative lighting schemes recently completed in London--a city full of cutting-edge projects by glittering star architects. And yet London-based lighting firm Speirs and Major Associates (SMA) has produced a quietly stunning and high-tech design at St. Paul's as part of a greater restoration begun several years ago in honor of the cathedral's 300th anniversary, which will commence in 2008.

Speirs and Major Associates was approached in 2001 by the St. Paul's Fabric and Works Committee, the group responsible for the upkeep of the cathedral, to produce a lighting scheme as part of an invited competition with several other locally-based firms. "When we were first asked to do the project, we were surprised," says Mark Major, founding partner of SMA. "Most of the other designers had a stronger background in historical and ecclesiastical projects." Major believes that his firm's experience working with big budgets for large public projects was an important factor in earning the client's trust.

Major notes that the firm knew the project would take both extensive care and planning to balance a new lighting system against a sensitive historical context and limited infrastructure. "We explained our process," says Major. "We made it clear that we didn't want to turn the building into a monument." Approaching the lighting with the desire to offer an accurate and appropriate scheme, SMA looked to the cathedral's lighting history for guidance. Illuminated only by candles for its first 130 years, the cathedral saw its first gas system in the 1830s, which was slowly built up over the next seventy years. In 1903, gas was replaced by an electric system that was later updated in 1930 and then overhauled again in 1962.

The history of lighting at St. Paul's emphasizes the importance of technological innovation with subsequent designs. "The cathedral has always been at the vanguard of technology," Majors describes. In the 1960s, the lighting redesign saw an early implementation of a sophisticated central control box to manage the lighting for the entire building from one location. Now, the designers have successfully married a far more advanced systems control mechanism and the latest in low-energy lamps and flexible fixtures with a desire to create a subtle mood that would highlight, rather than overwhelm, Wren's design. SMA also had to consider the day-to-day operations of the cathedral, which, in addition to serving tourists, also requires maintenance and security lighting.

In order to reconcile the needs of the space and client, Speirs and Major began by dividing the lighting into discrete systems: general, architectural, and theatrical. General illumination includes lighting at the entry points, basic liturgical spaces, and throughout the main floor of the cathedral. This lighting system is represented by classical fixtures, which include six pre-existing chandeliers along the nave, twelve new brass chandeliers throughout the cathedral, several gasoliers from 1897, and smaller sources including candelabras and wall sconces. These fixtures are modified by additional concealed sources to give the appearance of a greater luminosity. Above each of the existing chandeliers, for example, hangs a brass-encased fiber-optic sphere housing three spotlights, which emit a low-level warm light that mimics the light typical of a chandelier, but without the glare characteristic of the electric chandeliers installed in the 1960s. Additionally, 100W spotlights hidden in the cathedral's triforium are specifically designed to intersect with existing fixtures to create the impression that the candelabras, chandeliers, and gasoliers alone light the interior.

That the designers were so concerned with verisimilitude speaks to the degree with which this was a project of preserving historical integrity. Ironically, in order to create the "mood" of non-electric lighting, Speirs and Major designed flexible light systems--integrating and coordinating hidden spotlights--that could be easily adjusted with technologically advanced systems controls. This same flexibility extends to the architectural lighting scheme, in which more lights concealed in the triforium subtly highlight the architectural features of the building. Originally, the designers were planning to use a greater amount of light to brighten the architecture, but changed their minds as they recalled the original low-level lighting conditions of the building. "We started fussier," says Majors, "but soon realized that we had to stay away from making the building look like a wedding cake."

To show some of the paintings and mosaics on the ceiling of the main dome and several smaller chapels, the designers included metal halide, xenon, and tungsten lamps in the same brackets as the hidden lights serving the floor spaces along the Triforium. These additional lamps can be easily dimmed or brightened to direct attention between the various subjects, which include a series of eight ceiling paintings showing the life of Saint Paul that were rarely seen in detail before. These sources vary in tone more than the warm lights that illuminate the ground floor, and tend to have a paler color--with a color temperature of 2800K. For the main dome of the cathedral, the designers updated a cold-cathode system first installed in the 1960s, allowing them to use new equipment in an existing infrastructure.

The same brackets that house the luminaires for the floor and architectural details also contain folding arms that comprise four spotlights each. These lights are for the theatrical system, as St. Paul's hosts a variety of different performances throughout the year. When needed, the arms fold out to provide extra illumination that can be controlled from the same source as the other lights. Because the designers used a systems-integration approach, an IP-based network of all of the lighting components--including many that can be controlled by radio--centralizes the controls into a computer-based platform, making lighting or dimming specific areas far easier. This allows for more precise control that not only determines the specific character of the space, but also saves a considerable amount of energy, which was important to both the clients and designers.

By choosing to evoke the cathedral's past through lighting design, Speirs and Major Associates chose a difficult path. The lighting had to remain practical in its function while romantic in its quality. Changing the nave back to its pre-electric past with its large gasoliers and chandeliers required redefining the interior space with new, dramatic hanging fixtures and all new light sources. The effect is remarkably successful and subtle. And yet, while the lighting remains secondary (and possibly tertiary) to the architecture and meaning of the building, it does not meekly recede into the background. Traditional forms and tones mask an underlying reliance on cutting-edge technology, seamlessly blending the two together while minimizing waste and maximizing clarity--suitable for its application in one of the best-known cathedrals in England.

Details

project:Interior lighting restoration of St. Paul's Cathedral, London

client: Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral, London

architect: Sir Christopher Wren

construction dates: 1675-1708

surveyor to the fabric: Martin Stancliffe, London

restoration architect: Purcell Miller Tritton, London

lighting designer: Speirs and Major Associates, London

systems integration consultant Light Perceptions, Londontotal project cost: £40 million (approximately $75 million)

lighting cost: (including consultation fees, taxes, etc.): £1 million (approximately - $1.8 million)

photographer: Tim Soar, London

manufacturers and applications

Agabekov (Crescent Lighting) | Cornice uplighting
Absolute Action | Nave aisle candelabrum fiber optics
Bega | Public entrance downlights
Dernier & Hamlyn | Chandeliers and candelabrum (new and refurbished); gasolier refurbishment; Quire stall tasklights; geometric staircase lanterns
Erco | Public entrance downlights
ETC | Theatrical spotlights throughout
Lutron | Architectural lighting control system
Meyer (Commercial Lighting) | Triforium Dome and arch uplights; entrance apsidal arch uplights; roof uplights from Triforium level
Mike Stoane Lighting | Triforium level aisle spotlights and ambient downlights; Dome uplights; Chapel and Baldachino spotlights
Oldham Lighting | Cold-cathode lighting for the Dome, Baldachino, and Pulpit