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Revisited: Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London

Aside from ensuring that the aesthetic interpretation of one of the nation’s most prized interiors was properly considered, the brief demanded considerable flexibility from the lighting systems.

Every lighting scheme comes with its challenges, but when top lighting designers Speirs + Major received the brief to light one of London’s national treasures, the practice can be forgiven for having a few moments of trepidation about what lay ahead. 

Aside from ensuring that the aesthetic interpretation of one of the nation’s most prized interiors was properly considered, the brief demanded considerable flexibility from the lighting systems. This not only included providing lighting for worship, tourism, special events and state occasions, but also security, cleaning and maintenance. 

The boldest move by practice principal Mark Major was unquestionably the eyebrow-raising introduction of multi-lamp pendants throughout the nave to provide a position to illuminate the roof, stonework and pews simultaneously. Today, you get the impression the pendants have always been part of Wren’s masterpiece. 

The boldest move by practice principal Mark Major was unquestionably the eyebrow-raising introduction of multi-lamp pendants throughout the nave to provide a position to illuminate the roof, stonework and pews simultaneously. Today, you get the impression the pendants have always been part of Wren’s masterpiece. 

The architecture is seductive, and perhaps that’s the point. The lighting brings it out so you notice only the stunning interior, not what’s illuminating it. Understatement in this context is the achievement. 

It helps, of course, that the in-house team at St. Paul’s maintain the lighting assiduously. No lamp was out on our visit, no spotlight misaligned.  

The lighting design for St. Paul’s is made up of five distinct schemes and each of these lighting layers can either stand alone, or work in conjunction with any of the other schemes to provide the ultimate in flexibility. 

Even the theatre lights are controlled by the centralised Lutron system. 

Bruce Kirk, Light Perceptions, was contracted to specify the control system and manage the implementation of the Speirs + Major scheme. To overcome the four-feet-thick stones walls, meet the requirement for minimal visible cabling and the challenge of minimising radio frequency interference for visiting broadcasters, Bruce used a Lutron GRAFIK Master, the RF control used in its renowned GRAFIK Eye and Integrale systems, and linked this to a GRAFIK 7000 control processor. 

The system, which has been working smoothly for more than a decade, controls 250 lighting circuits while providing a simple interface. The main interface is located at triforium level next to the stage board and the Viseo LCD offers a highly secure, whole cathedral control system.

By linking the Lutron GRAFIK 7000 central processor to the GRAFIK Master RF technology, Lutron’s RF Master tabletop controls have also been used to control light levels in areas that cannot be reached with individual room controls due to cabling issues. 

The project, rightly, won a Lighting Design Award in 2007, but it is a superb example of a well-maintained project standing the test of time.

  • See the latest controls technology from big brands at the LuxLive exhibition at ExCeL London on Wednesday 15 November and Thursday 16 November 2017. Entry is free if you pre-register at www.luxlive.co.uk

Main pic by Jack Pease. Copyright 2014. Contractor pic by Full Fat.