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Lifting a Learning Legacy & Shaping a Practice

Lessons learnt from the past become ingrained in how we approach lighting design today.

This summer is the fifth anniversary of the London 2012 Olympic Games. A project that Michael Grubb was lucky to be involved with, both as a Lighting Designer and as a Learning Legacy Ambassador.

The Learning Legacy programme was designed to share knowledge from one of the biggest build projects the UK has ever seen. Its function was to inform, educate and above all else be honest about the processes and the lessons learnt.

Five years on, it is a reflective time to look back on the programme’s success and how it informed the UK construction industry. It also helped shape the way Michael Grubb Studio work today.

Knowledge from the learning legacy

The Learning Legacy programme ran from 2011 and was dissolved, along with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) in 2012.

There were over 50 other individuals, from a range of disciplines that varied considerably. These included designers, engineers, horticulturalists, ecologists and many other industries. Topics included the use of renewable technologies and planting details, to name but a few.

Valuable knowledge was gained in thinking about the impact for the future from a myriad of connections. Michael’s role was to provide lighting specialism on the Landscape & Public Realm aspects of the project.

Michael’s involvement was part of a combined and co-ordinated team effort.

Why was it important in shaping today ?

No individual can take credit for lighting the Olympic Park.

It was a team effort. A range of lighting designers, engineers and light artists contributed to the final look and feel of the park after dark.

When Michael was first introduced to the project in 2007 (five years before the Games), there was already an Outline Lighting Strategy by Buro Happold.  By the time the project was completed each design team was guided by a site wide Lighting Masterplan bySpiers+Major. In fact, Michael Grubb Studio still use and refer to this document when working on our Olympic Park Legacy related projects.

Back in 2008, when most of the design work commenced, coordination with so-called ‘competitors’ was inevitable. Each lighting design team had a brief that varied, and often contained a range of competing requirements. For example, Ecologists wanted zero light, whilst the Access Team required higher levels of illumination with excellent uniformity across the site.

One of the biggest challenges, in 2008, was to predict were lighting technology would be in time for a worldwide audience in 2012. This does not seem like a particularly complicated question today, but LED technology was still relatively untested less than ten years ago. A detailed report was therefore commissioned and undertaken by Dan Lister of ARUP – what a good job he did too!

This is just one example of the various detailed design reports, strategies and  planning documents that were developed. It was a very complex process.

The ODA quickly established the need to bring in an independent Lighting Guardian. This role was to review, consult and advise on how best to deliver a purposeful lit environment. That role was awarded to Spiers+Major who developed the Lighting Masterplan before proposing a series of recommendations, from light level amendments to the idea of common procurement.

The purpose being that one manufacturer delivers a family of lighting equipment, rather than the combination of various suppliers and products. This can create a disconcerted mess.

Taking on board and learning from a host of industry disciplines, helped set the precedent for future planning. The co-ordination between designers, lighting teams and architects worked back then, to pave the way for an approach to be instilled today.

So, how does this work today?

It is safe to say that being part of the Learning Legacy provided invaluable insight.

Many of the topics discussed over five years ago are core today. Looking back, Michael Grubb Studio has adopted practices and disciplines that were key to the Learning Legacy programme.

Common procurement, highlighted earlier, will always be a key theme. This process has been replicated when working with larger regeneration projects that include multiple plots and/or developers. For instance, the Fletton Quays Lighting Strategy (in Peterborough), similar to the Olympic Park, consists of multiple plots with commercial, residential and hospitality use. From the rivers edge that is sensitive to light, to railways lines that would not want reflection, this required creating a lighting strategy for ‘plot’ developers to implement over a series of phases. We now act as the Lighting Guardians for the site.

Another topic that resonates even more so today is the role of renewable technologies and reusing and reconfiguring existing lighting schemes.

Projects with University campuses have introduced the importance to reconfigure, rather than start projects from scratch. Working with Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) the whole site has evolved over generations.

On a walk around the campus you can see the different ages of lighting and tech. Our Lighting Masterplan took this logic from the very beginning. It was not a case of filling in the gaps with new equipment, but looking at a way to recycle and reuse. The objective was for AUB to have a strategy in place for the future and a cohesive lighting scheme that is easy to interpret and implement. Not only this but to minimise wastage and operate for many years to come.

The Learning Legacy programme highlighted how valuable it is to reflect and also critique not just you own work, in terms of creativity and technical ability, but to look at the world on a deeper level. When a project is complete, it provides the ability to understand working methods and to educate and collaborate on an ongoing annual cycle. It should not just be a case of entry for an industry award for recognition when a project is complete.

The lighting industry behaves today, as the Lighting Legacy would have expected. To collaborate, to inform and to learn where the future should be heading.

Lets round up

From a host of domestic clients, to working in Africa and European Public Realm projects, what was learnt from the Olympics still holds true today. Looking back, Michael Grubb Studio has adopted these principals as part of our DNA.

The Learning Legacy programme was invaluable to many. The biggest thing for us all to take away is that we need to understand how the future will work and the success for any project is how it will be embraced and adopted in the long-term.

The Learning Legacy came and then went. It has been five years since the last event but looking back we can see how some key lessons have become embedded in our working methods and general design ethos.