Michael Grubb Studio delivered the enchanting and immersive lighting scheme, designed by lighting designers Spiers + Major, for the newly opened southern part of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London.
Speirs + Major were part of the competition winning team led by James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) and MAKE. They created the overall lighting concept and developed the design up to tender. Following the tender process, appointed contractor SKANSKA selected Michael Grubb Studio as the lighting designers to realise the scheme. The studio was ideally placed to take on the challenge of the unusual scheme having already completed several legacy projects on the site.
For Speirs + Major, the challenge was to provide lighting that would support the joyful character of the park design, as well as ensuring that users would feel safe and secure. They also looked to see how existing equipment from the games could potentially be re-used wherever possible.
Director Michael Grubb said “On receiving the package of information I was immediately impressed by how well considered and comprehensive the information was. I loved the unique ideas proposed in the scheme. Although I could see that the catenary system in particular would pose a number of technical challenges, I was adamant I would do as much as possible to adhere faithfully to the design created by Speirs + Major. I could see the benefit in re-using existing equipment, and spent time with the contractor to understand what was available that we could use.“
The centerpiece of the lighting approach is a unique catenary system developed for the Promenade – the main navigation route that stretches from Orbit Plaza, home to the ArcelorMittal Orbit, through to Carpenters Lock. Here, Speirs + Major proposed a dappled light from ethereal moon-like spheres suspended over the pathway, framed by gently highlighted tree canopies to each side.
The interior of each sphere is painted with a colour that gradually shifts in shades from blue to green over the length of the promenade – a painterly technique used to create a sense of depth of field and lend aerial perspective to the vista. The effect is reminiscent of light filtering through a forest canopy, and has an engaging and playful character, animating people with light and dark as they stroll along the pathway.
It was the detailed design and engineering of the iconic spheres that proved to be the biggest challenge for Michael Grubb Studio. The original proposal involved the potential re-use of four metal halide spotlights from the original Olympic Park project as part of the client’s desire to recycle fittings where practical. After a series of mock-ups this proposal was changed to a purpose built solution designed by Michael Grubb Studio in collaboration with Mike Stoane Lighting, which was engineered to connect to the catenary, system and create the required distribution. This option helped resolve many complex technical issues and offered increased energy savings.
A further set of mock ups were conducted which explored the detail of the construction of the sphere itself, including how it would connect to the catenary system. Tests also looked at access for maintenance, and most crucially the design and drilling of the holes. Consideration was given not only to creating the desired pattern at night but also to look good during the day. Three prototypes with varying hole sizes were constructed, rigged up, filmed and reviewed by Speirs +Major, Michael Grubb Studio and LLDC before the final design was selected based on a compromise between the most playful effect with the largest areas of light and darkness; and a base level of uniformity required for CCTV.
The Olympic site features a high level of complexity and a large volume of services located underground. Thanks to this, locating the columns that support the catenary system and other feature lighting in a regular arrangement whilst retaining the rhythm of the design proved to be another challenge for the team executing the design. Again, the experience that Michael Grubb Studio had with the Olympic site proved invaluable.
In summarizing the scheme Mark Major said: “ One of our primary worries going forward with the project was how the highly creative but ambitious scheme for the catenary system down the Promenade would be realised through a fast track Design and Build process. We were therefore delighted that Skanska employed Michael Grubb Studio to develop the scheme to its conclusion. It is a credit to Michael and his team how diligently they worked through the various technical issues.”