Layered lighting in a Medieval hall
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Lighting listed buildings

We’ve been designing lighting schemes for listed buildings and other heritage projects since we started.   One of our very earliest photographed case studies was of the lighting for a lovely grade II listed barn in Salisbury and we’ve continued to light beautiful and significant buildings since.

The fundamentals of our lighting design approach remain the same: it’s all about flow, emphasising focal points and creating magic.   The added complicating factors are around understanding how to work with and respect the elements that make the building significant. That means minimising cabling, minimising impact on significant features of the building and designing with a view to making the design reversible.  Projects have additional stakeholders and getting early feedback and agreement is more important than ever.

Miniature LED display lights on custom mounting lighting stone mullions

LED lighting makes lighting listed and historic buildings easier but it requires a different mindset

Lighting technology developments have made some aspects of designing lighting schemes for listed and historic buildings easier.  LED lighting offers significant advantages over old incandescent light sources; it’s more efficient, cooler, and high quality sources last for tens of thousands of hours which dramatically reduce the maintenance headaches associated with halogen.  Light fittings can be tiny and very discrete.

Conversely, in order to make the most of these advantages it needs a completely different mind set and cabling architecture.  Understanding the light sources and associated drivers and their cable requirements is important at very early stage.  Discrete fittings can often have customised fixing methods or finishes to minimise physical and aesthetic intrusion in a building.  How the lighting is controlled is critical.

Lighting control systems simplify cabling and make large spaces a joy to use

It might sound counter-intuitive but using a lighting control system can dramatically simplify the wiring for and control of a lighting scheme in a large, open plan space.   A lighting control system removes the need for complicated two way/three way switch cabling.  A single keypad can be used to control all lighting zones across a large, multifunctional space.  Wireless keypads or apps add additional flexibility without adding more cabling.

Using the most appropriate dimming protocols makes a huge difference.  We use DALI (a digital dimming protocol) in many of our listed and historic lighting projects.  It reduces the sheer volume of bulky twin and earth cabling needed while making spaces much easier to reconfigure in software without rerunning cable if needed in the future.


Lighting scenes in a grade I listed church

Lighting scenes for different usage in St Mary The Virgin, Goldsborough. Pre-programmed lighting scenes are tailored for services, concerts, christenings, weddings and community meetings.

Side by side picure of early barn lighting concept testing alongside the finished result

Testing design concepts early in the process makes it easier to get buy-in

We’ve documented some of the stages for the historic Hampshire barn in a series of short blog posts.  One of the earliest elements of the design involved testing a “sail” over the dining table, located there to  make the vast space feel cosier.  The relationship between the sail and the lighting around it was key.  Mounting heights and locations had to work together, and these were tested onsite.  After agreeing the concepts, over the next 12 months we tested dozens of fabric samples together with different light sources, to get the optimum relationship of light, glare and colour between the two.

To minimise the impact on the fabric of the building we used a relatively small number of strategically placed, but high output light fittings, mounted on custom brackets.  A significant contributor to the ambient light in the space actually comes from the ground recessed fittings.  The cabling was designed so that none went through the roof structure.

Working with the Conservation Officer, demonstrating the concepts and detailing the custom fixings early on made it a lot easier to get agreement from all parties involved in granting consent.

Designing the lighting scheme for Goldsborough Church - early DIALux work

Modelling lighting designs in software is another way of visualising designs early

Physical mock ups are great.  We’ll often test concepts out on site but sometimes this is impractical.  Lighting simulation software such as DIALux enables us to visualise, test and communicate how the lighting is going to work well ahead of the design being implemented.

We use DIALux to model lighting designs accurately using photometric information specific to individual fittings.  Seeing how the design is going to work can be important in getting buy-in to a design, particularly when every cable run has to be carefully considered.

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Brilliant Lighting deliver inspirational lighting for listed and historic buildings across the UK. You can contact us by telephone or post or email us using this form and we will get back to you as soon as possible.


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