PROJECTS

Hollister is the only store in the UK that gets brighter when the emergency lighting comes on. Customers complain about bumping into the shop fittings, and not being able see the merchandise – and it’s not even energy efficient. Ray Molony reports

How do you create the world’s most inefficient luminaire using standard available parts? Well, first of all you need a really wasteful lamp. And at just17 lumens per watt, the AR111 is a prime candidate and not much better than a GLS incandescent lamp. Now imprison it in a big housing so that the transformer gets nice and warm, attach some trendy barn doors and then – and this is the best bit – fold over the barn doors so that only a fraction of the light comes out.

Ta-da! You have Hollister’s standard issue fixture: the Hummer of the ceiling, which gives the finger to all those design engineers sweating over how to improve their LORs.

Hollister – a brand of Abercrombie and Fitch aimed at fashion-conscious teens – has achieved a cult following in the UK since it arrived here in 2000. The 14 outlets feature aspirational Southern California beach-hut interiors that are famously dark. And boy do we mean dark. With light levels as low as 0.7 lux on the walkways, this is the only store in Britain that gets brighter when the emergency lighting comes on.

Luminaires at Hollister

Light output is heavily reduced by folding barn doors

Customers regularly complain about not being able to see the merchandise and colliding with store furniture. ‘I couldn’t believe how dark it was,’ said Tom, a typical first-time shopper at Hollister in the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield. ‘How the hell are you supposed to see what the clothes are like? My mate and I were falling about laughing about how ridiculous it was, looking at clothes in the dark. We both walked into large plants.’

The theatrical accent-only look makes for a very strong statement, and has been used as a branding tool in other establishments, most notably at Pizza Express and The Pier. But at Hollister it’s taken to an extreme.

Here the highlighted merchandise really stands out, but when the light meter struggles to break 150 lux, you realise how, to human vision, contrast is all.

After all, the average illumination at 0.75m is about 80 lux, a sixth of the average light level on an office desk.

But here’s the twist – the Americans use a helluva lot of energy to achieve this look. In fact, we estimate their loading at 78W per square metre. That’s almost three times as much as Monsoon – a retailer not known for skimping on the watts – and a spectacular 10 times as much as an efficient office installation.

Problem

The sole use of halogen means it’s extremely difficult to differentiate between shades of blue and between dark blue and black. As Hollister sells a lot of jeans along with its trademark check shirts, you’d think this would be a problem – but the queue of 14- to 18-year-olds waiting outside tells you you’re wrong. Hollister is a winning formula.

But the dark interior puts Hollister in a murky area when it comes to British standards. The stores should comply with the Building Regulations, which refer to emergency lighting standard BS5266.

This requires, in an emergency, a minimum of 1 lux on escape routes (effectively walkways in a store) and a maximum to minimum uniformity of 40:1. The emergency lighting would therefore have to increase the light levels and reduce the extreme contrasts of the lighting. ‘It’s good practice to have the emergency lighting levels as a minimum,’ says David Wright, chairman of the LIF’s industry committee on emergency lighting, ‘especially when you have people moving around in a space like at Hollister.’

The Society of Light and Lighting recommends minimum light levels for only the sales and till area (300 lux) and the quaint-sounding ‘wrapping table’ (500 lux), but shies away for specifying levels for the merchandise and walkways. But Hollister could be accused of not providing the ‘suitable and sufficient’ illumination required by the Building Regulations, believes Liz Peck, lighting designer and secretary of the Society of Light and Lighting.

‘That’s the bottom line. All stores and public buildings need to be lit safely and securely,’ says Peck. ‘If a retail outlet is underlit to the point where there are potential trip hazards, then obviously that’s not a suitable lighting design. If an accident happens, and an independent expert witness says there is a problem, then they will have issues with the lighting legally.’

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