If Abba ever needs a smart new venue for a reunion, the new Stockholm Waterfront complex must surely be at the top of the list. And it’s all thanks to the work of a team of lighting designers from London. Sarah Kingsford reports

If flexibility defines the modern conference complex, then it is well illustrated by the Stockholm Waterfront. This startling development in the centre of the Swedish city has a seven- level conference , a 414-room hotel, and offices.

Elektra Lighting of London added extra flexibility, particularly in the main conference venue.

Neil Knowles was part of the design team: ‘The challenge we faced with this work was simply the size – it’s huge. We’re delighted it all works so well.’

When the site in the middle of Stockholm became available, developer Jarlam decided to build a world- class conference centre, working with a major hotel operator. The Radisson group was chosen and the intent was to build a conference centre that could be operated by the hotel.

The building that was previously on the site was demolished. The original foundations went down to the sea bed were re-used for the new building.

A wire-mesh full-access ceiling is used in the conference centre

A wire-mesh full-access ceiling is used in the conference centre

The centrepiece of the development is the main conference centre, which has 17 rooms, the largest of which can accommodate 3,000 people. Sliding, removable seating tiers can be put in place when the space is used as a theatre or music venue, or they can be removed for banqueting.

Lighting in this area is controlled from the stage lighting control room.

It was decided at an early stage that a wire-mesh full-access ceiling would be used. All services run above this mesh. ‘It has over 95 per cent free area,’ says Neil Knowles, ‘so lighting can simply be installed above it to illuminate the stage.’

LEDs provide the colour changes. ‘This is pretty standard,’ says Knowles. ‘What was new about this project was doing it on such a large scale.’

Stage lighting equipment including moving-head lights was installed over the mesh ceiling, as well as linear fluorescent fittings. If close-offset accenting is used to wash across it, it becomes bright, and appears solid, creating a ‘ceiling’.

The hotel is a four-star Radisson Blu, with lighting to match

The hotel is a four-star Radisson Blu, with lighting to match

An addressable DMX RGB control system was installed. The result is a venue with lighting to suit all occasions: a conference with a speaker has the linear fluorescents above the wire mesh, a music venue can use a coloured ceiling with the stage lighting, and a banquet or cocktail party event can use only the coloured ceiling.

Other rooms are similarly configurable – but without colour-changing lighting – with partitions that can be installed or retracted to order. The lighting in these areas is an integrated linear profile from Modular Lighting. Around the perimeter of the rooms, this is entirely frosted on the front, giving a perimeter wash to the space, relieving the gloom of these often entirely internal spaces.

Across the centre of the rooms, the lighting is a linear profile with a mix of linear fluorescent fittings for uniform illumination and a series of narrow spots for accenting. These are separately switched, and create a less formal atmosphere. All lighting in the main and smaller rooms is centrally controlled.

The project was designed in 2008, so low- voltage halogen lighting was chosen for the narrow downlight. ‘If we were designing this project today, then LED would be the choice here,’ says Knowles, ‘but at the time they were simply not available in the white, which is what we wanted.’

The bars have internally-lit ceiling features, so they are visible from a distance and allow maximum use of the space for the guests – the designers were not trying to create an intimate feeling in this area.

The entrance lobby is of necessity a large space, designed to let thousands of people enter and leave simultaneously. Lighting here is simple, but feature lighting highlights points of interest: backlit glass picks out the cloakroom, as in the bars above.

Also, the long wall opposite the main entrance has a stunning LED-lit wooden wall. Influenced by Nordic tradition, this simple wall functions as a focal point and has thousands of LED lights between the wooden battens.

A grand Canyon

Knowles is particularly proud of the Canyon, a covered walkway that links the exits of the conference centre and the hotel, two levels apart. ‘At one point the ceiling is 15m high. We had to persuade the architects to incorporate a gantry for maintenance.’

A series of high level metal halide fittings on the underside of the ceiling beams give functional lighting (although coping with the level change required some cunning calculations from the design team).

Lighting under steps and in escalators provides practical illumination, and linear LEDs inside the Nordic wood feature wall – and in the window reveals – add texture and interest.

Although the hotel was originally designed as a three-star Park Inn, it became clear during the design phase that the space was more suited to a four-star Radisson Blu. The reception and lounge area is double height in places, the interior designers having stolen space from some guest rooms and, where this is the case, lighting accentuates this.

The hotel lighting borrows from the convention centre in its use of profiles with multiple integrated light sources, but it plays with them by using them at odd angles, overlapping and creating not a uniform lighting effect, but a source of drama. Features are accented, floors are left dark and the whole is blended together.

For the hotel restaurant, designers faced a challenge: this is a space that has to suit the twin demands of breakfast, with its several hundred diners, and dinner, when many guests will venture out into the city.

Consequently, the lighting is bright in the morning; in the evening, the colour temperature is warmer. Curtains subdivide and close off the space – they are uplit from floor-recessed lights, creating an intimate, relaxed mood.

Office lights

The office reception has a huge copper cube in the middle of the space. The interior designers were keen to have a ceiling with a cracked ‘frozen ice’ pattern. After a little experimentation, this was able to run over the entire ceiling, and downlights were not recessed into it, but placed behind it.

A number of holes allow light through to wash the copper walls of the cube. These holes run over the entire ceiling, but are more numerous where the designers needed them to be, to allow light out.

So does Neil Knowles have any reservations about the project? ‘Only with the exterior. I’m a bit upset that they’re not lighting it.’ It was originally envisaged that the exterior would be lit, but the closest building is the City Hall, which could not be overshadowed.

The Nordic wall opposite the entrance is lit by LEDs

The Nordic wall opposite the entrance is lit by LEDs

‘All sorts of lighting tests and trials were carried out, but given that the City Hall is essentially unlit bar a couple of spots to the gold dome on the top, this was difficult,’ says Knowles.

A series of linear RGB strips would have been recessed, apparently at random, into the fence-like curving wave structure on top of the conference centre. This would have beeen used when the centre was in use, with clients picking the (corporate) colours they wish. When unused, the wave (which was originally installed to hide ceiling plant) would have been washed with a series of discrete floods, picking up on the curves of the building.

Unfortunately, in the end, planning permission was not given for any form of exterior lighting, and the building is currently unlit. However, all is not lost. Knowles remains hopeful. ‘I’ve heard rumours that we could see the complex lit at some point in the future,’ he reveals. Watch this space.

PROJECT Stockholm Waterfront, Sweden
ARCHITECT White Arkitekter
LIGHTING DESIGN Elektra Lighting
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