Mark Major of Speirs + Major describes the practice’s key role as independent adviser on exterior lighting to the Olympic Delivery Authority

The lighting design adviser has a broad and overarching remit. We worked with the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) to review the initial lighting strategy, develop it further and to help with its delivery. The initial lighting strategy was largely concerned with the Olympic Park itself and looked primarily at the creation of safe routes between different thresholds and venues.

Our role was to build on this and develop a wider vision that took account of links to other schemes including the Athletes’ Village, Westfield and the development around Stratford International Station. We also considered wider aspects such as the role of architectural lighting to the main venues, landscape lighting, art and so on.

The post-Games legacy

Among the key issues we looked at were safety and security, restricting environmental impact and energy use. The latter was particularly important given that all parties wanted to create a sustainable development not only for the Games but also, and this was critical, as part of the post-Games legacy.

In aesthetic terms, we had to understand what the park would feel like, not only during the Games period with its varied layers of light (public realm, architectural, media, celebratory) but also after 2012 when it becomes an addition to London’s urban parklands.

Although our first Olympic appointment was as lighting designer for the public realm lighting of the Athletes’ Village, in our role as adviser we weren’t responsible for any specific schemes.

Most of the legacy lighting for the project was procured from a single supplier

Quite the opposite in fact. Our remit is to provide an independent overview of the way in which the various lighting schemes across the Olympic Park come together to form a cohesive lighting solution. We knew that several other lighting designers and engineers were engaged on various projects around the Olympic Park in their own right (of course, wearing our other hat as lighting designer for the Athletes’ Village, we were also one of those designers).

At the outset we met each of the teams involved to get an insight into their specific lighting requirements and how they might affect the public realm after dark. Our responsibility was exclusively for exterior lighting, and in each case we wanted to understand the briefing requirements for the external night-time appearance.

Teams included those involved in the design and construction of the Olympic Stadium, the aquatics centre, the velodrome, the handball arena, and the International Broadcasting Centre. These venues in particular were critical as they not only have a life during the Games but will be retained as public facilities after the event. We also had insight into plans for the more temporary venues, such as basketball, hockey and water polo.

The Games themselves will inevitably bring their own layer of colour and celebrations to the park next summer. What was more important was how the venues might be lit after that – particularly in the more environmentally sensitive northern parts of the park.

The fact that we had started on the Athletes’ Village project some time before our appointment as adviser meant our thinking in that specific area could be dovetailed with the wider vision. It also helped us to understand how we might perform our role in terms of working with the other lighting designers.

We were very clear from the beginning that we were not there to legislate or to control. Instead we wanted to provide enough flexibility to let the whole piece move in the right direction while retaining the diversity of the individual designs.

Three nine-metre-tall letters forming the word ‘RUN’ will be built on the plaza of the handball arena in the north of the Olympic Park. The sculpture will be made from glass and stainless steel, producing a mirrored effect that will change depending on the light and the time of day. During daylight, the letters will act as a mirror for visitors and their surroundings, and at night the letters will become more transparent and glow with internal LED lighting.

Minimal environmental impact

We found that the key challenges for both the Athletes’ Village and the wider strategy were very similar, namely, to create a positive experience for the visitor to the park after dark while balancing the need to keep costs tight, energy consumption low and minimising environmental impacts such as light pollution.

Like other firms engaged with lighting the public realm, we were obliged to stick closely to one of the successful outcomes of the lighting design advisory role, which was common procurement. This was developed in conjunction with the ODA, Allies and Morrison (master planners for the Olympic Park) and Arup.

It occurred to us early on that the majority of the legacy lighting, which would also serve the Games, could be procured from a single supplier. This had considerable advantages in terms of cost benefits, co-ordination, delivery, spare parts and the potential to easily upgrade the lighting systems.

This last idea emerged from early discussions – indeed debate – over the relative merits of introducing LED street lighting to the park. From a technology point of view, this was a more difficult proposition back in 2009, but careful study showed that this was the right way to go because we could ensure the installation could be properly upgraded and maintained, both in terms of light sources and controls.

Speirs + Major had to understand what the park would feel like during the Games and after 2012

A project with its own catalogue

The overall supply was tendered through a highly complex and demanding process, and was ultimately secured by Philips Lighting. Public realm lighting could then be chosen by designers from a special catalogue produced for the project. Initially it might seem a bit restrictive having to work with a limited palette, but it helped simplify what would otherwise have become a more piecemeal proliferation of lighting assets that would have to be managed after the Games.

An important consideration for us early the Games and for legacy use. It would have been easy to ask what lighting levels were needed for the Olympics and then to have been stuck with them for the future.

The requirements for safety and security during an event during which there will be tens of thousands of visitors in the park are inevitably different from those needed for a typical London parkland. We therefore helped ensure that high quality and safe lighting would be procured in a form appropriate for the future.

The temporary layer of lighting that will be brought into key areas where required is seen as progressive and highly sustainable, especially when you consider that the combination of broadcast lighting, field of play lighting, media screens, and event lighting will make a significant contribution to the overall effect anyway.

It is also worth noting that the event takes place in summer and so the need for large amounts of lighting for long periods is more limited.

At the same time, the night-time image of the park is likely to be broadcast around the world as the backdrop to TV coverage, in countries in different time zones. In that sense, presenting a cohesive lighting solution was critical.

The broadening brief

Speirs + Major’s first Olympic appointment was to design the public realm lighting for the Athletes’ Village through developer Lend Lease. After a public tender, the practice was appointed as lighting design adviser to the ODA in July 2009. More recently this has involved working with the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to scope out aspects of the public lighting overlay – the extra and temporary lighting that will be used during the Games.

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