Innovative lighting on masts was crucial to the conversion of London’s Exhibition Road into a space shared by cars and pedestrians. Martin Tomlinson reports

Exhibition Road is the home of many important British institutions including the The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and Imperial College. Between them, these venerable institutions attract nearly a million visitors every month.

To make life safer for those visitors, the previously busy thoroughfare has been converted into a space that is shared between vehicles and people.

The scheme, which was five years in the making, demanded a design that would be sensitive to the diverse architectural styles of the buildings and make a visual statement of its own.

All for one

The design treats paving, lighting and architectural built form as one. It applies theories on ‘shared spaces’ by no longer separating motor vehicles, pedestrians and other road users.

Pedestrians will have more space and vehicle speeds will be limited to 20mph.

Lighting improves safety for pedestrians and motorists alike

The project started life as a design competition organised by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. The winner – architects Dixon Jones – coordinated the project team.

From the outset, lighting has been an essential part of the scheme. Sculptural street lighting ‘masts’ and the diagonal granite ‘single surface’ are among its key features.

A contemporary lighting column was produced to replicate the strong sense of vertical rhythm of the buildings along along Exhibition Road – created by a wealth of columns on building frontages and symmetrical repetitive window lines.

The original layout had lighting columns in the central reserve and a staggered arrangement at the northern end. The new layout is dominated by 20m bespoke columns in the centre of the space and opens up the entire western half of the road to pedestrians.

Even column spacings in the centre of the carriageway add a new dimension to the built form of the area and accentuate the vertical lines in the space.

Getting the look

‘The key to the look is the integration of all the lighting into the masts,’ says Carol O’Riordan, senior project engineer at lead highways engineer Project Centre, which worked on the project with the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and luminaire manufacturer Woodhouse.

Woodhouse mocked up a prototype at its headquarters in Leamington Spa, and tweaked the design to achieve the lighting precision necessary.

The finished product incorporates three luminaires at heights of 12, 12.5 and 13m to provide illumination specifically suited to the shared space.

Each luminaire incorporates a 140W Cosmo CPO-T white light lamp source that conforms to BS 5489 and BS EN 13201 standards.

The Cosmo lamps render colours accurately – Ra66 – to not only enhance the appearance of the streets cape textures and finishes but also to improve safety and security. Even distribution of light was achieved by rotating the top half of every second column by 180 degrees.

Uniformity of 0.40 was required to achieve the CE1 lighting class, for areas in which vehicles are in conflict such as road intersections and roundabouts, and where there are cyclists and pedestrians.

Light and shadow

The lamps enhance the appearance of colours, and create an interplay of light and shadow on the historic building façades.

At a more human level, they contribute to personal security because it is easier for pedestrians to see each other’s faces, and the appearance of the streetscape textures and finishes are enhanced.

The architects wanted the columns to meet at the diagonals in the paving pattern, and this was achieved by placing them 25m apart.

A LED mounted on top of the lighting column at a height of 20m creates a rhythm that guides an observer’s eye along the street to take in all the key buildings. A cluster of LEDs at about 3m provides the sparkle, visual diversity and interest needed in this high profile public space.

By both day and night, the arrangement of lighting columns along the centre line of Exhibition Road removes the visual clutter of vertical lighting elements close to the elegant building façades and emphasises the rhythm of the design.

In the southern part of the street, standard columns with footway lighting are scaled to reflect the changing use of the street – which includes restaurants – and to enhance the immediate built environment. Flat glass prevents light spill above the horizontal.

‘We’ve had great feedback about the project,’ says O’Riordan. ‘There’s nothing quite like it on this scale. It’s different, it’s clean and it looks great.’

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