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PROJECT / FIRSTSITE ARTS CENTRE, COLCHESTER, ENGLAND


Curved ceilings prevented the use of track so Mike Stoane Lighting bespoke jack mounted lockable spotlights complete with integral dimmers, lenses and glare accessories provided the gallery lighting throughout.


Firstsite is a new build contemporary visual arts complex in Colchester by the cel- ebrated Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly. Completed this year, the 3,200sqm centre is a multi-functional space providing flexible exhibition and presentation spaces, a cafe restaurant, a 190 seat auditorium, confer- ence facilities and meeting areas. The centre is the first project to be com- pleted as part of the Essex town’s larger St. Botolph’s Quarter masterplan and will be the anchor to what hopes to be a new cul- tural destination in this underused area of Colchester. Located upon Scheduled Ancient Monument Land, firstsite wraps around an eighteenth-century garden, engaging aesthetically and practically with the site’s axial and historic surroundings. The crescent-shaped building is clad in a unique golden coloured copper-aluminium alloy creating a dramatic presence which hopes to draw in the crowds. The ‘wow factor’ continues inside with an imposing double-height entrance foyer that is flooded with daylight.


An interior promenade carries visitors from the vast entrance space through all areas of the complex, ending up at the café restaurant. The curved form of the building creates the sense of a journey that allows visitors to encounter and enjoy the artwork as they walk through. BDP provided artificial and daylight design for firstsite, fulfilling a brief that required the lighting to complement the building’s


dramatic architectural form by creating inspiring beautiful spaces, day and night. The lighting also needed to be technically innovative and ultra flexible to work with the centre’s wide variety of activities and uses.


The project was hampered by funding delays and severe value engineering, the result is still something the community can be proud of as Mark Ridler, Lighting Director at BDP explains: “As firstsite has such a dramatic architectural presence in Colches- ter, the lighting had to enhance its night time visual identity and impact. Internally, the lighting concept was to articulate the building’s axial geometry with lines of cold cathode that provide ambient illumination softly washing walls and ceilings that sup- port the sense of journey.


The lighting also had to be as low cost as possible. Therefore intelligent integration of low cost, energy efficient lamps, plus bespoke luminaire design determined the outcome of the artificial lighting scheme.” Viñoly is well known for magnificently ma- nipulating natural light within his buildings and as daylight consultants, BDP were able to help the architects analyse and sculpt the building in response to the need for natural light. The ingress of daylight and sunlight was carefully considered; walking the fine line between the benefits of natu- ral light and that of conservation of poten- tially light sensitive artworks on display. There is extensive natural lighting through-


out the spaces – floor level window strips and clerestory windows provide diffuse natural light and ample north light to exhib- its. Damaging sunlight is excluded passively by the building form except where desired, for example the café, entrance and educa- tion zones. Here sunlight makes a lively and dramatic contribution to the spaces where there is no requirement for additional blinds or sunlight amelioration.


Fenestration is placed to maximise views to and connections with surrounding land- scape. Additional daylight is introduced to the southern promenade by use of floor level slit window with deep reveals exclud- ing sunlight.


By co-ordinating south and north facing windows with space planning, the architec- ture has manipulated the variation ingress of natural light to levels and distributions appropriate to the functions and desired atmospheres of the space. Complementing the daylight, the artificial light fittings of the centre work in harmony, illuminating the lofty white spaces of the centre. As natural light is the best resource and most faithful light to render artwork – work- ing with an architect that is skilled and sym- pathetic to daylighting was a joy for BDP. As Mark Ridler says, “For us as lighting design- ers, it was a pleasure to work with archi- tects and a design team that understand the importance of making the most of natural light through the form of a building.” One of the first works to be installed at


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