The Manning Building Project – Light Talk 2021 Episode 02
By Martin Klaasen
(Written content is taken from the Manning Building videos published on YouTube; edited and adapted for Medium & WordPress by Kirstyn Klaasen)
Hello everyone, my name is Martin Klaasen and welcome to another edition of light talk. In this episode, I would like to talk about a small little project that we completed recently in Fremantle, Western Australia, just between Perth and the coast. It’s a little courtyard, a passageway in the back of Manning building which is wedged between Market Street, High Street and William Street, just next to iconic King Square in Fremantle. Projects big or small, the design approach is generally the same. In fact, the smaller the project sometimes the bigger the challenge. Our design brief was simple…design lighting that creates a beautiful and attractive ambience that will make the courtyard safe and enjoyable to be in and deter any vandalism or anti-social behaviour. The location used to be known for homeless people camping out overnight. They wanted to add in some food and beverage outlets around there to make it a vibrant little space.
As always lighting is just the glue that gels everything together and here as well it was the integration and collaboration with the architect and landscape designer that assured a successful outcome. Our approach like in all our designs is generally to make light disappear in the sense that you don’t see the physical fixtures. We want to validate the space and light, let the light enhance the environment, the landscape etc. That’s how we set about to develop the design for this space.
There’s a couple of key elements that we had in this space. First of all, was the integration of light into benches, the architect had developed very nice seating facilities in the landscape, and we thought that it would be a perfect opportunity to hide and conceal some lights. Also, it would give validation to the space in terms of proportions and just the overall understanding of the spatial proportions so that was a really nice thing to do. It gave some visual guidance at the same time because of the disposition of the benches throughout the courtyard, it gives you a really good impression and validation of the space.
The second element that we brought in is to light up the trees. There were a certain number of groupings of trees throughout the courtyard, we never knew exactly where the trees were going to be, but we knew that there were a couple of bigger trees and three plant groupings that we wanted to highlight. That was to add a third dimension to the space because otherwise, the lighting is pretty flat it is in the landscape or in the ceiling but by adding the light to the trees, we created that third dimension giving a bit of volume to the space.
We also wanted to add in an element of interest something that people would remember and that’s where we came in with the idea to add in gobo projectors. A double function one to sort of give the moonlighting effect by projecting light onto the actual walkways but at the same time also introducing some gobos in those projectors. This allowed us to have an element of light falling to trees and that idea of making the space a bit dynamic. The gobos were also rotating so it added a bit of movement, we thought that would really bring an added spice to that space rather than typical functional lighting that you would see in a courtyard like that.
Finally, the fourth element was the down lights. There was a big glass canopy and an overhang from the building itself where we concealed lighting, low glare deep recess type of light fixtures again with the idea not to see the lights but to see its effect when it reaches the walkway itself and the passageway.
Those were basically the four key elements; they are very simple, but the end result is a courtyard determined by its pleasant lighting effects rather than an otherwise glary functionally lit space. The feedback from the client and the community have been very positive, with everyone raving about the transformation our lighting design brought to this previously dark and unsafe place.
We are very pleased with the end result even for a project as small as this little courtyard, we have managed to make a difference with the lighting. I think it adds a new interesting and vibrant place to the city of Fremantle.
I also want to follow up a little bit and talk about the challenges that we faced because designing always looks simple but there’s always a number of hurdles to overcome. Even in a small project like this you’d be surprised how many challenges you have and I just wanted to highlight a couple of them just to give you an idea of what we face even if the project is not that big.
The first challenge we faced was the discrepancy between the drawing plans and the actual installation. Landscape planting layout and benches were installed at different locations then on the plans. This is quite typical for all landscape projects, it very much depends on the size of the trees found or selected from the nurseries with the final location determined by the way they create the overall spatial balance. Our lighting design always anticipates this by providing power points (junction boxes) at strategic locations with flexible cabling allowing for the light fitting location to be decided on site. A skilled lighting designer will know how to plan the electrical power supply with sufficient flexibility to allow adjustment of the lighting locations as per actual landscape implementation. As it was a small area, we managed that quite easily.
The second challenge was the actual implementation and concealment of the light we had great ideas on how to conceal the light “invisibly” underneath the seating for instance. We had a groove planned and we had made all the detailing and the dimensions had been worked out and passed on to the landscape architect. We found that the steel and timber benches were delivered to site without the necessary recess channel and conduits to conceal both the lighting and the cabling. So, we found ourselves improvising on site to install the linear light and the cable conduit on the bench surface, in the least visible locations. The final result is very much acceptable but close scrutiny of the installation reveals it could and should have done as per our integrated detailing…in the end it was the costs of modification that proved prohibitive and resulted in the surface installation of both light and cable. It is something that we need to be prepared for in every project, it’s always a bit more difficult than you think. There’s always surprises somewhere along the way when you come to site. That challenge was certainly one that we had to overcome but, in the end, it came out nice, luckily.
The third challenge that I want to highlight is also a typical challenge for every project is the one about budget and time. In this project particularly because we were faced halfway through design with an upcoming pandemic. COVID 19 was raging and it meant basically that we would have difficulties in sourcing any light fixtures from overseas. We may have been impacted by time, supply lines etc. So right from the beginning, we focused on getting the lights locally, we worked right from the start with a supplier that had already been involved with the project in earlier stages. We set out to find light fixtures that were of the quality that we wanted, the sort of performances that we wanted and made sure that the lighting effects were as we hoped they would be. We did a lot of visual testing, installed samples of potentials alternative multiple times to make sure it worked all well even in a small project like this. We did the sample testing, the visual mock-ups and all that to make sure that it worked out as we wanted. That was quite a heavy involvement with the supplier and the contractor to make sure that we could get the lights in time. Then we could also supply them within the budget that was allocated to us and it was not a high budget.
Now that everything is installed, aimed, focussed and commissioned we look back in satisfaction, but it certainly took some sweat and tears to reach this end result.
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