Tell us about the early design brief
Writing the strategy for the lighting in the Olympic Park involved co-ordinating the designs of the exterior lighting for the venues with the lighting of the paths, roads, landscaping and public realm areas. The strategy document was part of the overall planning submission for the Park so we were under quite a bit of pressure!
The second part of our work was designing the lighting for the Parklands and Public Realm (PPR) with LDA Design, who designed the landscape. The lighting design had to be sustainable for the greenest Olympics ever. It also had to look good for the television audience at night, so we had input from LOCOG about where the cameras were going to be placed. We designed both the temporary overlay for the Games and permanent lighting for the Park for when the Games were finished.
A frightening decision…
- The most frightening decision of my life was deciding whether the entire Parkland and Public Realm would be lit by new energy-saving technology LEDs, or by more tried and trusted but less efficient older technologies. At the time, LEDs were still really new. They looked as if they were going to be good and ecological, but there were lots of unknowns. But it was the right decision: LEDs are everywhere now.
What challenges did you face along the way?
We had to write the masterplan in a very short time, which involved designing the lighting for the whole Park and integrating it with the buildings that had already been designed. The lighting strategy for the Park balanced a number of competing priorities at each stage of the Park’s use.
There were higher levels of lighting during the Games for wayfinding, enjoyment, safety and security and then lower levels after the Games to save energy and protect biodiversity. The strategy included the use of renewable energy sources, removing and recycling some of the lighting, and carefully restricting the use and location of lighting.
We worked together to make the lighting as sustainable and ecological as possible and used our experience, wit and imagination to design the project to the lowest financial and ecological costs possible.
What about specific design challenges?
It had to be greenest Olympics ever (and we were really keen to support this great idea) so we worked really closely with the Olympic Delivery Authority to make sure that everything was recyclable or re-useable. I remember sitting in long meetings working out how much recycled metal there was in each particular kind of lamp post! We designed solar panels to go on many of the lamp posts and wind turbines on the memory masts to achieve our goals to be as green as possible.
During the week other contractors would check that everything on the Park co-ordinated (a lamp post could not be on top of an underground route carrying services, for example) and at the end of the week they would tell us if there were any conflicts. Most Fridays we would get a phone call or email saying “Move these five posts to the north a little,” or “These lights have to move a bit east.” We then had to re-arrange our designs fast and issue them. We used to wait for the Friday call – if we got to 5:30pm without a call then we knew everything was OK and we could all go home.
How did it feel to be involved in such an important British project?
Proud. The Practice Principal at Sutton Vane Associates, Mark Sutton Vane, who wrote most of the lighting strategy, is a Londoner so to be working on a home Olympics was fantastic. Mark’s father was an engineer who had experimented with wind turbines many years before and Mark remembers little model wind turbines in his father’s garden. To be designing lights with real wind turbines on was a wonderful family feeling. The team’s relationship with the Olympic Games continues and we are now working with the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, Switzerland, designing the lighting for the Olympic Museum.