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Lighting from Within

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Light as a narrative tool is used in the architectural lighting of In Lumine Tuo in Utrecht, Netherlands by Mark Major and Keith Bradshaw, Principal Designer of the London based lighting design firm Speirs + Major. The exterior lighting connects the iconic Dom Tower with the Dom Church and Dom Square in a unique and entrancing tableau, allowing these elements to become living, breathing entities. The project is a winner of Radiance Award at 31st Annual IALD Awards 2014 for Excellence in Lighting Design.

Created as part of the tri-centenary celebrations of the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht, “In Lumine Tuo” is a lighting installation that commemorates this Dutch city and its landmarks – the Dom Tower, church, and square. The project brief asked for a design that would transform these symbols into “living” entities, while recalling their place in Utrecht’s history.

The title “In Lumine Tuo” is an allusion to the Latin saying “In lumine tuo videbimus lumen” – “In your light we shall see the light” And, indeed, this work literally lights up the ecclesiastical history of the centre of Utrecht. The installation is the culmination of “Trajectum Lumen”, a project to promote the city and generate tourism through a trail of permanent light installations in the historic centre. Selected by means of a commission devised by the City and led by art curator Marijke Jansen, designers Speirs + Major proposed a concept much wider than just the buildings themselves – they set out to reveal the full history and context of the city.

Beginning with a master plan of the district, an idea evolved that viewed the city, the district and the buildings as a living organism with the ‘body’ made up of the 14th Century 112m high Dom Tower, neighbouring Dom Church (St. Martin’s Cathedral) and Dom Square. All three elements are viewed as important members of society that have been both observers and participants in the history and development of Utrecht. Light enables the structures to come to life, breathe, connect with each other and communicate with people in the city about the past and the present.

The church has a passive, respectful design based on the philosophy “light comes from within.” The outside faces are kept relatively dark, allowing light to glow through the stained glass windows and internal faces of the buttresses, creating a lantern-like effect. Whilst the static image of the whole piece is breathtaking, the true nature of the concept is revealed every fifteen minutes when the three elements begin to ‘breathe’, as a lighting sequence connects and unifies them. In direct contrast to the restrained lighting of the church, the Dom Tower is the show-piece, the dynamic element and the main communicator.

The light sequence is programmed in time with the Dom Tower’s clock. The church, square and the tower begin slowly to ‘breathe’ in unity, establishing a connection and creating a conversation between each other. The dramatic lighting sets off the Gothic architecture and is visible from many parts of the city. This dynamic and original design delights the eye as it celebrates the architecture of the tower. In the Dom Square, the memories of the past are recalled, the light highlighting the gable wall where the west end of the Dom Church once stood. It creates a visual connection to the arch at the base of the tower with light and marks out the Liberty Statue, a symbol of the Resistance in World War II.

The play of light accelerates and the memories appear to ascend the Dom Tower culminating in a dramatic finale in the lantern, where a burst of energy is unleashed. Produced with many tiny individually controlled LED modules, the work is linked to the seventeenth century carillon which plays the melodies on the church bells.

The Dom Tower is the focal point of “In Lumine Tuo.” Visible from different vantage points in the city, the light sequence is timed to take place just before the striking of the hour. The show begins as the spotlights in the tower’s arches fade in and out at different intensities. Once the structure is fully illuminated, chimes begin to ring, and a series of lighting effects – bursts of speckled white light –move up the tower. As the bells get louder, the movement of light accelerates, and the installation culminates in a flickering burst of light from the tower’s belfry. The clock strikes, the tower goes dark, and then it illuminates again. It’s as if the tower is breathing and city residents – past and present – are connected across time.

The play of light accelerates, while memories, represented as bursts of light, appearing to ascend the tower. The sequence culminates just before the striking of the hour with a dramatic finale in the lantern, where memories cluster in the ‘brain’ of the Tower, and multiple bursts of light and patterns are unleashed to the sounds of pealing bells.

With almost entirely LED-based components and a well-finessed control program, the scheme is energy efficient and maintenance friendly. Mounting devices had to be custom made for each location, as no drilling was allowed into the stonework and no sources allowed to be viewed from below. The scheme was scrutinized by the city commission and heritage inspectors, with all details and drawings inspected and approved prior to construction.


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