work in a more flexible and dynamic way? With
technological advances in light sources, in particular
LED, transforming the energy levels consumed, does
this open a new narrative in lighting the workplace?
At Orms we have been exploring a different narrative
through greater use of indirect lighting. Our reception
at 95 Wigmore Street, for example, was lit entirely
from an indirect cove source to create an impressive,
welcoming entrance. When we were appointed by TH
Real Estate to help transform Commonwealth House,
rebranded One New Oxford Street, we were keen to
challenge the thorny subject of ceiling lighting in a
different manner. The architect of the original building
declared that ‘each office will have the maximum
of natural lighting and air and enable users of the
building to work in ideal surroundings’, innovative
at the time. We are making further enhancements to
the natural light, but the greatest challenge has been in
generating the best possible artificial lighting solution.
The building was designed by Henry Cart de Lafontaine
in the late 1930s and straddles the art deco and art
moderne periods. Detailed analysis of the building
revealed inspiration was drawn from both periods.
In repositioning the building for the next generation
of occupier, overcoming the perceived low floor-to-ceiling heights and large number of beams within the
office floorplate has been paramount in our thinking.
It was clear from our analysis that a conventional flat
ceiling with uniform downlighting was not the answer,
and we went back to the building’s roots for inspiration
on how we best light the space.
Orms worked closely with lighting designer EQ2 and
services engineer Long and Partners to review and
understand the lighting techniques of those earlier
periods and concluded that, with the advances in LED
light output and efficiency, we could eliminate nearly
all direct light sources. The use of pendant, built-in cove
and indirect fittings together with backlighting could
potentially meet the BCO and technical guidance, yet
create an inspiring workplace with softer light. This
seemed a more sensitive approach in keeping with the
1930s building and creates what Aalto described as ‘an
attractive environment with simple means in harmony
with our biological needs’.
The solutions have required careful calculation: on-site mock-ups using 3D printed ‘extrusions’ and
collaboration with lighting manufacturers including
Fagerhult. This process is nearing conclusion and we
are able to meet all of the recognised industry technical
requirements – but what will be different?
The first area of lighting informed by the period is the
building reception where a curved wall of white fluted
glass is backlit with LEDs. Fittings are spaced so there is
an intentional drop off across the height of the panels.
This is supplemented by two suspended LED pendants
that reference the strong geometry of the period. The
lights are fully dimmable so that a hotel lobby effect
can be created. The underside of the new circulation
bridges within the newly formed atrium is lit from a
cove which uplights on to a ‘golden’ finish within the
coffer. This provides a warm glow to the atrium and a
focal point when looking towards the sky.
It is in the main workplace floors that we have
combined an understanding of how future occupiers
are likely to use the space with the influences of art
deco to create a solution that works with the structure.
The concept is simple: we have added strips of LED
light to either side of the concrete beams to uplight the
soffit in each bay. This has been made possible by the
recent improvement in light distribution from LED
sources and because the building grid is an unusual
5m centre to centre. The light strips will be housed
in an aluminium prefabricated extrusion which has
been developed through a series of 3D printed models.
A preferred profile has now been selected and we are
in the process of coordinating its construction so that
sections can be easily removed for a future cellular
layout. The initial on-site mock-ups have demonstrated
that 400 lux, if required by an occupier, can easily be
achieved at the working plane. However, it also showed
that a warmer softer light can be achieved by merely
dimming the fitting to 300 lux. The occupier will be
able to control their light and dark within each bay.
It is my opinion that we may be reaching a turning
point in how we address workplace lighting and that
future generations will insist on character, charm and
variety within the lighting of their space. A different
approach could provide a new narrative and moments
of calmness in our increasingly technology-influenced
lives. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Left: In the main workplace
floors, LED strips housed in an
aluminium extrusion will sit
either side of the concrete beams
uplighting the soffit in each bay
‘Architects’ current engagement with
artificial light is curious. It is often seen
as a separate entity from natural light,
consigned mostly to the ceiling’
l John McRae is a director and co-owner of London-
based architectural practice Orms