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Timber Wave, V&A, London, UK

Issue 63 Oct / Nov 2011 : Architecture


The grand main entrance of the V&A Museum was transformed for the duration of London Design Festival with the addition of a giant Timber Wave, created by Amanda Levete_Architects.

Built by Arup from oil-treated American red oak, this 12 metre high latticework spiral used scaled-up furniture making processes to form a structure that rolled gracefully onto Cromwell Street.

SEAM Design cam on board in February this year tasked with creating a suitable lighting scheme for the  project.

“The challenge for us was how do we create an iconographic identity of the entrance with little or no budget?” says SEAM Director Marci Song. “We would be able to highlight the timber latticework of wood laminate chords quite easily, however that is merely lighting the arch.  What we also wanted to do was to create a stronger relationship, or visually binding relationship between the arch and the V&A Entrance. By allowing the light to pass through the arch and create its inherent patterns onto the facade, this creates a beautifully unified composition for strong identity at night and a new experience for the visitor.”

For us, the start point was how to unify a modern free standing sculptural arch with a very ornate V&A entrance through light.   Also, how to capture this elegant yet dynamic 'singular gesture' and how to support the architect's aspirations of essentially bringing the V&A out into the street.  

The arch is quite complex and Amanda Levete_Architects, ARUP and Crowley Fabricating have really challenged the performance, aesthetics and durability of timber.  “Because this free-standing sculptural arch is derived from the latest technologies of computational generative design and fabrication methods, it is easy to steer towards use of the latest lighting technologies (i.e. LED technology, media lighting, sophisticated lighting controls, etc.),” says Song. “However, often the simplest solution can make the biggest, and more importantly, most appropriate visual impact.”

Selecting luminaires from sponsor iGuzzini, SEAM specified 15 narrow spot Woody adjustable uplighters and 5 wide beam Mini Woody adjustable spotlights fitted with glare control snoots and optical accessories integrated into the base of the arch structure which were the optimal positions for achieving both illumination of the arch and projections onto the facade.

“Seam is a consultancy that values the challenge and growth that experimentation brings, so when presented with the opportunity to work with AL-A on something more experimental we were more than happy to do it pro bono,” says Song. “The lighting equipment provided by iGuzzini was also through sponsorship, so it was really a collaborative effort from all the teams involved.“

The project was carried out with a very limited budget for equipment such as luminaires, lamps, accessories and controls, which pushed SEAM to take their creative approach to the next level. 

“It was also a challenge coordinating electrical works within the arch due to its highly engineered components and geometry which had to be assembled in sections,” Song continues. “The structure also presented some limitations for providing electrical supply to ideal lighting positions, so we had to be creative with the positioning of the cable runs through the entire structure during assembly.”

Go to London Design Festival Main Menu


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