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C-Mine Centre, Genk, Belgium

Issue 69 Oct / Nov 2012 : Architecture : Leisure

LIGHTING DESIGN: Painting With Light (Luc Peumans) LANDSCAPE DESIGN: Alle Hosper (Hanneke Kijne)

Painting With Light drew on lessons learned in theatre, live events and television to bring drama and a visual dynamism to a new technology and culture campus on the outskirts of Genk.

From 1914 until its closure in 1988, the Winterslag Mine on the outskirts of Genk in Belgium was at the heart of the local community. Employing 6,350 full time staff at its peak, the mine has played a seminal role in the personal histories of many families in the area, as the draw for much immigration to the region and a hub around which generations grew up.

Now, thanks to a recent regeneration project, the site is set to recapture its role as a centre for both industry and the community, under its new guise, C-Mine: a new hub for creativity, technology, tourism and education. In addition to a new ‘C-Mine Experience’, which takes visitors on a tour of the old mine tunnels, the new centre incorporates two theatres, a multi-screen cinema, and a state-of-the-art Media, Arts and Design Faculty (MAD) for the nearby University of Hasselt.

The ‘Energy Building’, which once generated power for the entire mine and all its operations, has become a multi-functional event and gallery space with many of its original industrial elements – control panels, valve banks and turbine chambers - retained as period features.
On another part of the site, new commercial units have been built with the specific aim of drawing in creative and technology-focused companies, including a new Microsoft Innovation Centre.

Structurally, the entire C-Mine site fuses industrial heritage dating back two centuries with complimentary modern design, including a dramatic scheme by creative lighting design practice Painting With Light under the leadership of Luc Peumans.

Peumans, well known for his innovative work in theatre, live music and TV sectors, was asked by the city’s mayor to design lighting for the site. As a citizen of Genk, he was already familiar with the mine and its history, so jumped at the chance to work on the project.

Peumans’ creative brief was completely open, allowing him the freedom to reinvent the once thriving commercial operation, giving it a new relevance and context. He wanted the site to become a ‘living square’ while at the same time showing respect for its historic look and feel.

For the square to ‘come alive’, it needed to be a clear open space flexible enough to accommodate a variety of different events and activities, but one that would equally work as a relaxing public space, shared by the growing onsite community. Peumans adopted an ‘open-plan living’ approach, freeing up as much floor space as possible by moving the lights away from the centre of the square. This has the added advantage of shifting attention to the surrounding structures, in particular the colliery lift towers that form the centrepieces of the whole site. Once the core of the operation - used to winch workers, machinery and coal to and from the 100 kilometres of tunnels situated up to 850 metres below ground - they dominate the local landscape at 70 and 50 metres high respectively. In Peumans’ view these deserved extra attention, not just because of their imposing scale, but also because of their long-held status as iconic landmarks, intrinsically linked to the area’s identity. As such he made them the visual hub of the scheme.
Peumans’ first step was to decide on the colours and effects he would use to illuminate the towers, the new MAD Faculty building (located at one end of the square), the Energy Building (positioned at 90 degrees to that), and the square area itself. He also wanted the square to incorporate some extra elements that would add glamour and fun for the concerts and live events that will be staged in the space.

Most importantly, all elements – old and new – needed to be harmonised through the shared visual coherence of the lighting. A series of signature colours were chosen: cool blues, a combination of warm and cold whites and a blend of warm whites with bold, rich red accents. A special blue mix was created to match the colour of the local football team, KRC Genk, thus adding in an extra layer of meaning.

There are additional red elements around the site, such as the tall slits in the front of the Energy Building, where the cables for the pit head lifts were once connected back to the enormous winding drums. These strategic flashes of red, explains Peumans, represent the many human and emotional memories associated with the mine – the blood, sweat, tears of intense physical labour and sometimes death in an ultimately dangerous profession which was pursued with passion, commitment and dedication.

The selection of appropriate light sources was based on three factors: energy consumption, optical qualities and fixture size. All three elements were closely linked; the choice of the right light distribution in the right location enabled reduced power consumption as less light is wasted. The size of the fixtures was key to the team’s ability to place each source exactly where it was required and where it could be discretely incorporated into the existing structures.

These factors made LED the prime choice in most applications. “Modern day LED technology offers some very interesting possibilities,” says Peumans. “It combines compact fixtures with a large light output, available in a wide range of beam angles, that are dynamically controllable.” He is also quick to acknowledge that in some instances discharge fixtures provide a better and more appropriate solution both physically and aesthetically.

Once Peumans had decided on the type of LED fixtures and where they should be located, the actual lighting equipment specification went out to tender via Infrax, the local electricity grid supplier and electrical contractor responsible for the installation.
The job was awarded to Philips, whose quote included innovative solutions and the provision of bespoke manufactured elements required by the design.

Piero Todde from NV Philips Belgium SA was appointed as Philips’ Project Engineer, working alongside the Painting with Light team. Todde, also born and raised in Genk, brought an additional personal connection to the group. His father - who moved to the town from Sardinia - was a coal face miner at Winterslag for 25 years. It’s a story typical of many at the time and one of the factors behind Genk’s lively multi-European cultural and ethnic mix.

A total of 429 Philips LEDLiNEs were used to highlight the towers. All are ensconced in the impressive structural metalwork, with some also embedded at the base of both towers. The strips are made up of a mix of amber, white and blue LEDs, with a quantity of all-red battens picking out some specific features.

Around 90 conventional in-ground spots – mainly Shreder Terra Midi 70W warm whites - are used to graze up the front fascia of the Energy and main Reception Buildings, both part of the original Winterslag development. The old ventilation shafts from the towers and tunnels to the rear of this complex are subtly emphasised with more red LEDLiNEs.
For contrast, the new MAD Faculty building is lit contemporarily with more custom LEDLiNES. Waterproofed and comprising RGBW emitters, double strips of LEDs are integrated into the edges of the darkened window panels themselves, a task completed in close collaboration with the MAD Faculty’s architects, Bogdan & Van Broeck Architects.

The same RGBW LEDLiNE strips are used to delineate different areas of the Square with intense shards of light appearing from out of the ground and slicing through the space. The metal housings for these were fabricated to withstand the weight of fully loaded trucks in anticipation of the square’s use for live entertainment and events.
Different sections of the square are paved with different sized black slates (referencing the coal underground), which provide a very atmospheric reflective surface for all lighting when wet. It was an effect the team had plenty of time to appreciate as the programming and commissioning stage of the project was completed almost entirely in torrential rain.

There are also 18 Philips Decoflood 606 70W conventional sources dotted around the Square, with Eclatec / Indal warm white Elipts on masts providing lighting in the car park area.

The striking silver and red seats scattered around the square were designed by Carmela Bogman in conjunction with Dutch landscape specialists HOSPER. They are made from folded steel sheets, and lit by Philips BBB451 warm white in-ground LEDs.

At the base of the larger tower is a water feature with the individual jets illuminated by 49 specially developed AWB (amber, white, blue) colour mix fountain LED modules at their bases. These were supplied by Aquafontanal.

The whole lighting system is DMX controlled and run via three Pharos LPC controllers stationed in a technical room near the smaller tower, which also houses all the drivers and other control elements. The system has the capacity to operate any extra lighting that may be added for special events.

The default scenes and sequences were programmed into the Pharos controllers by site project manager Geert Moors, and once again, the Painting With Light team found their experience of designing entertainment systems was invaluable in completing the process quickly and efficiently.

On the practical side, there were many challenges. As well as keeping energy consumption to a miminum (the entire site’s LEDs draw just 28kW of power) and avoiding light pollution and spill, Peumans and his team had to keep four different architectural practices – responsible for various aspects of the site - in the loop and on side. These included Hanneke Kijne from ALLE HOSPER, responsible for landscaping of the Square, who was integrally involved in the development of the lighting vision, and overall C-Mine Experience architect, Halewijn Lievens from NU-Architects.

Peumans received many comments about how well the lighting matched the initial visuals. “This was a major objective – to be feasible and realistic about the end results,” he says. “Working in the architectural world you have to be on top of all aspects all of the time”.

Peumans concludes: “I am very proud to be part of bringing this vital part of our local history alive again, and we have received so much positive feedback both from our clients and the citizens of Genk.
“Everything in the mining industry is on such a huge scale, and these massive constructions must have been an enormous feat to build.
“For me there is a real emotional resonance in being the lighting designer for C-Mine, a project that touches so many individuals and families who have been influenced by and involved in the mining community, all of them leaving an indelible mark on the region’s economic and social development.”


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