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Regent Street, London, UK

Issue 70 Dec / Jan 2013 : Architectural : Retail

CLIENT: The Crown Estate LIGHTING DESIGN: Studio-29

Even in it’s earliest incarnation, London’s Regent Street was designed with retail and entertainment in mind. When architect and planner John Nash delivered his initial concept in 1811, it was for a grand boulevard that would connect the newly formed Regent’s Park to the north with Charing Cross to the south – a hub of high-class society at the time. Nash’s original vision was characterised by a uniform identity, with façades sharing a common height and style and, though none of the original buildings survive, subsequent waves of rebuilding and redevelopment have tried to recapture this initial vision of homogeny – all with varying levels of success.

In the mid 1990s, the Crown Estate – landowners since the street’s inception – undertook the latest, and most radical wave of changes to the street. A £750 million programme set about adapting premises for the modern age and developing the streetscape to establish Regent Street among the world’s most famous shopping destinations.

Naturally, lighting was a key aspect of this plan. Applications were received from a number of individual leaseholders along the street, typically the larger stores, asking to light their own façades in a particular style. Wary that this would produce a muddled overview, the Estate decided that a single coherent scheme should be implemented instead, one that would emphasise the quality of the architecture of the whole street rather than picking out specific store fronts.

Lighting designer Tony Rimmer came on board in the early stages of the project and maintained a continuing role throughout - first as head of the lighting department at Imagination and later through his own practice Studio-29.

The key aim of the scheme was to ensure that the same treatment was applied to every façade and all the return façades in the adjoining streets. This included highlighting the common height of the cornicing and defining the chamfered ends of each block, thus creating an uninterrupted, richly illuminated view along the street’s length. Each façade is given a wash of warm white light with architectural features, such as columns and statues, emphasised in a cool white to add depth and definition.

The street is divided into twenty blocks, ten on the west side and ten on the east. These run in a straight stretch south from Regent’s Park, curve gracefully to the east to join Piccadilly Circus, home of the iconic ‘Eros’ statue, and then turn south again towards The Mall.

The scale of the project was formidable and required careful planning to make the process as efficient as possible. Each block along the street has its stone façade cleaned once every ten years and, by scheduling installations to run in tandem with this work, significant reductions to both budget (thanks to a shared use of scaffolding) and general disruption were achieved.

Much consideration was given to minimising visual clutter on the building façades. Standard light fittings were customised and cut-down with remote gear and drivers hidden from view; fibre optic projectors were used to light intricate details and statues in hard to reach locations to make lamp maintenance simpler; and framing projector units were mounted in strategic locations on opposite sides of the street to highlight major statues and details where it was impossible to locate luminaires.

One notable advantage of this new coordinated approach was that it ended the gradual escalation of light levels that had occurred over the years – the result of a silent battle for attention between neighbouring stores.

 “Some of the buildings had 150W or 250W metal halide on their façades and some 400W SON fittings, which meant everyone was striving for prominence by using higher wattages or even coloured lights,” explains Rimmer. “Controlling the whole environment allowed us to reduce outputs down to 150W, 70W, 35W and even 20W in places. The 150W fittings were only used in Oxford Circus as a major node point and at Piccadilly Circus, where there was lots of light pollution from the new LED screens.”

As a consequence of the installation continuing over a number of years – and the development of new technologies during that period - a variety of luminaires have been used on Regent Street over the last decade. Over time however, this palette of fixtures has been refined to consist primarily of 2,500 Meyer luminaires - a choice driven by their proven reliability on the project, as well as their being the least obtrusive visually and coming with a long term service commitment from suppliers, Commercial Lighting.

The Meyer luminaires are joined by a variety of other fixtures (approximately 500 in total) and 2km of cold cathode. Though consistency was a priority, the scheme did allow flexibility where necessary.

“A number of buildings were given an extra layer of lighting treatment as they had an unusually decorative façade, they had a higher heritage rating or there was an exceptional client input,” says Rimmer. “The old Liberty façade has a beautiful decorative frieze at fifth floor level which tells a story of the silk routes. This was lit with fibre optics projectors and each lens was carefully filtered using individual pieces of negative density filter depending on how much modelling was required.”

Le Meridien Hotel also benefited from extra attention. As one of the later buildings to be lit, the team was able to use more LED technology as, by that point, solid state had become a widely used (and trusted) light source across a range of luminaires. This proved particularly useful, as long-term maintenance was an important consideration. Many of the bedrooms face the street, making nighttime maintenance impossible, and cherry pickers could not be used during the day as road closures would not be granted on bus lanes. The LED solution promises consistent reliability without the need for servicing outside the ten year cleaning cycle.

Such is the success of the completed streetscape that the Crown Estate now plans to extend the project further along Lower Regent Street and into the St James’s estate that runs alongside The Mall.


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