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Stratford Island, London, UK

Issue 71 Feb / Mar 2013 : Architectural : Landscape


As a neighbour to London’s Olympic Park and the new Westfield shopping centre, Stratford Island was in danger of becoming overlooked and overshadowed until a plan was enacted to help reinvigorate its visual and cultural identity.

For many around the world, and even across the UK, the drama and excitement of the 2012 Summer Olympics has long faded into sporting memory, but for the people of Stratford, the Games and their legacy remain a constantly unfolding story. Though the whole of London may have claimed the global headlines, it was the town of Stratford in the east of the capital that provided the event’s focal point: the Olympic Park, built on derelict land and now undergoing a second transformation into permanent, public parkland; the lynchpin for a wider promise of regeneration.

It was with this broader developmental view that planners turned their attentions to Stratford Island, an area of the town centre defined by the three- to four-lane A11 gyratory roadway that encircles it. Long before the world came calling, Stratford Island provided a local home for cultural venues like the Picturehouse, East London Dance, and the Theatre Royal, as well as retail outlets and eateries, but there was a danger it would be left behind following the arrival of its new neighbour.
The Island sits, both literally and metaphorically, on the other side of the rail tracks from the Olympic park. Crucially, both sides share Stratford Station as a transport hub - a confluence of main line trains, Docklands Light Railway, London Underground and bus routes that connect locals and visitors to the rest of the city.  Because of this a project was initiated to re-energise the area, to roll out redevelopment beyond the Olympic Park and neighbouring Westfield shopping centre, while at the same time creating a distinct identity within the evolving urban landscape.

LAPD were brought in as lighting consultants, working alongside Studio Erget West architects to enrich the nighttime dimension of the scheme. “We used a number of lighting tools to activate this concept,” explains LAPD Associate Director Mike Brown. “We focused on the use of colour temperature and the use of high CRI sources; we wanted to use high quality warm white light to make the urban space feel distinctly comfortable and inviting.”

From the project’s outset it was established that equipment maintenance was an ongoing issue for Newham Borough Council, the authority responsible for Stratford town. They were concerned that the increased complexity of a new lighting scheme would add to the maintenance requirement and thus be unsustainable. In response, an all-LED solution was proposed for the amenity spaces.

In keeping with this strategy, and to further engender a sense of place for the Island, the team employed a distinct vocabulary of fixtures. Most notably, post-mounted iGuzzini LED Woody luminaires, were used as an alternative to the utilitarian light columns found across the rest of Stratford, thus helping set the scheme apart from neighbouring areas.
“We also used the uniformity of the light to reflect a sense of place,” says Brown. “In Theatre Square we opted to use a combination of narrow beam and flood optics to create pools of light and to intimate that the theatricality of the performance spaces is flowing out into the wider environment.”

An exception to the LED rule was made for fixtures along the A11 gyratory roadway. The A11 dominates Stratford Island, creating its perimeter and providing an outer face for the site. In this respect, the street lighting around the gyratory system plays a significant role in the creation of the Island’s identity. Previous schemes had been found lacking on many levels. The roadway had been lit with overly decorative columns and oversized lanterns using high-pressure sodium light sources. The visual environment was fraught with the excessively embellished metalwork of the columns in daylight, and dominated by the glare of the lanterns at night. “The quality of the light was also a problem,” says Brown. “The colour rendition was low and excessive glare from the fittings added to the feeling of insecurity in the space, making the light levels feel much lower than they actually were because of the dominance of flaring light sources in one’s periphery view.”

LAPD specified a new column from Urbis to be installed around the gyratory system. The columns were specified to align with those used along the main stretch of the A11 as it heads south west towards the City of London, providing continuity to the roadway. “We went to lengths to ensure that the columns were only installed on the outer edge of the gyratory, so as to enhance the sense of separation between the Island and its surrounding area,” Brown recounts. Some of the columns were given piggyback heads for pedestrian and cycle lanes and, crucially, Philips Cosmopolis lamps were used to improve colour rendering and enhance the perceived sense of safety for users. Fittings use a flat glass to ensure no light is projected above the horizontal plane. 

“The installed effect is of a much cleaner lit environment with columns that create a visual rhythm during the day without overwhelming the streetscape,” says Brown.

A key element of the project was the introduction of a 250m long kinetic sculpture that runs along one side of the A11 gyratory. Dubbed the ‘Shoal’, the piece presents a fresh, dynamic face to the Stratford transport hub and the Olympic park. It is constructed from a tubular steel framework, designed to represent the trunks of trees, on to which large lozenge-shaped ‘leaves’ are hung. Each leaf follows one of three forms and is clad with titanium that has been anodised at different voltages to give the surface a range of colours, from blue to yellow. The leaves are arranged so that the colour gradually shifts along the length of the piece from one extreme to the other.  Each leaf is held in place by a dampening shock absorber that allows some movement of the leaves in a strong wind, making the whole sculpture appear to shimmer during inclement weather.

The lighting brief for the Shoal was to provide a non-uniform scattering of light across the leaves, using it to enhance their form and texture and express the colour and reflectivity of the titanium.  The team had to consider the appearance of the front and rear faces of the leaves so that the sculpture could be experienced from behind, below and in-front. 
Over the course of the design process it was decided that integrating light sources into the structure would prove prohibitively expensive. The final solution therefore uses 60 LED inground projectors supplied by Aquila. In mock-ups, warmer colour temperature light best rendered the whole colour palette of the sculpture, so 3000K LED sources were selected.

“We specified super narrow six degree optics to account for the distance over which we needed to project and positioned the fittings as close as possible to plum beneath the leaves so that they could enhance the form when viewed from in-front and behind the sculpture,” says Brown. “In places the Shoal leaves are suspended above the gyratory road edge, so we were forced to project from a close offset, but this also met with the intention of animating the texture of the leaves rather than flattening them.”

At the entrance to the Stratford Centre shopping precinct the branches of the structure form a bridge, raising the leaves high above the flow of pedestrians. Here narrow beam Philips eW Burst LED projectors were mounted onto custom brackets at high level to graze across the raised leaves.  This ensured that the light fittings were out of the way of the public and capable of sufficient illumination, whilst remaining visually sympathetic to the Shoal.

Some of the visual themes created for the Shoal are echoed in the Grove, a pedestrian area that is designed to provide a new market space. A line of newly planted trees, London Planes, create a barrier between the space and the gyratory road. These are lit at night with iGuzzini inground LED uplights to emphasise the divide between vehicular and pedestrian spaces.

At the centre of the Grove, Studio Egret West designed a cluster of tree-like forms known as the ‘Grove Clouds’. These reference the Shoal by taking three of its leaf shapes, turned onto their sides, and placing them atop a single steel trunk that branches out into an organic framework. Onto the branches, the team installed LED projectors on custom brackets that skate light across the underside of the leaves, again enhancing their form and texture. In this instance 4000K LEDs were specified to complement the cool colour of the metal surface, the intention being to reproducing the ethereal appearance of clouds when backlit by the moon.

While it remains too early judge if the Olympic legacy for London - and specifically Stratford - will meet the hopes of planners, the success of projects like Stratford Island suggest that a wider, deeper lasting regeneration of the area may well be within reach.


Stratford Island, London, UK
Client: London borough of Newham
Architect: Studio Egret West
Landscape Architect: Gross. Max
Lighting Design: LAPD Consultants (Mike Brown, Steve Dean, Glenn Campion)

40 x Urbis  Paseo 600 streetlighting
44 x iGuzzini Woody LED spotlight (column mounted)
36 x iGuzzini Delphi with streetlighting LED optic (small roads)
80 x iGuzzini Light Up inground uplights (for trees)
80 x Aquila Rocca Maxi high power LED uplighting (on Shoal)
6 x Philips Color Kinetics eW Blast feature LEDs for grazing and washing surfaces.
3 x Philips eColour Graze in custom steel fabricated box (mounting beneath benches in Theatre square)
9 x Mike Stoane custom LED projectors (Grove Clouds)
74 x Insta 1060  floor LED
4 x Bega 7502 LED projectors  (Gurney memorial)


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