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Liverpool Vision, Liverpool, England

Issue 38 Aug/Sep 2007 Architectural : Facade


Graham Festenstein discusses the high points and pitfalls of delivering a street level strategy for Liverpool’s Feature Lighting Programme.

After an initial success with the first phase of a £2.4m architectural feature lighting programme to enhance the city centre of Liverpool and its unique and beautiful historic architecture, Graham Festenstein Lighting Design was commissioned to continue development of a strategy for lighting Liverpool, with Phase Two of this exciting programme.
The programme, coordinated by Liverpool Vision, was initially conceived in 2000 and has been implemented in two phases. The strategic work undertaken in the First Phase by lighting consultants Sutton Vane Associates was completed before Liverpool won its status as European Capital of Culture 2008 and as a UNESCO world heritage site. Much of the exciting regeneration and redevelopment work currently underway was still in its very early stages and much of it yet to be fully committed. Therefore the whole strategic approach needed a complete review, to ensure that the work already completed, committed and proposed, would be integrated to form a coherent Masterplan for the implementation of lighting, not only now but for the future.
Although the initial brief given to Graham Festenstein Lighting Design had been to develop a concept identifying buildings to be lit as part of the programme, we felt it important to widen our outlook incorporating consideration of other strategic work, such as the City Centre Movement Strategy; other public realm works; and new developments both proposed and underway. At the very least they would inform our decisions and where possible our strategy would also inform these and future projects. The integration of the architectural schemes with the public realm and public lighting was of a high priority in our approach. We were aided in this by our previous involvement with the City on the Castle Street Public Realm Scheme - a project we began working on two years earlier in collaboration with Camlin Lonsdale Landscape Architects, and our subsequent on-going work on the Pier Head Public Realm. The latter has included a watching brief on behalf of the City over the strategy for the whole Pier Head Mann Island and Museum of Liverpool development. We have also been working with city planners as independent consultants to ensure that the City Lighting Strategy responds to the exciting lighting proposed by BDP for the Paradise Street Development - a huge development that will form a significant part of the city centre when complete. The upshot of much of this work has lead to a remarkable degree of cooperation between the City and a number of lighting designers currently working on projects within Liverpool, most notably BDP, Arup, Buro Happold, Cundall Light and not least 20/20 Liverpool the City’s Street Lighting engineers. This is something that should be commended; the designers involved for their enthusiasm for working towards an integrated goal and the City for actively promoting this level of cooperation.
Of course work on a project of this scale and diversity has not always been plain sailing, in particular with respect to the involvement of such a large number of private building owners and the rules regarding funding, something I will discuss in more detail later on.
Before doing so I need to describe in a little more detail our client’s aspirations and how the project was structured. Both Liverpool Vision and Liverpool City Council have shown tremendous commitment to the use of lighting in urban renewal, this is not only demonstrated by the Architectural Feature Lighting Programme, but also by the high priority given to the lighting elements of many of the other City Council run projects. There is a strong commitment to the aspiration that Liverpool should take a place as one of Europe’s lit cities, it is undoubtedly a worthy city, the density of historic architecture is remarkable - over 2000 listed buildings within Liverpool alone, not to mention the exciting new buildings by a number of world class architects currently in progress. Also Liverpool’s long history of association with Art and Music personified by the important Liverpool Biennial allows many other opportunities for the use and promotion of light and lighting within cultural events. It is hoped that a lighting festival may also become a regular part of Liverpool life. This potentially gives Liverpool a real opportunity to even challenge the city of Lyon with a fully integrated approach to public lighting in years to come.
The ultimate aim of the lighting programme is to develop a culture within Liverpool, whereby building owners, operators and developers will see good lighting as a high priority and it will become an essential part of life rather than considered as an expensive and unnecessary luxury. This change in attitude is already beginning to take hold, as we have found commercial building operators commitment to the schemes grow over the past two years.
The first phase of the programme had already seen many of the beacon buildings such as the famous Cathedrals, Albert Dock, St Georges Hall and other prominent public buildings and museums lit. The success of this initial work has been documented in an impact study carried out by Jon Dawson Associates. This study has for the first time shown a correlation between the lighting of buildings; an improved perception of public safety and benefit to the night time economy by encouraging people to use the city more during the hours of darkness. Our clients have a clear aspiration that this success should be continued and this was reflected in the way we tackled Phase Two which concentrates on a street level approach to lighting, as described in more detail below.
As designers we felt our primary objective, in order to deliver our clients’ aspirations, was to identify a concept that made the best use of the public money available and would deliver a high volume of schemes providing maximum impact without compromising on quality. This is not a simple task, although the funding available was significant, it would have been easy to use it all lighting half a dozen larger buildings with elaborate schemes. This was not our brief and our objective was not only to achieve an immediate visual impact but by the prominence and nature of the buildings chosen, but to encourage building owners and operators to adopt the culture of lighting as discussed previously.
To achieve these aims we would need to look at many smaller schemes, we wanted to create the impression of a lit City by lighting a high volume of strategically located buildings - visible in important views and vistas. These would need to include a proportion of minimally lit buildings to show owners that they need not spend a fortune to create a high quality lit presence. Identifying these buildings is one thing; actually delivering a scheme on them was something else.
The Phase One schemes were predominantly lighting public buildings, cathedrals, museums, theatres and council buildings - buildings that traditionally were likely to be lit and where proposals to spend money on a lighting scheme would not be an unusual suggestion. The Phase Two buildings were generally smaller, commercially owned and operated by a mixture of companies ranging from very small property management companies, large commercial developers right through to pension funds and offshore banks. Negotiating with some of these companies and their agents was difficult and in many cases very challenging. A number of schemes were lost purely on the basis that the agents were unable to treat them as a priority and could not find the time to complete the paperwork – a very disappointing situation when much time and public money had been invested to get as far as an agreement in principle from the building owner, a commitment to private matched funding and in some cases a fully detailed design.
Another difficulty is knowing how to pitch a scheme when you know little or nothing about a building owner. We did not want to frighten away potential buildings with what they would consider as an expensive scheme, yet we would not want to compromise the design unnecessarily by suggesting a very small scheme. A good example of this was the suggestion to light a very small but fun detail on what we assumed was purely a small office building, only to discover that this was in fact the offices of a large and well respected architectural practice, whom I suspect felt a little miffed that we had not suggested a full treatment on their splendid building.
The lack of experience of this type of work for the small commercial operators could also prove awkward. Sketch proposals were prepared for over eighty buildings in order to start negotiations; it was not economic to develop these beyond simple concepts which would require further development as the design progressed. One building owner in particular was a little surprised that his scheme was subtly different to the initial sketch – even though he had received all the drawings and regular updates throughout the process.
On the whole we were very fortunate, we received tremendous commitment and enthusiasm from a number of key buildings which have contributed significantly to the outcome of the programme, these tended to be companies with a strong local interest who were already investing massively in developments within the City.
We did unfortunately lose some key buildings. In particular one was a grade 1 listed former bank that, although a very significant amount of funding was on offer, refused to take part – they had recently invested £500 re-lamping an ancient sodium scheme and felt they had fulfilled their civic duty. Sadly this splendid building is now a less than attractive orange oasis in amongst a group of sensitively lit white light schemes.
The requirement to run and maintain the public funded schemes for 15 years also proved to be a sticking point for a number of the negotiations and resulted in some buildings not being lit, this is a long term commitment, in fact I would suggest a little too long, and for commercial operators the potential for changing tenants or indeed selling the building and the legal repercussions that would entail could make an agreement unworkable. From a design perspective a 15 year span is also not ideal. This said some building owners who were not prepared to sign up for 15 years went ahead with schemes outside of the funded programme – more evidence of the change in culture that the programme had hoped to achieve. 
The number of schemes dropping in and out of the legal agreement process as the days ticked by proved for some stressful moments. The strategy needed constant reassessment to ensure that what could be delivered still maintained the integrity of our overall approach, in particular there were a small number of buildings that if lost would have had a significant impact due to their important locations and adjustments would be needed to ensure the strategy was not compromised. The success of this owes a lot to the project manager at 20/20 who walked the thin line between coaxing and coercing some of the building owners to get them to meet the very tight deadlines involved.
The funding arrangements had various implications on the way the scheme was run, the biggest being the time frame. In order to maximise the amount of funding available it was necessary for the programme to be compressed into only a few months. This, coupled with the bureaucratic procedures of the funding process, required a fair amount of work to be undertaken at risk and a reduced time available for the design process – not an ideal situation and one that will have resulted in compromises, although we believe none too significant that the risks were not worth taking.
The procedure of producing sketch concept schemes to sell the programme to building owners and then requiring them to tender for a design service on the basis of these, was not popular with some designers. We have some sympathy here, however based on our experience of negotiations with building owners and in order to satisfy the rules surrounding public funding, it is very difficult to see how this could have been progressed differently whilst still delivering the number of strategic schemes that the programme has successfully completed. 
Our strategic work also addresses the important issue of sustainability and the environmental consequences of urban lighting. We feel very strongly that sustainability is more about an integrated approach to urban renewal and public realm design, than the simple issue of energy use. Well considered and appropriate lighting to buildings in an urban environment, form part of the backdrop to the public realm and as proved by the Jon Dawson study positively aid urban regeneration. If we are to provide truly sustainable environments within our cities, which encourage people to live, work and play within communities, reducing car use and promoting public transport, then lighting can play a very significant role. This said best practice in design, selection of appropriate buildings to be lit and the use of new technologies that enable more efficient schemes and lower intensity schemes (e.g. LED / 20W CDM) must be promoted. This points more than ever to the need for integrated strategies and Masterplans for our towns and cities to ensure that lighting becomes part of a sustainable future.
On the whole we believe that our strategy has delivered; on many of the key routes within the city centre there are lit buildings at primary junctions visible from multiple view points. The culture has definitely changed with many of the newly refurbished and newly developed buildings incorporating lighting to a greater degree than they would have done before, much of it white light from good quality luminaires in well considered locations, replacing the inappropriate sodium floods mostly prevalent only a couple of years ago. Possibly the defined character of each area is not as pronounced as we would have liked but we are at the beginning of a process to deliver a much broader aspiration and only time will tell how successful we and our clients will have been.

The Liverpool Architectural Feature Lighting Programme was funded publicly by Northwest Development Agency (NWDA) & SRB with private contributions from building owners. The City of Lights Programme was coordinated by the City Centre Urban Regeneration.


Liverpool Vision

Millennium House – Meyer Superlight / Superlight Compact Mini (Commercial Lighting), Light Projects LEDstar 3, Philips LEDflood

  • Liverpool Vision

    City Buildings – Mike Stoane Tadpoles

  • Liverpool Vision

    62 Castle Street – iGuzzini Radius, Meyer Superlight Compact S (Commercial Lighting), Light Projects Major 5, Mike Stoane Lighting Toad, Encapsulite MT50

  • Liverpool Vision

    Wapping Tower – Sill Power Projector, Meyer Superlight (Commercial Lighting), Louis Poulsen IPR14, Encapsulite MT50

  • Liverpool Vision

    Queens Building – Meyer Superlight / Superlight Compact S (Commercial Lighting), Light Projects Major 5, iGuzzini Radius, Trilux Aragon

  • Liverpool Vision

    Rigbys Building – Light Projects LEDstar 3

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