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Terminal 5, Heathrow, England

Issue 43 Jun / Jul 2008 : Architectural : Transport


Mark Major of Speirs and Major Associates tells the story of the practice's involvement in the lighting of the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. Carried out over an eight year period, the scheme is one of the largest, most extensive and ambitious public lighting projects seen in the UK in recent years.

It is perhaps unfortunate that as I write the mere mention of Terminal 5 Heathrow conjures up an image of long queues, unhappy passengers and lost bags. Such an image not only misses what the UK has now gained in terms of a remarkable new transport facility but also the incredible achievement in getting this monumental project built at all – let alone on time.

Unfortunately all the ‘negativity’ in the press (and amongst the general public) serves to undermine the fantastic contribution made by the army of architects, designers, engineers, cost consultants, contractors and their suppliers to what in time will hopefully be regarded not only as a great place to fly into and out of but also a highly successful project. We were part of that ‘army’ – and this is a brief summary of our part in the story of T5.

The length of the project is such that the beginning seems a very long time ago. Indeed it was a long time ago – almost exactly eight years to the day from when we were first interviewed for the project by BAA to the first lights ‘going operational’. In that time most of us who have worked on the project have had several children, lost their hair, gone grey – or all three. Despite that I am not sure there would be one member of our team who saw the project through from cradle to grave who would have missed the experience for the world. Of course there were highs and lows, set-backs and disappointments and in hindsight there are a number of things that we wish we had done differently – some of which I will touch on in this article. At the same time, however, the opportunity to work on one of the world’s largest construction projects, to gain an insight into the ongoing development of air travel and to work with a great team of people to help deliver the largest lighting scheme I suspect that anyone involved has ever worked on is an opportunity not to have been missed.

For us ‘the story’ started in April 2000. We had been approached by BAA some months earlier to submit a tender for the project based on experience, rates, etc. Having made enquiries we felt it was a long shot as we knew that the client team had done their homework and gone out to fourteen other lighting designers worldwide to seek such expressions of interest. This included practices such as Fisher Marantz Stone who had worked on what was then the new Chep Lak Kok Airport in Hong Kong and Claude Engle who had designed the lighting for BAA’s Stansted. Having been successfully short-listed, Jonathan Speirs and I went into the interview for T5 with what I am sure the panel viewed as the necessary mix of confidence and naivety to win the project. Whilst we had successfully worked with the architect Richard Rogers Partnership (now Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners) on the Millennium Dome we were later told it was our work at Bluewater completed in the previous year that had won the day. And there we were worrying about our lack of airport experience! Bluewater had been the first ‘holistic’ brief we had ever been given in which a client had realised that a lighting designer can bring value not just to the ‘pretty bits’ i.e. the malls and leisure areas, but also the car parks and road, i.e. places in which the experience of the general public is just as important after dark. On top of that, BAA’s large and well known retail offer also demanded a certain type of knowledge and whilst T5 hasn’t become the ‘shopping centre with planes parked around it’ that it was predicted to be there is no doubt that sensitivity towards retail lighting issues was an important part of the brief.

Having been appointed to the project, popped the corks and then panicked, we set about organising our own internal systems to ensure that we could deliver on our promise to handle what was the largest project any of us had ever been party to both quickly and efficiently.
We had already agreed with the client that we would need to use both our London and Edinburgh studios combined to provide enough ‘fire power’ and to that end we set about carving up the project areas accordingly. It was agreed that London would handle the masterplanning and the design of the main terminal (T5A), the landscape, interchange zone, car park, and bus station, whilst Edinburgh would look after the rail environment, track transit system (shuttle between terminals) and the satellite terminal (T5B). To work effectively over such a distance it was agreed that we would base ourselves out of the project office for a minimum of one day per week but beyond that employ our internal systems to make sure that we ‘spoke with one voice’. In that sense the project served as a great way for our two teams to work together over a long period of time – something that has benefitted the whole practice greatly.


The lighting design required over 75,000 luminaires, many of which were specially made. Thorn evolved the luminaires in close co-operation with BAA, Spiers and Major Associates and four of the principle contractors: AMEC, Crown House, Balfour Beatty Rail Projects and Balfour Kilpatrick


Interestingly, before we started the project and our appointment was finally confirmed, a group of BAA consultants descended on our London studio to check all our procedures for both design and administration – the first time a client has ever done that. Luckily we are generally well organised and passed their view of QA with flying colours!

Having been introduced to the project team, and got our heads around the complexity of the way we would be employed - each consultant was effectively ‘badged up’ as a member of BAA - we were asked to quickly deliver the lighting concept for the project. At the time this struck us as a ‘big ask’ - not only as eight years seemed a long enough time not to be having to rush things, but also because beyond basic diagrams there was very little for us to go on at the time. The buildings had vague forms, spaces were moving around like crazy and certainly there was no sense of anything approaching an interior. Nothing unusual for a project of that stage, we are used to being engaged early in the process, but nonetheless it presented a daunting challenge being expected to come up with goods at a point where there was little we could tangibly deliver against.

What we quickly realised was this situation presented a ‘once in a project lifetime opportunity’ to develop and agree a detailed brief. To that end we devised a whole series of presentations starting with talking about what the experience should be for a passenger at T5 after dark to developing a range of ‘journeys’ through what at that time was a largely hypothetical external and internal landscape. It was here that our architectural background came into play having the confidence to sketch potential solutions for the built environment itself as a means by which to get across lighting ideas.

Alongside the development of the brief we were also afforded the opportunity to work with BAA to update and improve what up to that time had been a somewhat limited guide to how their properties should be lit. For those who are not familiar with BAA as an organisation it understandably possesses a wide range of ‘standards’ for all sorts of design and engineering activities, many of which would be immediately recognisable as good practice within any field. Unfortunately at the time the lighting standard was an exception in being a very blunt instrument indeed. In being able to help shape the direction of the new standard we were immediately able to tackle what might otherwise have proved to be a series of boundaries to good lighting design right from the outset.

The next phase of our initial work, which took the best part of a year, was to work on the ‘Campus Design Guidelines’. This was effectively a master-planning document which aimed to set the pace for the overall development of the scheme. Led by YRM Architects we were encouraged to not only develop a holistic approach to the lighting but also began to actively engage with ongoing planning issues that had fallen out of the long running public enquiry including the issue of environmental impact as created by the lighting of the development.

The other challenge that was issued to us at this time was to think very carefully about ‘future lighting technologies’ that might be readily employed on the project in 2008 rather than dealing with what was necessarily available in 2000. The three main issues that we raised in this respect was the potential change from high pressure sodium to metal halide in the campus areas, which for BAA was a big issue at the time. The next was the predicted use of LED’s though even our foresight could not have predicted quite how fast that revolution would travel in the period of the project. Finally we looked at issues of site-wide lighting control using protocols such as DALI in that we firmly believed it was the key to a cultural shift within BAA from the lighting being simply on or off. Of each of these only the use of LED’s became an issue as the perceived cost of employing such sources was a big question in the client’s mind some five years ago and so their use is relatively thin on the ground. Having said that there are very few applications beyond the kicker lighting to escalators and perhaps lighting to staircases where they would have proved of much worth anyway. Otherwise both the move away from SON and the adoption of lighting controls that provided the benefits of energy management, feedback and emergency lighting monitoring were all positively adopted.

In endeavouring to ‘think big’ about the whole scheme we ultimately determined a detailed lighting strategy for the project that hinged around a number of key points. We always described these ‘objectives’ as like having big switches in a room. We asked if you could throw the first switch what would it be, and then the second and so on such that we arrived at an optimum, prioritised high level list of Primary Objectives’ as follows:

1. Maximise the opportunity afforded by daylight and sunlight.
2. Assist with the routing of passengers and other users.
3. Assist with meeting the objectives of the way-finding strategy.
4. Design for general illumination of flexible space.
5. Develop a distinct character for each area and reveal its form.
6. Illuminate each area with reference to its context.

Following that we then developed a list of ‘Secondary Objectives’ that would support other lighting related activities:

1. Facilitate the strategy for general signage.
2. Support the objectives of the retail scheme.
3. Compliment the objectives of the design for CIP areas (passenger lounges).
4. Integrate with the requirements for commercial display.
5. Provide opportunity for change and spectacle.

Finally a set of ‘other’ less tangible objectives were agreed:

1. Help maintain human scale.
2. Control contrast to facilitate ease of adaptation and degree of uniformity.
3. Determine the use of coloured light and lighting of coloured surfaces.
4. Provide opportunities for modelling and the creation of texture.

The other thing we explored at the time was a list of ‘Design Criteria’. These were factors that we knew would have to be considered in order for us to achieve the balance across the scheme between aesthetic, functional, environmental and cost considerations. These criteria were based on a long standing piece of work that had grown up in our studio based both on an excellent BRE publication called ‘Lighting for People, Energy Efficiency and Architecture’ (Good Practice Guide 2727 1999) on lighting design and also the work of the US design guru and philosopher Victor Papanek (Design for the Real World 1984). We presented these criteria as a ‘design matrix’ to our client and in so doing indicated to them clearly that throughout the scheme, and in all areas, they would be required to work closely with us to achieve the right balance between all the various ‘forces’ that would determine the final lighting design.
Also at this time, myself and one of the client team travelled to the Far East to look at the lighting of various airports including Kansai (Japan), Chep Lak Kok (Hong Kong) and Inchon (Seoul) together with a host of large volume spaces and transport interchanges. This research trip was pivotal in that it gave us a constant point of reference by which to discuss the lighting scheme and also the means by which to go back to other key decision makers in the team and discuss how various solutions had or hadn’t worked elsewhere with a good deal of confidence.

Finally, we toured through the various environments including the terminal buildings, rail, track transit system, car park, landscaped spaces, etc., laying down our first thoughts. In the case of the terminal buildings we carried out three key studies at this stage. One was to promote the increased use of daylight within the major spaces, the second was to provide the general lighting to the main concourse areas from direct sources rather than looking to predominantly indirect solutions (as we had found at the newer airports). The third was to introduce the idea that the lighting might change i.e. having different states according to the time of the day or night – a concept that was largely new to BAA at the time. The issue of going to high level downlighting, particularly for the main terminal building (T5A), was absolutely critical in that it would require high level access of a type that had not been planned at that time. We favoured the route, much as we were concerned about glare, on the basis that it seemed to be the only logical way to provide complete flexibility and at the same time meet BAA’s onerous energy targets. Whilst schemes for using lighting columns scattered across the floor plate were investigated it was felt these created clutter and would also prove much less flexible over time. After much deliberation and a number of reports it was agreed that all areas were to be predominately downlit with the only concession to ‘expression’ of the building form being the dramatic uplighting of the principle structure.

Of course describing such decisions about just one part of the project greatly undervalues our overall input at that time as we were developing ideas for all areas, the detail of which are too elaborate to describe here. By example, we went through an arduous exercise of trying to rationalise BAA’s approach to illuminating car parks, part of which survives to this day - the use of DALI controlled dimmable ballasts to help manage and monitor the lighting. We also worked closely with the landscape designers Hyland Edgar Driver to look at a vast swathe of the Colne Valley including the approach road from the M25, the internal campus and the major space between the car park and T5A which became known as the Interchange zone. In such cases we were generally pursuing a ‘less is more’ principle in that environmental impact was a major issue that had fallen out of the public enquiry.

As for the rail environment, we were trying to reconcile both the client and three train operators (London Underground, Heathrow Express and Crossrail) not only to accept a common set of standards but also a number of innovative new ideas – for instance lighting the track bed with blue light to help enhance both safety and improve the image of space. Finally, our work on the main terminal building was also echoed in the satellite that in itself required a real discipline to be developed with respect to a common language of light, luminaires and details that could be shared across two buildings that were of very different scales.
We brought together that first stage of work in June 2001 a major opus called the ‘Terminal 5 Lighting Concept’ that in essence was a high level, aspirational document for the public lighting across the whole project.

Whilst it was clear to us at the time that it was unlikely that our client would afford all of the ideas we were heartened by the positive response our ideas received. Most interestingly looking back on it now we realise that all the key decisions we made at that time are all still with the project to this day.

Once the concept was in place we then embarked upon a whole series of consultation exercises within BAA itself, with the Civil Aviation Authority, National Air Traffic Services (NATS), Hillingdon Council, DPTAC (Department of Transport’s access group) and BAA’s mighty influential retail group. At the same time as consulting the client and third parties we also spent a good deal of time testing our ideas with the design team which at that time included five architects - Richard Rogers Partnership (concept), YRM (masterplan), Pascal and Watson (executive), Chapman Taylor (retail) and HOK (rail) - and a raft of engineering consultants including DSSR and Arup facades. Alongside this were other consultants such as Hyland Edgar Driver working on the landscape, Turner and Townsend on cost and in due course Priestman Goode on industrial design and products. Working with the team and getting to explain the concepts was a very positive experience and in the main we found nothing but support for our ideas.

As I have alluded to a lot of key components of the lighting scheme came to fruition at that time and whilst some bit the dust, such as the elegant solutions for the glazed link bridges to the aircraft – unfortunately replaced by the air bridge manufacturer’s own rather crude solution and a whole series of illuminated floors that formed thresholds into spaces (those were abandoned due to concerns over future DDA compliance) – much of what we determined was taken through to the next stage.

Space obviously doesn’t permit the detailed description of each and every area but key points included the following:

We developed an overall lighting strategy for the whole campus not only including the principle public areas but also everything from the fuel farm to the de-icing facilities. Whilst many of the more radical concepts did not find their way through to the conclusion of the project that various standards that were laid down for planning purposes were adhered to. This includes the lighting for the approach roads, welcome roundabout, vehicle ramps, etc.

The concept for forecourt lighting was to carefully integrate the lighting into the design of the canopies such that it created a lit landscape on the roof of the car park building. This not only needed to consider the requirement for meeting the lighting standards for a busy drop off area but also the visual impact of what would be a ‘glowing’ top deck to the car park on the distant views across the Colne Valley.

Car Park and Bus Station:
Whilst the lighting for the car park ultimately reflects the standard BAA ‘product’ the introduction of control systems, improved vertical illumination and high quality metal halide lighting to the entry point has greatly raised the overall experience of the car park when compared to Heathrow’s normal offer. The bus station is also lit to a high quality using a combination of direct and indirect illumination thereby preventing it from feeling gloomy.

The interchange zone was deliberately left relatively dark to act as an illuminated landscape in which tree groups, the canopies that cut across the space, the ‘rail box’ water features, artworks, etc., would read as clearly legible lit elements.

Terminal Buildings:
The sheer number of spaces within the two terminal buildings make it impractical to describe here. Lighting schemes were developed for the departures and arrivals concourses, international and domestic departures lounges, gate seating areas, arrivals corridors, immigration, baggage reclaim hall, customs, etc. Beyond the ability of the general lighting systems to provide different lighting ‘scenes’ the concentration was on creating the right ambience, ensuring that a degree of transparency was maintained to the airfield outside and providing integrated lighting to lifts, escalators, staircases, beacons and signage to help with way-finding and routing. The other major aim was to provide definition to all key vertical planes and architectural features to help create a highly legible environment in which the lighting scheme would be sufficiently robust to support the various retail, CIP and advertising requirements. It should also be noted that an events infrastructure was planned at high level to help provide additional lighting as and when required to support festivals such as Christmas and ongoing retail led requirements.

Rail/Track Transit System:
The lighting of the various transportation systems has necessarily adopted unified standards that were agreed as part of the project. This in itself was quite a feat! This approach however did not prevent the creation of a dramatic interpretation of the sequence of spaces that make up the journey from grade to the sub-surface environment. The concept reflected the process of coming up into natural light by day and going down into the lit underground environment after dark. The addition of feature lighting to the track beds creates a unique sense of identity for the main rail station.

Heathrow Air Traffic Control Tower:
The internal lighting for the new control tower was also part of the Terminal 5 project. This included working with NATS to develop an innovative system for the lighting the main control room using a network of individually adjustable fibre optic lighting points that can be carefully focussed onto surfaces to meet visual requirements but without recourse to reflections in the windows. There was also a plan to illuminate the exterior but this was dropped on the basis of potential complaints from the residents of Windsor – and in particular the castle!

Following the issuing of the concept in June 2001 we then entered the next phase of the project which was to take the best part of a further year. This initially saw us being commissioned to draw up a ‘test scheme’ for the entire project in which we aimed to identify approximate quantities and types of equipment. This proved very tricky for at that point the project was still very much at its shell and core’ stage and therefore identifying lighting for the various fit out areas was pure guess work. Using our common sense (and experience) we managed to arrive at a scheme for most areas including generic luminaire and control specifications. Whilst nearly everything changed later the one thing this exercise did was bottom out issues such as cost, energy use and access and in that sense all the hard work served the project well.

It also forced us to confront some of the bigger decisions that had to be made with respect to various details such as holes in floors for large direct burials, how we might successfully integrate lighting into everything from escalators to lift shafts and most importantly how some of the solutions might impact on major elements such as the cladding, structural design, etc. Indeed it was this period that also helped identify all the various major mock-ups and lighting tests that would need to take place one of which was carried out on a full scale section of the main terminal building that was constructed in Yorkshire. The original purpose of the building mock-up was to trial the erection sequence for the structure and cladding ‘off site’ to ensure that all the lessons learned could be employed on site when building the real thing. Whilst choosing to light the sample structural bay seemed whimsical many people told us that the photographs of the lighting mock-up did more to explain to many what we were there to do than any amount of presentations and from that point on there was a noticeable shift in confidence with respect to the overall lighting scheme.

So by mid 2002 the project pretty much had a draft lighting solution that had been refined from a set of high level concepts albeit based on a huge number of assumptions given the lack of a fit-out design. It was at that point things got interesting on two fronts. Firstly a firm of interior designers (Din Associates) was taken on board to develop the core concepts for the interiors of all areas. This was a highly creative but stressful period for everyone involved as they set out to ‘push the envelope’. We worked alongside their team for the best part of six months developing some pretty wild ideas which were to be layered over our core concepts. These were then slowly honed down into realisable solutions many of which have become key components within the spaces today. Following that Richard Rogers Partnership also intervened in the fit out bringing together the various ceiling and wall systems. Here our previous work with them on the Stirling Prize winning Barajas Airport, Madrid, proved useful in that we explored a variant of a ‘loose fit ‘disc ceiling and lighting system that ultimately became an important component within the interior scheme.

At the same time as developing the interior lighting we were also engaged in a constructive debate about how best to ‘deliver’ the concepts for all areas given that the ‘test scheme’ we had carried out would inevitably have to be heavily revised as a result of ongoing design development. Whilst ‘procurement’ of the lighting scheme might not seem the most critical of issues at this point I would say that our understanding and subsequent handling of this phase of the project is one of things we are most proud of in that we worked hard and imaginatively to come up with ways that we might reasonably stand a chance of making sure that the solutions we had come up with found their way through to the end.

To understand this issue further it has be appreciated that by that stage we had ceased to be employed by our original ‘main client’ - the BAA Design Group - but had been taken on by all the various sub-projects (T5A, T5B, Rail / TTS, Landside Campus and fit out). This was quite something in that whilst being one of the ‘smallest’ consultants on the project we almost uniquely ended up crossing all the defined project boundaries to become one of the only teams on T5 outside of the ‘Executive’ who possessed a ‘global view’ of the project. This wasn’t the first time we had experienced such a thing on a project as we long ago found that as light knows no physical boundaries, only visual ones, we are often required to look wider than a red line on a plan.

Whilst it was great on one hand to be in such a position it also gave us an acute logistical problem in that we were now managing a whole series of sub-projects all with their own client and project management group, programme, budget, payment systems, contractors, etc., and whilst we found a way through it somehow it was not the easiest of times!

One thing that fell out of this period was the issue of ‘procurement’. Like most major projects of this scale T5 had a robust supply chain that was very carefully managed. This controlled a whole series of ‘framework contractors’ and ’framework suppliers’ who were charged with delivering the various systems that made up the project. One of the ideas that was introduced at the time was that the method by which the various electrical contractors (AMEC, Balfour Kilpatrick and Crown House) might proceed was for them to go out to tender to seek a single source supplier for all the lighting equipment and that party would take on board the detailed design for the lighting. To begin with we were horrified by the idea as we had been working closely with a range of manufacturers on many parts of the scheme and could not imagine a single supplier ever meeting the project’s requirements.

The other thing that disturbed us was that we had always been used to carrying out the detailed design and specification of all our lighting schemes ourselves, not simply handing over a concept and then vetting somebody else’s work – and in particular the design department of a ‘non-independent’ supplier. At the same time we realised that scale and scope of the project and the speed it was proceeding on site would not allow us to work in our normal way so it seemed a logical step to engage with the supply chain and see how things might be made to work to everyone’s satisfaction. Our main concern, and that of BAA, is how we would not only keep control of the ideas we had developed and that they had approved but also monitor the progress of the scheme. In the end, and after much deliberation, it was agreed that we would prepare both an internal and external ‘Lighting Design Guide’ for all the areas we were involved in. This would not only coordinate the various lighting concepts, work them up to the next level and then describe them fully but also provide clear guidance on preferred sources, luminaires and control systems. The other requirement of the lighting design guides was to provide clear technical guidance on the standards to be adopted along with key details.

The lighting design guides were finally issued in December 2003 after which time we became what was euphemistically known as the ‘Lighting Concept Guardians’. This involved us not only in using the design guides as a baseline from which we could monitor the progress of the lighting schemes but also carrying out appraisals of various technical submissions, comment on samples of luminaires and attend a large number of lighting tests and mock-ups. Where things changed as a result of design development or issues on site we were then commissioned to carry out precise pieces of work on behalf of BAA to re-define the scope of the lighting design where necessary. In hindsight this process, whilst sometimes a struggle, worked really well and whilst I would not prescribe it for every project in this case, given the nature of the framework agreement, and the continuing clarity BAA had about the importance of our role, it became a very natural process and one which we could handle employing a scaled down resource within the two studios. This latter point was very important as having decided not to expand the practice to meet potential workload some while before there was always a danger that carrying out the detailed design for T5 might otherwise have subsumed both studios and made us into a one trick pony!

Following a tender process the appointed supplier to the project was announced as being Thorn Lighting and having got over some initial teething problems the relationship between ourselves as ‘Concept Guardians’ and their technical design department seemed to work very well - particularly in light of the fact that it was agreed that in areas where Thorn could not supply key fittings and details that met our requirements that other alternative products from different manufacturers might be employed. This particularly applied to various details where we had planned to use fittings from manufacturers such as SILL who provide a very specific technical performance for details such as uplighting in the main terminal buildings and the bus station. Given that some of these details had already been agreed with the architects, mocked up and structure and bracketry designed to incorporate them there was little argument in favour of using an alternative fixture for the sake of consistency with a supply agreement.

The remaining three years + of the project therefore proceeded in a relatively orderly fashion with the contractors and Thorn developing the final lighting schemes and us monitoring and commenting on their submission. Even though elements of the lighting design were required to change in response to ongoing design and construction issues on site the team held firm, worked well together and ultimately delivered an overall lighting solution to all areas of the project that accurately reflects the original design intent.

Of course there are many details that might have been done differently, and more than a few fixtures which might have been more easily realised from sources other than Thorn, but all in all as a methodology for delivering a project of this enormous scale and complexity the process we went through proved to be reliable and robust. How it worked out in cost terms we have no idea as the commercial relationship was between the client, the framework electrical contractor and the supplier but assuming it was mutually beneficial it is certainly a method that we would be willing to try again but only where the situation genuinely demands it. In this case it did and to be honest had we gone down the traditional route I suspect that it would not only have been bags that people would have been waiting for on opening day but also light by which to see them!

Alongside our work with the various contractors and Thorn it should also be mentioned that there was a substantive input into the project from other lighting designers and engineers elsewhere. Alongside all the back-of-house lighting (AMEC / Thorn) there was also the lighting of the airside environment and other operational areas of the project (DSSR). There was the contribution of practices such as Light Bureau who worked with the canopy contractors on the forecourt and Pinninger and Partners who executed the highly creative design for the new BA lounges. Then of course, each and every retail unit within the project had its own individual lighting designers who are too numerous to mention, many of whom did a great job in contributing to the general ambience of the space. Finally, of course, there are some great interventions by artists such as Langlands and Bell who introduced dynamic colour and life into the Interchange zone by night as well as by day.

Of course, despite all the excitement of the early years, it was the final stages of the project which proved to be the most rewarding and the most interesting. I have always said that one of the great privileges of what we do is that we get to see some of the most exciting projects in the world get built and whilst we are not always intricately involved in each and every twist in the tale, T5 was no exception in that during the course of the entire construction project the ability to go onto site and watch the remarkable design and construction team make physical what had seemed barely tangible back in 2000 was a quite incredible experience. No more so was being involved in the closing year when the final fit-out took shape, the luminaires were installed and commissioned and we began to see whether our ideas had really worked. And whilst it is perhaps difficult to be objective at this point for there is still a certain amount of focussing, programming and snagging to be done (despite that fact that the project is up and running), it was only when I arrived at T5 a few weeks ago as a passenger for the first time after dark that I was able to really take in what it was that our team had achieved:
To me that night the over-riding feeling was that despite the struggle of the last eight years the thing we had all achieved was a massive increase in the overall quality of the lit environment when compared to what had gone before in airports in the UK. Certainly when seen against some of our previous projects T5 does not necessarily provide obvious ‘drama’ in every area but what it does do is create a sense of ‘consistency’ whilst giving an ever changing experience that accurately reflects the architectural qualities of the external and internal spaces.

Most of all, however, I believe we have managed to provide a real sense of ‘human’ scale and ‘legibility’ such that passengers and staff alike can really enjoy being in and around T5 at night without suffering from any sense of alienation, or disorientation.

Whilst that alone is an achievement we might all be proud of above all what we will take away from the project is not only the knowledge of ‘a job well done’ but also the experience. For throughout the long, drawn out process that has led to the final result we have learned not only how to handle light in a massive and highly complex set of environments but also find methods by which to deliver our ideas in an effective manner – despite employing a relatively small team of designers to do so.

So when you next fly into T5 after dark, whether its for the first time or as a regular passenger, rather than concentrating on the tittle tattle from the other passenger about whether their bags are likely to turn up on the conveyor or not (important as that is) please take some time to consider the lighting scheme and consider it against this story. And having done so then think that a similar story exists for every little detail in the building – for the structure, cladding, acoustics, ventilation, heating, finishes, signage, retail, seating...the list goes on...and realise what that ‘army’ I referred to at the outset of the piece really achieved as it was certainly more than a few lost bags!

Speirs and Major Associates Team

Concept Design:
Carrie Donahue Bremner
Claudia Clements
Sandra Downie
Malcolm Innes
Petra Kleegrafe
Mark Major
Francis Milloy
James Newton
Steve Power
Gill Pyatt
Philip Rose
Iain Ruxton
Jonathan Speirs
Scheme Design
and Delivery:
Sandra Downie
Mark Major
Francis Milloy
James Newton
Philip Rose
Iain Ruxton

Detailed Design / Supply:
Thorn Lighting Ltd. UK

Electrical Contractors:
Balfour Kilpatrick
Crown House



  • T5
  • T5

    The lighting design required over 75,000 luminaires, many of which were specially made. Thorn evolved the luminaires in close co-operation with BAA, Spiers and Major Associates and four of the principle contractors: AMEC, Crown House, Balfour Beatty Rail Projects and Balfour Kilpatrick

  • T5

    Installed by intelligent buildings controls systems integrator Andromeda Telematics, KNX equipment is helping to manage the lighting system, and will provide passengers with a well-lit and safe environment

  • T5

    The double-height baggage hall is lit by low energy suspended cylindrical downlights, mounted within a ceiling made of large white disks. One of the challenges of this alternative to conventional tiles was integrating Thorn Menlo Circular fluorescents (55W T5-C lamp) within specific saucers near the passport control areas

  • T5

    The building’s iconic wave-shaped roof is supported by 22 steel ‘torsos’, and as part of the scheme three Sill 467 Plane Projectors were fitted to each torso to uplight the roof area

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