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Active Learning Laboratory, University of Liverpool, England

Issue 49 Jun / Jul 2009 : Architectural : Façade



Arup Lighting has created a spectacular façade to brighten up Liverpool's Active Learning Laboratory - by using colour changing LEDs from Siteco.

In parallel with Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture in 2008, the University of Liverpool’s Department of Engineering received a facelift. The department was enthusiastic about the idea of illuminating the façade of their Active Learning Laboratory using endless artistic colour scenes to highlight the building’s presence. They wanted to make a statement that the University was not only providing a new education building with first class facilities, but also one which would advertise itself to the City of Liverpool and to the wider audience in an area which surrounds the city from afar.

There is also a lot of rivalry between the University of Liverpool and John Moore’s University in attracting students and the client wanted this building to “outshine the competition”. Being located next to the Roman Catholic Cathedral, the highest landmark in the City, Arup Lighting proposed the use of rich vibrant, multi-coloured images to ‘paint’ the façades with light in order to raise the profile of the University at night.

The client was also attracted to the use of coloured light as a visual sign representing celebrative calendar events such as St George’s Day, St Patrick’s Day, Christmas Day etc as well as a medium for short messages to advertise University activities.

The Active Learning Laboratory façade lighting was developed by Arup Lighting’s Mark Lewis and John Waite with support from Richard  Morris with Sheppard Robson Architects as part of the University of Liverpool’s Engineering Buildings refurbishment.

The façade’s 1500sqm of glazing floats one metre above the main building and consists of alternate rows of 1400mm dotted pattern and 800mm clear glass panels on each of the seven levels. A total of 413 dotted panels provide a highly reflective surface for illumination using specially selected RGB (19212 x 1W) LED linear luminaires from Siteco.

The lighting effects can be programmed to display simple numbers, letters and geometric shapes as well as an infinite array of lights, colour, morphing designs and patterns with selective fading over set time periods. This is achieved by allocating a unique addressable number to each LED luminaire to allow almost any configuration of colours to be applied. The result is that a passive rain screen by day becomes alive by night using a dynamic low-resolution canvas onto which inspiring kinetic designs can be superimposed.

Working closely with the Architect and Arup Structural Engineers, Arup Lighting put a major emphasis on ensuring the appearance of the luminaires and associated wiring were made invisible during the day. This was achieved by installing the power and data cabling within a discreet trunking system mounted behind the façade framework. This trunking system emanates from the base plant room on the north façade and rises vertically up the building behind the glazing panels in a single central spine before branching out at each level to serve the LED luminaires. The trunking system houses both power and shielded data cables configured in radial circuits to eliminate ground loops thus avoiding electromagnetic interference.

These radial circuits loop in and out of the appropriate IP rated LED driver boxes, hidden from view above the façade structural holding brackets, before being connected to the adjacent 1200mm linear LED luminaires. Each LED luminaire is located at a specified distance and angle (determined by carrying out mock-ups) at the base of every dotted glass panel. The DMX control station is located in the plant room at the base of the building and has the facility to be integrated and controlled remotely from the university facilities management offices via the campus network. The complete installation was procured with the assistance of Siteco.

A key feature to the project’s success was the many on-site mock-ups carried out that helped to demonstrate to the client and Architect the merits and performance of each of the shortlisted manufacturers’ LED luminaire products being considered prior to the façade erection.


Pics: David Millington

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