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Saw Swee Hock Student Centre, London, UK

Issue 82 December / January 2014 : Architectural : Education

Lighting Design: ChapmanBDSP

Officially opened on 24th October, the BREEAM Outstanding rated Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics is a triumph in mobilising the limitations of a site into a startlingly original building which makes a massive contribution to its townscape. The lighting design, by ChapmanBDSP in conjunction with architects O’Donnell + Tuomey, was no less of a challenge.



Saw Swee Hock Student Centre is a special building. It absorbs the awkward and restricted site boundaries to provide internal spaces with a multiple of uses. The building excites, the spaces are as much of art as of use, the complex geometry, the use of colour and natural materials sit within a fair-faced concrete interior, and an intricate lattice of externally clad red brickwork.

As much craftsmanship as architecture, the sheer persistence of its architectural vison resounds throughout the building.The triangulated external façades of the building, extends through to the internal spaces, with each having a unique geometry and form.
Saw Swee Hock is a multifunctional building with a large music venue, pub, learning cafe, union offices, prayer centre, dance studio, careers library and gym. The project is located at the knuckle-point convergence of the network of narrow streets that characterise the London School of Economics (LSE) city centre campus. Architects O’Donnell + Tuomey created a public space at the threshold of the Student Union on axis with St Clement’s Lane, pulling pedestrian street life into and up the building.

The architectural intention for the design of the building was to create an active Student Union, the contemporary character of which was inviting, welcoming and even provoking to its users. Inside the building open stairways spiral around the central lift shaft that forms a skewering pivotpoint at the centre of gravity of the plan. These wide stairs with slow steps make a flowing continuous ribbon of movement from street to roof garden, a vertical building working as a single organism.

The use of daylight, natural ventilation and many other details led to the design being given a BREEAM Outstanding rating. When shortlisted for the RIBA Stirling Prize the judges were gushing in their praise of how natural light was designed to flow throughout the venue giving it a light and airy feel, something of an achievement for such a complex building: “The architects started by taking the geometry of tight angles as the definition of a solid into which they gouged cuts and cracks that give light and form.”

The lighting design for the striking building was carried out by ChapmanBDSP. The final implementation of which was carried out by the contractors, Osborne. The building seeks to be the best student centre in the UK, enhancing the student social experience and acting as a student hub at the centre of the LSE London campus.

“The lighting design for the project was challenging,” admits Farhad Rahim, Associate Lighting Designer at ChapmanBDSP. “Structural restrictions limited where luminaires could be located so each fitting had to be carefully co-ordinated with the structural make up of the ceiling slab joints and infrastructure, and raised floor support to provide supply and control lines, limiting the location of luminaires.”

A multitude of lighting arrangements had to be carried out as each location was also required to be considered within the overall architecture of each space. Luminaires providing function were also required to be part of the architecture, as visible components within the internal space.

“The shape, colour and location of each luminaire all play a part to maintain the integrity of the architecture,” comments Rahim. “The perseverance was worthwhile, I am so proud and privileged to have been part of the team, the building is truly inspirational.”

The lighting design was carried out in very close collaboration with the architects embracing the unique architecture and following form and function, integrating within the architectural fabric of the building.

The majority of the internal finishes are of fair-faced concrete from walls to ceilings. Vertical surfaces of colour provide contrast and define the interior. The colours used are a unique palette, a classic trait of O’Donnell + Tuomey. The building encourages students to congregate, engage and be involved.

The visibility of containment routes and wiring to luminaires are avoided with the use of the void space on the floors above to serve the luminaires located below. Conduits are recessed within the building fabric to serve wall mounted luminaires, the supporting vertical columns are utilised to mount luminaires with containment integrated within the columns allowing the intricate architecture, contours and purity of its geometrical form to take precedent.

The design ensures that all control gear is integrated within the luminaires to be accessible from the floor served to ensure ease of maintenance without needing to access the floor above, thus minimising disruption.

The illumination of the external façade is avoided, minimising light pollution and allowing the internal illumination of the building to act as a lantern with intricate lattice of brickwork on the external façade.

The use of the internal spaces by its occupants allows the façade to become a living and active lighting form, providing a visual language of the building’s usage during the hours of darkness.

The main ground floor entrance leads to the reception and main circulation staircase, providing vertical access though to other floors in the building. The lighting of the staircase incorporates linear luminaires recessed within a trough to provide general illumination as well as to complement the geometrical structure and form.

The main staircase and central lift core play a pivotal role in the fluidity and access between floors, with each area adjacent to the lift core designed to allow students to informally congregate, further empathising the building’s purpose to accommodate the requirement of its end users.

Adjacent to the main lift lobby on the ground floor is a spiral staircase providing access to the lower floors that holds the main event space and nightclub. Lighting is integrated within the slim handrail design, again complementing the architectural form and shape. The handrail lighting also functions as emergency lighting during power outage or failure.

The first floor includes the student café, for which the general illumination of the space is provided via bespoke lighting columns with branches to depict the form of trees, utilising uplighting to provide indirect lighting for a comfortable and shadow free illumination of the space below. The upward light is reflected via large oval shaped clouds above to act as both a reflecting surface and acoustics damping. Both columns and luminaires are painted to complement the colour scheme, which contrasts with the fair-faced concrete finishes to add visual interest.

The first floor also accommodates the student activity centre, which also applies a similar lighting strategy to the café with the use of indirect light distribution with tree like column structures with floating clouds.

The illumination of the media centre on the second floor consists of semi-recessed canister type downlights, which are supplemented with column mounted uplights, bringing a lightness and expanding the volume of the space. The Multi-faith rooms on the same floor are illuminated via indirect light distribution with low levels of illumination to provide a sense of serenity and calm.

The third floor accommodates the Student Residences office and Student Union office, both of which are illuminated in a similar fashion to the media centre, continuing a consistency of visual language and lighting philosophy, utilising semi-recessed canister downlights to provide task oriented illumination levels, which are supplemented with uplighting via spotlights mounted onto the vertical support columns.
The fifth floor accommodates the Student Careers Centre. Due the reduction of support columns, the uplighting components are addressed via horizontally mounted lighting poles onto which are mounted direction spotlights, providing both upward light and task orientated illumination.

The central staircase terminates on the fifth floor and access to the sixth floor is provided via a circular staircase similar to that leading to the Student Coffee /Juice bar. The lighting changes here with the use of Innermost Circus pendants to provide a decorative element.
The lighting control for the building utilises a central system, adopting a Dali protocol to enable future changes in the configuration of the lighting control and removing the requirement for alterations to the wiring infrastructure, minimising alterations to the building fabric or extensive manual labour to carry out future modifications.

The lighting operates on an automated detection system, with central override to allow main circulation spaces and other key areas to be constantly illuminated when required during core hours and revert to automated operation for outside core hours, allowing for a flexible control system.

The key elements for the lighting are to supplement the architecture and more importantly to provide illumination of spaces that are central to the user’s requirements and comfort. The greatest satisfaction is that users love the space that has been provided for them and have embraced the building that has been designed to the students’ and users’ requirements.


Saw Swee Student Centre
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