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Cabot Circus, Bristol, England

Issue 47 Feb / Mar 2009 : Retail : Mall


Bristol’s city centre has been rejuvenated with the help of Pinniger & Partners. Lighting designer Ian Payne explains

In September 2008, Cabot Circus opened its doors to the public in the heart of Bristol. A £500 million joint venture between Land Securities and Hammersons, Cabot Circus has brought new life to the city centre with a mixture of retail, leisure and residential buildings.

Based upon a master plan by Chapman Taylor, eleven buildings designed by Chapman Taylor, Stanton Williams and Alec French with a landscape design by Novell Tullet combine to form a series of streets and spaces; creating a new piece of urban cityscape and one of the most exciting mixed use developments in the UK.

In 2005, following initial work by Hoare Lea, Pinniger & Partners were commissioned to provide a comprehensive lighting strategy, covering all aspects of ambient, accent and aesthetic lighting across the project.

Critical objectives included a minimum energy consumption, standard lighting products throughout (architecturally integrated where possible) and a design that would respond to the individual character of the wide variety of different buildings, streets, spaces and anticipated usage.

Being appointed towards the end of scheme design inevitably brought a number of interesting challenges. Not only were we tasked with producing concepts, scheme and detailed design information in a matter of a few months but we also had to attempt to introduce lighting details into building facades that were already being constructed. With a tight programme and lighting budget, eleven buildings, two link bridges and a new landscape, it soon became apparent that the choice and location of light fittings would have to be very carefully considered to achieve maximum lit effect from every single light fitting.

A layered lighting strategy was developed across the site providing a unified lit landscape at night time whilst also allowing the individual building characters to be expressed. Streets and spaces are lit from building mounted lighting to ensure streetscapes were kept as uncluttered as possible. Throughout most of the internal streets the WE-EF Roxxy fitting with warm white metal halide lamps has been utilised for street level ambient lighting.

The facade mounted lighting also provides some vital accent lighting onto the buildings highlighting the warm tones of the brick and stone cladding. This also ensures that, as a 24 hour public access environment, a high quality illuminated street environment is retained when all the retail and feature lighting is switched off.

Additional modulation in ground level illumination is introduced by localised lighting to trees, low height walls, handrails, steps and seating across the site.

At high level along the streets and above the main central space a spectacular contoured glazed roof changes an external environment into a partially covered internal one. Achieving the correct levels of transparency through the roof was a critical element of the design – leading to the decision not to illuminate the roof directly – rather to allow a more subtle expression to be delivered from the reflected light from retail units and the extensive facade lighting.

The contoured shape of the roof cuts half way across some building facades – so to ensure consistent facade appearances Pinniger & Partners developed a series of cold cathode luminaires with Oldham Lighting to be mounted at various levels of the facades. These fittings provide an architectural wash light up or down selected facades, ensuring the shoppers at various street levels can view the full height of the surrounding buildings through the glass roof.

The use of colour played a critical role in the overall lighting strategy. Working closely with the client and design team, Pinnigers emphasised that the correct balance of coloured light and coloured architectural surfaces lit with white light should be complimentary. Cabot Circus architecture has been designed with the majority of the retail units facing onto the internal streets, with solid stone facades facing outwards onto the main circulatory roads around the site.

Retail units provide lots of colour with window displays and signage so we decided that any coloured lighting should be focused on the external facades of the site. By lighting these facades with coloured light, it provides a taste of the activity and colour that can be seen in the internal streets.

As mentioned earlier, integrating lighting details proved challenging as the project was already into construction. This is most evident on the external facades where we had some success in designing recess details to conceal linear LED fittings but in some cases we had no choice but to surface mount the fittings on the facade. However, we feel that the overall lit effect of these facades has been a success with a mixture of warm white facade washes, splashes of colour to punctuate the facades and cool white highlighting to textured stone at street level.
House of Fraser is the impressive corner stone building designed by Stanton Williams Architects. The monolithic stone facades create very strong geometric lines and planes.

As a contrast to the soft linear washes of light implemented on other facades, we have created a much more graphic lighting effect. We worked with Lightlab to design a variation of their Glowline product that can sit precisely within selected vertical joint lines of the stone facade. These are located carefully across the building, providing just enough lighting to define the extent and form of the general mass and facade angles. This vertical graphic is then picked up with vertical glazed light boxes at street level and an LED mullion detail on the Wilkinson Eyre link bridge that spans the road next to House of Fraser. The final feature on this building is a high level colour changing LED light box that creates a visual link to blue elements across the site.

At the opposite end of Cabot Circus is Quakers Friars. This area has been designed as the quieter area with a mixture of high end retail units, restaurants, residential and the listed friary building. We have maintained our lighting principle of facade mounted lighting providing street level ambient lighting and some accent lighting onto stone columns and facades. Bespoke lighting columns located in front of the friary building provide ambient lighting to the main square. An additional layer of accent has been created with bench lighting and in ground lighting to trees. The overall lit environment is created with subtle layers of warm white light as in the main development but the materials and scale of the buildings help to create a very different, more restrained feel at night time.

The successful realisation of architectural lighting designs was the result of a close working relationship within a very tight time frame from a wide variety of team members. Land Securities and Hammerson’s supported the often challenging Pinniger design vision; Chapman Taylor, Stanton Williams, Alec French and Novell Tullett all worked hard to try and integrate Pinnigers lighting details into the architectural language, Hoare Lea provided critical support with electrical engineering expertise and McAlpines were tireless in their endeavours to deliver the vision.

The complex architectural lighting within Cabot Circus are a testimony to everyone’s efforts and ensures the different architectural forms, materials and textures are represented at night through a combined hierarchy of unobtrusive and dramatic lighting treatments.


The central space, covered by a dramatic glazed roof (created by artist Nayan Kulkarni and Chapman Taylor), is illuminated from surrounding architectural facades. High level cold cathode lighting (Oldham Lighting) ensures the roof has some transparency at night-time

Photography: James Newton unless stated
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