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St Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London, UK

Issue 61 Jun / Jul 2011 : Retail : Hotel


Designed by George Gilbert Scott and opened in 1873, the Midland Grand was a short-lived icon of Victorian London. Now, 76 years after its closure, St Pancras Chambers has been restored to its former glory by RHWL and Richard Griffiths Architects with a sympathetic yet innovative lighting scheme from AECOM. Here, Martin Valentine who was the project leader for AECOM, describes the project that became an obsession

St Pancras Chambers has always been close to my heart. I spent thirteen years working on Sir George Gilbert Scott’s previous building, the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) in Whitehall, London, that included working on the lighting of all its fine areas. Around the end of that time in the early ‘90s I actually spent a year working on the Protection Works project for St Pancras Chambers, a role that required the design of the clock face lighting, and various bespoke lanterns for lighting the entrance portico, station arches and through to the cab rank. As an engineer, as I was at the time, I also designed the lightning protection for the whole building which meant I spent months roaming the derelict basement levels and crawling over the roof. To then land, around June 2006, the specialist lighting for the St Pancras Chambers refurbishment project was a dream come true and I found my detailed knowledge of this complicated piece of historic architecture was invaluable in winning the project and assisted greatly in the early design team meetings. From the onset I had a real passion for the building and sense of responsibility too. It has been one of the most rewarding projects I personally have ever worked on and hopefully we have done it justice.

AECOM Lighting Group was appointed quite late in the design process so, from the onset, we had the Consultants and Contractors demanding locations and routes to avoid holding up the program. Many allowances had been made to this aim already and I quickly had to make decisions to change much of these and give me the breathing space to spend a little time on the concepts and details. In many ways the lighting design approach had to be decided on in the first three or four months. There were tremendous constraints too as the building is English Heritage Grade-1 Listed and as such it is extremely difficult do anything without being ready to present the ideas and justifications to English Heritage. So understanding the history of the building becomes equally as important as the lighting design itself and the years spent doing the FCO were especially invaluable. Knowing how Sir George Gilbert Scott constructed his buildings was another help as structurally there can be many constraints and surprises. Also challenging was the nature of the refurbishment itself. Much of the building from the second floor upwards is residential, with a variety of apartments from one-beds up to four-beds and a penthouse. The lower parts of the building are the Renaissance 5* Hotel (part of the Marriott group) areas supplemented by a new separate hotel wing along the Midland Road called Barlow House. Each had completely different briefs and requirements with many lines of responsibility blurred as far as visual and physical separation.

The most challenging areas were the Grand Stair, on which all eyes would be sharply focused, and the old cab rank which was to become an inside space housing the new hotel’s entrance, reception and ballroom. This flexible use area in particular was challenging as one (initially) was not allowed to touch the walls or the roof.

Two other spaces were very exciting: the vast sub-basement scullery and kitchen areas were to be turned into a luxury spa and the old ticket office was being turned into a bar/cafe. In all cases, retaining the right balance of the history of the building and the needs, identity and feel of the new hotel client was a long process.

The beginning of the design process was a case of deciding which interiors were essential to be researched and designed to bring them back to as they were in the Midland Grand’s prime in the late 19th/early 20th Centuries. We also had to decide which areas would need to be balanced as a blend with modern hotel use, using contemporary design, respectfully selected within their historic rooms.

Absolutely no original lighting fixtures remained in the building, not even a part-casting remained although many interesting items were uncovered throughout construction. Much of the original wallpaper was layered under many coats of paint starting from the late Victorian era when the hotel’s original ornate finishes were found too vulgar for the tastes of the day. The gilt and painted plasterwork were painted over too. Many interiors have now been restored to their original designs and the hotel’s original entrance on Euston Road (now another bar), the ground and first floor corridors and the Grand Stair are the main public areas where you can see how the building looked originally. These are the areas in which much time and effort was spent on research and for which we tried to convey to the client and design team the mood that was necessary to achieve.

I used a number of methods for this including using stills from numerous films such as the Third Man and Citizen Kane, images of various parts of the FCO and hand sketches, all of which tuned down people’s expectation and reliance on computer visuals, lux levels and modern interior lighting approaches. These worked very well in gaining approvals and enabled us to proceed.

I pretty much refused to base anything on the accepted norm for lighting levels as this would be far too much for a building of this sort and especially hard to achieve anyway given the fixture design envisaged and the constraints on spacing and potential glare. Luckily I’d been through similar arguements twenty years ago at the FCO and we successfully lit those corridors to no more than 30 lux. Emergency lighting however was one area we strived to ensure complete compliance with the European standards.

For a Grade-1 Listing it is not always a definitive requirement that you have to recreate every single thing painstakingly like some form of archeology. The prohibitive cost to do this cannot be overlooked and suitable compromises can be discussed and justified if one is bringing a building back to life, especially one that has been derelict for so long. English Heritage appreciated that the hotel in particular needs to work commercialy as a modern building and be used for many generations to come. Modern building safety standards necessitate a lot of hard work and compromise even to allow basic occupation.

With lighting it is a common mistake, I think, to feel that anything sourced just from the particular era will be acceptable and this is especially the case with St Pancras. Typical Victorian designs for the day bore little similarity to the gothic palatte with Scott himself commissioning Francis Skidmore’s company in Coventry for all the lighting fixtures and metalwork on the building to his own designs. Everything in the hotel was unique and, unfortunately, every single fixture was stripped out and lost many years ago, presumably in the ‘30s. I felt it was important to try and find as much original material as possible as the starting point for any fixture designs for the historic spaces.

We had access to the archives of English Heritage as well and I spent some time at the National Archives at Kew and The British Library (handy as it’s right next door to St. Pancras!). Some of Skidmore’s technical drawings, as well as those from Scott, are also available at the V&A.

Originally the hotel had gas lighting throughout via large lanterns in the corridors and various sizes of gasoliers in the rooms. These were the bare-flame variety with no mantle so the hotel interiors at night must have looked amazing with flickering shadows everywhere. Later (somewhere around 1920) all of these fixtures were converted to electricity. Through some of the photographs it was amusing to find that with the gasoliers this process involved removing the burners, inverting the arms 180-degrees and installing an Edison light bulb on each. After some initial protests we managed to prove to the design team that the gothic-castle looking iron pendants that hung all over the site, and had started to be put into storage, were in fact cheap 1960s additions and none should be making a comeback anywhere.

For the majority of the historic spaces I wanted, from the onset, to build new bespoke lanterns as close as possible to the dimensions of the originals but less ornate having a natural unlaquered brass finish rather than the shiny brass they appear to have been. I took the decision on recreating the lanterns early on as the listed ceiling rose positions were quite far apart and lanterns allowed me the platform to hide additional kit that would help compensate for this distance. Allowances had been made to wire additional positions in between to meet general modern spacing allowances but I stopped this happening early on after our appointment.

All these fixtures currently use clear long-life GLS candle lamps (25W or 40W) as I did not want to compromise the look of the fittings or the feel for the space. It has been written to revisit the lamp choice every twelve to eighteen months as in the future I know there will be suitable clear LED candle lamps coming into the marketplace and when both the colour quality and output becomes acceptable the changeover can take place without any alterations to fixtures or infrastructure. However, given the low lighting levels and wide sparce locations the overall load per floor area is under 5W/sqm when all switched on.
KEY AREAS (see pictures for further areas)
For the new formed hotel entrance spaces within the old cab rank, as well as for the bars and function rooms we worked with the hotel’s interior desginers to find the right balance between the hotel’s contemporary brand and brief whilst maintaining the integrity of the architecture. For these spaces we could not attach anything to the walls so most lighting is supplied via positions in the wood floor using bespoke floor outlets supplying freestanding and table lamps as well as large free-standing furniture pieces housing various fixtures. We worked with the structural engineers on the listed Victorian skylight roof to establish maximum loads and won approval for fixing positions to the beams allowing us to hang large pendants with, along the beams, additional spotlights to push up the illumination levels when needed and highlight planters and objects. Bespoke emergency downlights were also located adjacent to cable runs and everything supplied via a Moodmaker Lighting control system from Multiload. To assist with orientation to the reception desks and the old ticket office within such a large space some gentle uplighting of the ‘ex-external’ window reveals was achieved using ledge fixtures from Targetti with cables dressed behind drain-pipes and stone lintols.     
The Ticket Office Bar is one of my favourite spaces with the daytime and evening services having completely diffent lighting conditions. In the daytime natural light enters from both the cab rank and platform sides and one can appreciate the sheer height of the space. At night, apart from some gentle highlighting of the structual ribs of the roof, all the lighting is tailored down to low-level. Again much of the lighting had to be bespoke due to the constraints of the Heritage listing and one was not allowed to fix to the walls or to the retained ticket booth now forming the backdrop to the bar. Among the many solutions are special low-level emergency wall outlets adjacent to doorways designed in brass to match the other outlets in the space.
All recreated as much as possible to the original 1876 designs and only the existing and listed ceiling-rose locations used for re-lighting these long spaces. Recreated bespoke lanterns designed to house long-life candle lamps for general lighting, low-voltage halogen spotlights for ceiling highlighting with bespoke stabilising transformers designed specifically for each fixture and hidden LED emergency modules in lamp-holder stem of lantern for emergency escape lighting. Simple switching of the fixtures on two circuits for possible nighttime lower lighting level and target illuminances are all two to three times lower than modern recommended levels. All fittings are designed for future upgrade to LED sources in mind when these become viable both in lumen package and quality. The aim was to create as close as possible the original experience of the hotel corridors whilst allowing modern escape EN lighting standards to be met fully in the event of power failure.
The listing means we could not touch the ceilings or walls so bedrooms have bathroom ‘pods’ behind centrally located beds. All lighting is integral to this pod for the bathrooms. The rooms themsleves have low-level lighting with a modern mixture of glass and shaded GLS and some flourescent items fed via low-wall outlets. In addition to the basic approach we have hidden LED strips behind the window curtain boxes and dimmable warm fluorescent fittings on top of the bathroom pod to uplight the room via the bedrooms’ lighting control systems when wished or for cleaners.
The apartments are all very comtemporary and designed to meet Part-L Building Regulations. Warm white Stat and Flip LED downlights from Cube Lighting are used in place of halogen and low-level 3 watt LED wall fixtures are used on the internal stairs. We were very focused on allowing the residents to hang their own choice of chandeliers in the appartments’ prime positions and so provided separate power and switching for this and terminal boxes adjacent to hanging points. Dimmer switches were used whereever possible and plenty of 5A outlet circuits for residents to decide themsleves how to approach the living spaces.
I am very happy with the result. I was fortunate to have a walk around site with the client when I was in London in March and saw things close to completion. The client (Harry Handlesman, owner of Manhattan Loft Co.) was a driving force throughout the whole project. Initial budgets were continually being exceeded but he had a passion for the building and felt a responsibility for doing what was right for it. He made me, along with everyone else, show him why things had to be done and if he saw it was right, gave approvals quickly. For the lighting proposals, the architects and English Heritage were all very supportive of the whole vision and process and I don’t think I have ever worked on a project with a client and design team as good.

As far as energy efficiency is concerned for the project I strongly believe that it is not just about the lamp technology one uses, true efficiency is in how and where that technology is applied! Lowering of light levels is one key achievement and naturally keeps lighting loads lower from the onset. Choosing the best sources for each application is what was aimed for throughout. If these, in many cases, had to be tungsten or halogen then so be it. But in these cases wherever possible we used dimming scene-setting systems, stabilised transformers or multiple switching. Lamps specified were long-life versions and as lower a wattage as possible. Everything has been designed for the next generation of clear LED lamps and spotlights to be able to be retro-fitted in the future without any infrastructure changes. Metal halide, fluorescent and LED fixtures were used in every instance they could and where they had benifits. Energy usage is still low compared with most hotels I’ve worked on but to show how the interiors look and feel was the starting point and everything worked backwards from this.

Roles on the specialist lighting design within AECOM Lighting

Martin Valentine worked on the previous St Pancras Chambers Protection Works Project in the mid-’90s when he was Senior Electrical Engineer and Lighting Principal for Troup Bywaters & Anders Consulting Engineers. He also worked on Sir George Gilbert Scott’s previous project: The Foreign & Commonwealth Office refurbishment for TB&A from 1986 to 1999. Many years later he was Lighting Group Director at AECOM when in June 2006 he bid and won the appointment for the Main St Pancras project’s specialist lighting (areas set out below). Throughout the next five years he led the design of the whole project. Martin left AECOM in June last year (spending his last working day on site at St Pancras at the Client’s request!) to move to the UAE and take up the role of Lighting Expert to the Municipality of Abu Dhabi City.
Emily Dufner was a Senior Lighting Designer at AECOM Lighting and worked on the project from 2006 until around mid 2008.  She worked closely together with Martin to develop the design, research the spaces, develop the bespoke line of luminaires, and determine the detailed solutions for all spaces. She created most of the concept artwork and final specification and design drawings. Emily now heads the Lighting Design office for Arup in Berlin.
Anna Kozlowska is Lighting Designer at AECOM Lighting Group working with Valentine on the project from 2009 onwards and latterly with Xavier Fulbright. Anna did the lion’s share of the work on the Club Lounge and Conference suites during this time as well as final detailing of the Spa area and the recent on-site installation issues.
Xavier Fulbright took over the Senior Lighting Designer position in the London office of AECOM around the end of last year. He has since been working with Anna on site resolving issues.

The rise, fall and rise of St Pancras Chambers

Built between 1866 and 1876 (part opened in 1873) by the Midland railway company to front it’s new London terminus, the hotel was originally called the Midland Grand. The Architect was Sir George Gilbert Scott who was previously responsible for the Albert Memorial and Foreign & Commonwealth Office amongst other notable buildings. It was the first hotel to have lifts, the first to have a complete gas-lighting system and later the first to be converted to electricity. Almost from the start however the hotel was not a success and whilst it did not actually make a loss for the company it barely broke even year after year. One of the reasons was that it was not built with the recent (at the time) innovation of en-suite facilities in mind and had only around seven shared toilets for all the guests. The hotel’s unique and complicated construction made it impossible to change this situation. This, combined with company mergers and restructuring of train companies in the twenties, meant the Midland Grand struggled through to 1935 when it eventually closed.

It remained derelict until the 1960’s and was marked for demolition until a public outcry led by Sir John Betjeman saved it and led to it being given Grade-1 listing and known since as St Pancras Chambers. The following years saw it partly used as British Rail offices until a first stage of its revival was undertaken with a Protection Works project in the mid ‘90s to treat the roof, facades and structural elements to protect it from any further degredation and prepare it for the future redevelopment that was planned. This redevelopment stalled for many more years with a struggle to find an interested client and suitable use until Manhattan Loft Co. stepped in early this century to redevelop the building into luxury appartments and a 5* hotel.

Project Details
St Pancras Chambers, London, UK
Client: Manhattan Loft Co.
Architects: RHWL & Richard Griffiths Architects
Interior Design: GA International
Lighting Design: AECOM

Lighting Specified
Various decorative fittings throughout specified by GA International; Various bespoke antique fittings for Grand Staircase, East Staircase, Hotel and Residential Corridors, Ladies Smoking Room and Restaurant Bar by David Turner Workshop; New External lanterns and refurbishment of existing external luminaires by Sugg; Fittings for East Starcase by Limbers; Targetti Esedra Minima linear fluorescent uplights for 5th Floor Corridor; ETAP K9 surface mounted emergency luminaires for Ticket Office Bar; ETAP bespoke LED fittings for Ticket Office Bar and Hotel Entrance Lobby; ETAP K9 3-hour Maintained wall-mounted LED Escape Sign for Ticket Office Bar; Targetti Dromo uplights for Grand Staircase, top level & Ticket Office Bar; Bega In-ground CD-M floodlights for hotel entrance; Agabekov Linear Flex Xenon for Restaurant Bar & Ticket Office Bar; Targetti ABACO surface mounted linear uplights for lobby & hotel entrance; Targetti Armilla surface mounted linear grazing uplight for hotel entrance (for windows); Precision Lighting surface mounted adjustable dimmable spotlight for lobby & function room
Bega drive over in-ground floodlights; Philips Color Kinetics LEDLine linear grazing floodlights; Bega surface mounted adjustable floodlights
Various free-standing decorative fittings throughout specified by GA International; Cube Stat 3 50 Recessed fixed downlighter IP20; Cube Flip 3 50 Recessed fixed downlighter IP20; Cube Showerlight  3 50 Recessed fixed downlighter IP54; Concord Continuum Recessed fixed linear downlighter (gym); Delta Light Castar 101 HP Wall mounted fitting, IP54 (SPA Pool area and swimming pool corridor); iGuzzini, LED emergency downlighters; Kreon Side in Line Recessed CFL wall light, IP40 (SPA toilet cabins, main corridor, bathrooms); Philips ColorKinetics iWCove Powercore (lobby); Philips LEDline Surface mounted LED profile, wide beam, IP66 (pool area); iGuzzini Zoom Spotlight mounted on arm (main corridor)
Multiload Technology VoltMaster Transformers for low voltage lighting and lanterns; Multiload for Hotel space controls


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