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Halation, Southampton, England

Issue 43 Jun / Jul 2008 : Architectural : Light Art

Lighting Design: SIMON WATKINSON

Southampton City Council has launched its spectacular Halation project, illuminating the city's historic 600 year-old High Arcades along Western Esplanade with colour-changing linear LED strips from Pulsar Light.

The initiative to highlight Southampton’s five medieval arches near the waterfront is the result of a collaboration between light artist Simon Watkinson and Southampton City Council, under public arts officer Liz Smith. Costing £74,000 to stage, the project - part of the Southampton Public Art Strategy initiative - has been funded by the Area Investment Framework (AIF) and rubber-stamped by the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) and Southampton Partnership. Halation will run for a minimum of 18 months.

Tyneside-based Simon Watkinson’s work (largely within the Old Town walls) is already familiar to the Southampton community, and he has turned frequently in the past to the local branch of Stage Electrics to help realise his ambitions.

This time the challenge was to soften the arches using lighting strips fixed to metalwork - designed to simulate the timber frame construction that was a feature of Southampton’s Old Town. The metalwork ‘arms’ in turn create three ‘virtual’ arches within the five-arch superstructure, enabling the artist to mount a mesmerising stained-glass effect.

Acting as project manager, Stage Electrics’ Business Development Manager, Ed Gamble, considered how the artist’s concept might be implemented, and proposed 55 lengths of ChromaStrip X3, Pulsar’s IP65-rated RGB linear LED strips, driven over a seven-minute time cycle by a Pulsar ChromaZone RMX3 operating under generic DMX control. He said, “We went to Pulsar because we are familiar with the product, we know it is IP-rated and we know we can support it as the back-up is excellent. On top of that it has a very accurate beam angle of 45° so there is no overspill between the segments.”

Handling the DMX distribution from the master position in the central arcade is a concealed Swisson device - part of a range of DMX manipulation and sine-wave dimming products from the Swiss manufacturer that Stage Electrics represents in the UK.

The two criteria that the installation needed to meet were speed and sensitivity. In view of its heritage the work had to be carried out under the close scrutiny of English Heritage and be non-invasive. Thus it required its own ground support - the structure sitting on a 600mm x 600mm x 300mm concrete pad - covered by ballast, and had to be completely self-supporting.

With the control gear likewise concealed in metal boxes, the metal infrastructure was fabricated and installed by local company Scroll Gates, with  8 x 900mm 1W ChromaStrips and 3 x 600mm 1W strips affixed to the metalwork frame in each of the five arches. This provides the capacity for a near infinite number of colour combinations that have been programmed into the seven-minute sequence by Steve Brown.

Simon Watkinson explained that the installation had to be carried out “at breakneck speed” - views echoed by Ed Gamble and Liz Smith. A project that would generally require at least six months to co-ordinate in the event was delivered in two and a half months, they said. One of the biggest draws on both time and budget had been bringing the power to the site, enabling the feature to be activated nightly via photo-cell (a solar time clock) and switched off at 1am.

As for Simon Watkinson, he explained, “There was nothing psychological about the colour sequencing - although it is possibly thematic in relation to the sea, and also brings out the heraldic qualities. It is mostly based on the visual impression of stained glass and the shifting quality of the light.”

The structure itself had been derived from Southampton’s timber-frame heritage (particularly in the archaeologically-rich French Quarter) and this had provided the inspiration for the stained glass effect. “The walls have gone through a lot of permutations and I wanted Halation to emphasise these changes rather than be presented as a solid stone structure; the stained glass effect lessens the weight and creates new depths to the spaces. The idea was always to make it striking and simple, and I’m absolutely delighted with the result.”

Equally delighted is Liz Smith. “We had wanted to focus on the Old Town and its historic values, and this has become of huge heritage interest. “I think it’s a credit to the project team that we were able to pull it off in such a short period of time. We are delighted with the result, and I must say it has been great working with Stage Electrics and our own ground crew, led by Allen Miles.”

But she sounded one word of caution: As Halation begins its 18-month ‘season’ the installation will be closely monitored for any sign of erosion or fatigue; for in spite of the feature’s IP65 weather rating, the Western Esplanade is highly-exposed to the salt content.


Halation Halation Halation
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