A landmark building for travellers arriving into the UK city of Manchester, 111 Piccadilly has been given a facelift with a new, dynamic lighting scheme, designed by local firm Artin Light.
Standing on Station Approach, the main thoroughfare in and out of the city of Manchester for travellers into Piccadilly Station, is 111 Piccadilly. Formerly known as Rodwell House, the high-rise development, owned by Bruntwood Works, was first opened in 1965, and has long been recognised as one of the first buildings commuters and visitors see on arriving in the city.
The building, defined by its sharp, grid-like geometry, has recently been given a new lease of life thanks to a dynamic new light art installation from Artin Light.
Brought in by Bruntwood Works via a connection with architects 3D Reid, Artin Light was appointed to transform and enhance the building’s architecture, bringing a sense of movement and vibrancy to its vertical and horizontal lines and turning it into a defining landmark for the city.
“Bruntwood Works was looking at the external lighting design, and they felt that there was a big opportunity to do something out of the norm, particularly as the building is fundamental in terms of the gateway into the city,” explained Luke Artingstall, Director of Artin Light.
“I met with them and pitched a number of design ideas, trying to think out of the box in terms of what we could do with the building to show the potential that it has and what we could do with the lighting, the main body of which was focused on how we can illuminate it to have an impact and make it a key gateway building.”
With Bruntwood Works already open to the idea of a creative lighting scheme for the building’s façade, this opened up a host of possibilities for Artingstall, ranging from traditional architectural lighting, through to more intricate and dynamic ideas, all centred around adding something awe-inspiring to this busy area of Manchester.
“I wanted to do something a little bit more unusual, something more dynamic that wouldn’t necessarily be static over time,” he added. “The design team’s initial thoughts, prior to Artin Light being appointed, were to uplight the building and focus on the vertical aspect of the tower, whereas the way that I looked at it was to look at both axes. If you strip back the geometry of the tower, it’s very simple and clean, so we looked at the vertical aspects and how we can play on the height of the building itself, and then also flipped that on its head, using the strong geometry of the horizontals to slice and intersect it in a way which is slightly different to what they first considered.
“Once the client and design team considered the way light could be used on the building in a more dynamic way, their aspirations for what we could achieve grew from there.”
As such, Artingstall was able to develop the concept from a simple façade lighting scheme into something more artistic, that would alter the way the building was perceived.
“From that point onwards, it wasn’t about illuminating the building or creating an external façade scheme, it was about creating a digital art piece that we could use in a way that would completely transform the nature of the building and how it was visualised, where we could use light in a graphic format.
“Our vision was to blend fiction with reality, creating a range of bold, geometric, linear infused forms that would transition from one form to another. Each transition was meticulously designed to deliver smooth, natural animations that were inspired by several forms of movement: generative flow; wind and water, the natural movement of particles in the air; and architectural traffic, defining the transitions in vertical and horizontal movement.”
This concept saw Artingstall approach the building in a three-dimensional manner, using light in a pixelated format to create 3D forms and structures across each of its elevations, “using the angles of the buildings and the façades to create the perception that the building is transforming into different geometries, but using that as the backdrop to the darker sky and creating a contrast between the two.”
To help bring this dynamic concept to life, Artingstall worked with local specialist integrators Studiotech, who developed the lighting controls and content generator for the live data streaming element of the scheme, opting for Osram’s Ecue lighting control system. The system works on an open API format, which allows for live data, generated through specific hashtags on social media to be translated into specific visuals of light, mirrored across the façade in particle-based forms, essentially turning 111 Piccadilly into a canvas for one of the largest live data streaming visual artworks in the world.
“Studiotech also presented a number of digitally addressable products that we could potentially use to achieve our design requirements,” Artingstall added. “And the technology behind what is happening in the software and control of the pixels means that of the three kilometres of linear LED on the façade, we can control every 125mm of the actual LED profile.”
On a technical level, the content generated for the exterior lighting scheme is something that Artingstall believes is integral to its success. “The building has the potential to be beautiful, intricate and elegant if the visual content is developed in the right way. Therefore, it was fundamental that the design of the bespoke visual content animation sequences were developed for the building. We developed the concept and artistic vision and direction for the bespoke animations, which were then developed in collaboration with a specialist motion graphics studio.
“Creating buildings with dynamic installations is great, but if we don’t utilise it to the full potential, it doesn’t matter how good the actual architectural install is, or what kit is used. We could use a really basic product and visually make it look absolutely exceptional with the right content, so we put a fundamental importance on developing content that was completely unique and designed specifically for this building.”
Ed Vickery, Director at Studiotech, added: “We can use control systems to collaboratively create magic. A lot of the time, you spend lots of money delivering beautiful schemes but the content creation is forgotten.
“The content was the driver for this, and was how we could create something truly magical. The architecture is fairly simple, so the real skill and ingenuity and unique aspect comes from the marriage between our EQ programmer, and Luke, who is an artist. That’s what makes this a unique, game-changing scheme.”
Adding this new, dynamic lighting scheme to the existing framework of 111 Piccadilly was not without its challenges though, as Artingstall explained: “There were a number of key things that we had to consider when we were designing the original scheme, one of which was putting this dynamic lighting system onto an existing building that we couldn’t necessarily perforate. We had to look at ways in which we could feed power and data into each floor of the building, but do it in a way that is designed and didn’t look like it was stuck onto the building.”
Artingstall therefore looked to use a bespoke architectural trunking system that sat underneath the existing ledges above and below the windows – this trunking system incorporates the lighting fixtures, as well as the drivers and power supplies, and has been finished in the same colours as the window frames, so that they naturally blend into the building without changing its visual fabric.
“We also had to look at a surface-mounted channel system, which then went from the base of the building all the way to the top, and that was where we obviously got the power and data in terms of the control aspect of it. That was probably, without getting into the installation, the key technical element – getting the power and data to the fittings in a way that didn’t detract from the existing architecture.”
Throughout the design process, Artingstall was in close communication with Bruntwood Works, providing reassurances to the client about the benefits that such a vibrant, dynamic scheme could bring to the city.
“There were multiple conversations and meetings behind the approval of the scheme – one of the biggest things about it was the fact that no one has done this in Manchester to this scale. Particularly the client had never got into the realms of this level of complexity and impact with lighting.
“One of the turning points in the decision was when we presented the importance that this could have to the city centre, how it would potentially be perceived and what it gives back on a cultural level.
“I don’t necessarily see this as being a lighting design project, I see it as a celebration of creativity and digital art and doing something new and innovative for the city. For me, it’s a reflection of the city itself and the direction we’re going in.”
Vickery added: “111 Piccadilly is a special project for us. Not only does it stand as a real beacon of the power of lighting, it also represents a shift that we’re so excited to see happen. Our towns and cities are the lifeblood of our country, and we need them to be supported in order for them to thrive once again.
“Bruntwood Works showed real courage in investing a significant amount of money in this feature and I believe it will have paid off for them, They have brought such life and vibrancy to this area of Manchester, which will have a massively positive impact.
“Largely because of the sheer scale, the project has been incredibly complex to deliver, but equally rewarding. Our hope is that this will act as a catalyst for further investment in dynamic and architectural lighting; the power of which cannot be overstated.”
Alongside the exterior lighting scheme, Artin Light was also asked to develop the lighting for 111 Piccadilly’s interiors. Described by Artingstall as a “yin and yang scenario”, the mixed-use, co-working space needed a lighting solution atypical to what one might consider for a working environment.
“When I was approached to work on the project by 3D Reid, they wanted to speak to me about the interior because they wanted it to have a hospitality feel. As a client they’ve been moving a lot more in this direction with their interiors, the way the space is used and the way people socialise and use the space – it’s not just about work, it’s about creating a mini community.
“With my hospitality background, that was the original driver for getting involved, and the interior design was very much a different kettle of fish to what happened on the exterior, but I still think they complement each other well.”
With a focus on the hospitality aesthetic, the interior lighting is designed around the multiple uses of the space. Architectural fittings from Precision Lighting, Optelma, XAL, Lumenpulse and iGuzzini are offset by decorative elements from Marset, Santa & Cole and Northern Lights to create a warmer, more relaxed ambiance, while architectural scene settings allow for the lighting to transition from day to night, giving the client an added flexibility.
“Moving away from the traditional, commercial-based lighting design that we may have envisaged five to 10 years ago, it is very much about mood, warmth, contrast, highlight and making things pop, and that was just as exciting for me getting involved in the interior aspects as it was the exterior.”
Artingstall continued that he believes workspace design will develop into a more fluid, mixed-use format going forward. “People want to be more flexible now than they ever have been before,” he said. “There will be an increase in flexibility in terms of how people use spaces, and from that perspective, the lighting design needs to work around that. I feel historically, we probably overlit spaces, and I think we’re going in a different direction now, which is a good thing.
“We still need to adhere to some of those key aspects of lighting design for office and working environments, but then there’s also that element of looking at it a little bit differently and more un-traditionally, which is more driven by this hospitality feeling. It’s finding that balance between.”
After a tumultuous year working amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the project is finally complete and ready to share, and Artingstall believes that the new lighting for 111 Piccadilly – one of the first major projects for Artin Light – has turned the building into a landmark piece of art for the city of Manchester, and a celebration of its rich cultural and creative heritage.
“For a number of personal and professional reasons, this project has been a very emotional rollercoaster, so to see it complete and to see the reaction that the client has had, has been truly humbling.
“I know in terms of technology that has been used and the way things have been done, we’ve not necessarily created something new, but what it has done is shone a light on what we can do as creative designers and artists, particularly in the north. Manchester is such a vibrant community built on worldly characters. We’re so culturally rich, and creativity is a big part of that. We’re starting to see it celebrated, but we need to be pushing it more, and part of that is seeing digital art or illuminated buildings or murals.
“We wanted this to be a landmark project, representing Manchester’s vivid, colourful, and diverse culture and celebrating our city’s community and progression. I believe that 111 Piccadilly is much more than an external lighting design; it’s a symbol of progression in the creative arts, and how it can enrich our experiences in the cities we dwell, work, and socialise in.
“We need to continue to be positive and create inspiration in the world we live in and adapt this to the times of change and technology we are so accustomed to. Manchester is becoming a smart city pushing innovation, and 111 Piccadilly symbolises this movement.”