German Gymnasium Restaurant, UK

Pic: Marcus Peel Photography

Paying special attention to the Grade II listed building’s spectacular architecture, Into Lighting’s illumination of London’s German Gymnasium is sympathetic to its history, while remaining contemporary and comfortable for the restaurant’s guests.

Located between King’s Cross and St Pancras railway stations, German Gymnasium was originally constructed in 1864 for the German Gymnastic Society. It was the first of its type in England and the first venue to host the National Olympic Games.

To complement the newly invigorated King’s Cross masterplan, London-based lighting design consultancy Into Lighting was appointed by D&D London to help realise architects Conran and Partners’ vision for a glamorous and contemporary European Grand Café, transforming the Grade II listed building into a unique destination. Conran and Partners’ concept sits as a refined modern insertion within the existing building; a Bauhaus version of a European Grand Café.

The team worked closely with landlord Argent’s base build team and its architects Allies and Morrison to preserve the building’s core structure, whilst making necessary interventions to prepare it for its new life as a hospitality venue.

The main spatial concept was to reinstate the first floor viewing gallery (previously in-filled in the 90’s for office space) to allow for impressive views of all dining areas and, most importantly, the breath-taking roof structure.

Many of the building’s unique historic details, such as the climbing hooks in the ceiling and cast steel columns, have been retained, setting the tone for the choice of materials, colours and textures for interior detailing. Warm, walnut timber panelling and black and grey distressed leather upholstery have been juxtaposed with fresh, contemporary insertions such as the occasional pink and red tone to add depth and visual interest.

Into Lighting was briefed by D&D and Conran and Partners to provide a theatrical and layered lighting scheme within the venue, which comprises the ground floor restaurant and bar, first floor restaurant area and bar, including the private dining area along with the external seating and bar areas. The lighting scheme was designed to enhance the space, both throughout the day and into the night, to complement the function of each space whilst creating an intimate warmth in the cavernous venue.

A key factor in the scheme was to highlight the magnificent architecture of the space as well as integrating the lighting to highlight the plush and sleek finishes of the various materials used for the interior design.

As with any Grade II listed building, attention had to be paid to mounting positions and cable routing for light fixtures. The control of the lighting was also a careful consideration within the design to ensure smooth and low-level dimming within the various scenes from day to night.

Darren Orrow, Director of Into Lighting commented: “We always relish the opportunity to work with listed buildings and take on the challenges involved. As lighting designers we have a responsibility to respect the fabric of the building and be sure to help visually communicate the history of the building to those who are to experience it.”

On entering the venue, the reception desk is the first element to greet the customer. This has been integrally illuminated using LED in a profile with diffuser to provide subtle illumination to the front of the desk. In addition, a low level lighting detail softens the monolithic form, while an uplit metallic screen behind the desk gently obscures the view through into the venue.

Positioned high above the main section of the venue, the focal point is the timber ceiling, which is viewed via the new expansive cut-out on the first floor slab. This is highlighted by an integrated LED lighting detail, uplighting the metal mesh balustrade running around the perimeter of the cut-out.

The main dining space on the ground floor is illuminated by high-level track-mounted halogen AR111 adjustable spotlights, mounted to the existing tie rods which span the building. The client specifically requested lighting to the tables from above. Also, the fixtures and light source chosen were selected by the client after numerous on-site mock ups where a range of different light fixtures were demonstrated from LED projectors, remote controlled LED projectors to halogen spotlights, hard-wired table lights and table-top candles. This particular light source was chosen due to the extremely narrow 4° beam angle, high colour rendering properties and the warm colour shift when dimming. A fitting with a deep set lamp and honeycomb louvre was specified to prevent glare for the diners and anyone looking up at the beautiful ceiling.

Upkeep was always going to be an issue with a halogen light source so Into Lighting highlighted to the client that a maintenance programme was essential. With this in mind, Into considered the use of lux lifts to raise and lower the lighting track for cleaning and relamping, however the client adopted for the services of an abseil company to maintain and clean all equipment not just lighting. Under the service contract, abseil equipment is left on site to enable next day high level lamp changes along with any other maintenance issues at high level.

Following on from the main dining space,  the bar on the ground floor is situated in front of the open kitchen with large bottle displays located on either side. These are illuminated with linear LED under each of the glass shelves with a separate LED to highlight the metallic surface on the back walls of the displays, complementing the underlit bottle display within the centre of the bar.

The main architectural elements within the venue are two grand staircases sweeping up either side of the ground floor café to take guests up into the higher level. The staircases have been highlighted via an integral LED handrail detail to subtly illuminate the stair treads whilst not detracting from the views up into the venue.

Feature wine displays sit underneath both stairs and are illuminated using integral LED details to provide both functional and feature lighting.

On the first floor, guests are greeted by the main bar, which has an expansive LED backlit bottle display like the ground floor bar, along with integral LED lighting to the front of the shelving, providing illumination to the front face of the bottles on show.

In addition to this, the bar lounge is illuminated using decorative floor, table and wall lights to help create a relaxed ambience. The booths running down either side of the venue are illuminated using miniature LED spotlights, discretely mounted on high-level beams to provide specific table illumination. A concealed LED profile, mounted on top of the beams, highlights the timber ceiling within each booth.

Alongside this, statement decorative wall and floor-mounted feature lights, selected by Conran and Partners, provide a relaxed ambient and visual feature.

The main architectural details are the listed ornate columns and vast timber arches spanning the venue. Out of respect for such structural elements,the columns are up-lit by floor recessed LED ingrounds with a colour correction filter to ensure warmth of colour temperature along with a deep baffle and glare shield to avoid dazzling diners nearby.

The timber arches are sympathetically lit using surface-mounted LED projectors with a very controlled optic and cowl to avoid any glare. The bespoke artwork either side of the first floor bar is illuminated with bespoke LED picture lights designed specifically for each piece.

The lighting to the external ground floor seating areas consists of LED profiles and LED spike lights concealed within the bespoke seating, planter and bar, providing functional and key focal point illumination, whilst also being fully IP rated as these fittings are open to the elements.

All LED lighting throughout the project is controlled using a DMX protocol to allow for smooth dimming to an extreme low level.

Tina Norden of Conran and Partners said: “Every D&D restaurant is a unique destination and treated with a particular and distinct design approach. Our brief for German Gymnasium was to create a modern interpretation of a classic brasserie, with German undertones – which led to much research, exploration and analysis.As someone with a German background myself, I was particularly conscious of our responsibility to honour and celebrate the building’s past as well as take it forward to an exciting future as a destination restaurant and bar. I hope we have achieved this.”

The external lighting was designed by Hoare Lea Lighting from a site-wide concept by Speirs + Major. The design was developed in collaboration with Allies and Morrison, Conran and Partners, Into Lighting, D&D and Argent to achieve the subtle yet effective lighting of this important building.

Into and Conran and Partners have achieved a dramatic lighting scheme that is theatrical whilst being sympathetic to the magnificent architecture. Lighting has been successfully integrated where possible, so as not to detract from the architectural elements of the venue itself. The layered and integrated lighting throughout the cavernous venue ensures intimacy and warmth of ambience wherever guests sit within the space.

Pic: Marcus Peel Photography