National Theatre, UK

Pic: Philip Vile

Outlined by environmental design consultants Atelier Ten, the lighting of London’s newly refurbished, multi-purpose National Theatre has transformed this Grade II listed building into a place of artistry and community. mondo*arc takes an exclusive and detailed look inside to discover the method behind the magic.

In an effort to bring together world-class artists, emerging talent and the public, London’s National Theatre is undergoing extensive refurbishment and remodelling to transform this Grade II listed building. The £80million project, known as NT Future, has created a new scenery art studio, a public viewing gallery as part of the remodelling of the workshops and the new Clore Learning Centre. Additionally, the Cottesloe Theatre has reopened after modernisation as the Dorfman Theatre with an improved foyer.

The main foyers and public spaces of the National Theatre have also been revitalised with the creation of new bars and cafes on the riverfront, a new bookshop, a new entrance and the landscaping of the public realm and terraces.

A previous refurbishment had diluted the drama of architect Denys Lasdun’s original design for the main foyers. Following on from this, environmental design consultants Atelier Ten developed a new lighting concept, working closely with the theatre and architect Haworth Tompkins, to play with the balance of darkness and light. The lighting design creates a sense of darkness by minimising the spill of light onto the diagrid of concrete coffers, contrasting with focused lighting of specific horizontal and vertical surfaces. To bring warmth to the Brutalist board-marked concrete, a 2,700K colour temperature was selected for all lighting. The design incorporates playful elements of accent using gold reflector cones in luminaires over seating areas and red-sleeved pendants over bars and atrium areas.

Atelier Ten worked with Aether Lighting to develop a custom family of luminaires for the project, bringing a sense of unity throughout the new and refurbished spaces. In the main foyer areas, 40 custom luminaires were developed. Of these luminaires, the key family types were drum downlights, spotlights and fluorescent pendants.

Mounted within the concrete coffers, the drum downlights have a bronze anodised finish to match the original metalwork used by Lasdun. This family of luminaires was created for various purposes, all using warm 2,700K Xicato LED modules. Firstly, a simple version with a deeply recessed LED and honeycomb louvre was used for circulation areas, with an optic designed to prevent any spill light leaking onto the side of the coffers.

In seating areas around the bars and café, a version with a rich golden reflector was designed so that they could be viewed across the foyer to add an element of sparkle, drawing customers to these areas.

A further variant was designed with miniature LED spotlights as outriders around the main cylindrical downlight, concealed high in the coffer and used to provide accent on tables and benches. For mounting on a suspended bar over seating areas to highlight bench tops, a miniature version of the bronze anodised drum was created.

Spotlights of varying sizes were created for use throughout the foyers, while a track mounted version was developed for the bookshop, house restaurant and understudy bar. With different finishes to suit the various spaces, these luminaires use 1,000lm Xicato modules, with the driver mounted in a rectangular gear box coupled to the track.

For the lighting of the large open areas of the foyer, a ‘big brother’ version of the spotlight with 2,000lm Xicato modules was used. These were mounted to existing lighting bars using proprietary clamps with remote drivers concealed in existing enclosures.

Additionally, to provide grazing uplight to the board-marked concrete, a version of the spotlight was developed for mounting within in-ground boxes beneath the concrete fins. Along with wall-mounted versions, developed with extended arms for lighting of posters and display, a further miniature track-mounted version has been used within the Dorfman foyer to highlight the mesh wall coverings.

For the accent of key spaces, and as the theatre’s signature luminaire, Aether’s fluorescent pendants use T5 lamps, housed within an acrylic tube with minimal mounting arrangements, for a simple uncluttered aesthetic. In collaboration, various red and straw coloured sleeves and gels were selected by Haworth Tompkins to complement other elements within the interiors.

Vertical versions of the pendant can be found in the triple height atrium spaces of the main foyer and Dorfman foyer, and have been used in groups, mounted to a hoop, to create chandeliers within the Sackler entrance, Main Lytleton foyer and the Cathedral window in the Olivier foyer. Fitted above the bars and box office and within the kitchen café, horizontal versions of the pendant show its versatility.

In addition to the custom fixtures, mounted between the timber ceiling slats in a random arrangement within the Dorfman foyer, Mike Stoane LED Channel luminaires were installed to provide ambient light and a key aesthetic element.

For the replacement of the house lighting within the Dorfman auditorium, GDS ArcSystem fittings were used with 10W LED sources and DMX control. As an essential requirement of the theatre consultants Charcoal Blue, these had the advantage of exceptionally smooth dimming down to zero and were stirrup mounted, directly to the soffit, with remote drivers concealed behind the wall cladding.

When it came to the ‘found spaces’, housing the new café and bar areas, Atelier Ten created a simple lighting aesthetic to complement the interior design. KKDC Liniglow and TiMi linear LEDs (2,700k) were used extensively for concealed lighting to bar fronts and the back bars and within the refurbished toilets to bring out the colour of the bright red mosaic tiles. As well as this, Liniglow XL was used in the house restaurant, concealed behind the banquette seating to softly uplight the concrete walls.

KKDC’s SEN 47 wall washer was also used to great effect behind the new cloakroom to graze the board marked concrete and bring out the texture.

For the workshops and other back of house spaces, the main driver of the lighting design was functionality. High performance luminaires with an industrial aesthetic were selected in keeping with the architectural design of the original and refurbished building. The lighting of the triple height paint studio was particularly challenging due to the extremely high lighting levels required on floors and walls. Faced with this challenge, Atelier Ten carried out extensive modelling to optimise the lighting and meet the uniformity and 1,500 lux light levels required.

Not only has the lighting design provided the drama, sense of place, and functionality required of the theatre, but it has also been key in reducing the energy use of the National Theatre. Efficient lamps and luminaires were the first step, and controls were the second towards cutting energy demand. With this in mind, a new Lutron QS control system was installed throughout the new and refurbished areas, using DALI addressable controls, occupancy sensing and daylight harvesting. Over 50 Lutron panels were distributed throughout the building, networked together. A Lutron graphical head end provides the NT control of the complete system and iPads can be used for mobile control and scene-setting.

Cost savings were inherent in Atelier Ten’s lighting design, as the DALI protocol is so robust as to allow the reuse of exsiting wiring in the foyers to transmit power and control. Each luminaire can be individually addressed, enabling simple zoning configuration to suit the new layouts.

Through the careful design and specification of lighting and controls, Atelier Ten has reduced the energy use by 70% from the previously existing scheme. More significant, however, is the sense of drama that has returned to the foyers of the National Theatre.

Furthermore, Philip Payne non-maintained emergency LED fittings were used throughout, powered from the NTs central battery system. Philip Payne also developed a special exit sign for the Dorfman auditorium with dual supplied LED strips and DMX control, allowing exit signs to be dimmed during a performance to a low level, but automatically returning to full brightness in the eventuality of a power or DMX failure. The design also allowed the facility for complete blackout of the exit signs with a soft dim up return, giving the NT’s show designers opportunities for dramatic blackout effects.

Within the new multifunctional meeting / event rooms off the main foyer, iGuzzini Laserblade wall wash luminaires were used to provide even illumination of the walls. This was used in combination with custom-made low-glare downlights from Aether Lighting as a simple way of providing flexibility to the rooms.

Throughout the new workshop areas, Etap fittings use T5 lamps as LED at the time of design wasn’t sufficiently efficient or cost effective for the lumen packages required. The fittings were specified for their highly efficient reflectors, so for the majority of the workshops wide beam reflectors were selected. Within the scenic paint studio, a combination of asymmetric and narrower beam reflectors were used to illuminate the vertical and horizontal painting surfaces to the necessary illuminance (1,500lux) and uniformity.

Within the multipurpose Cottesloe Room located in the Clore learning centre, Etap was also used for a custom-built system of its Kardo fitting. To suit all types of event arrangements, as well as an overspill space for the foyer, the suspended Kardo system was specified with a combination of ambient downlights from fluorescent modules as well as inbuilt track sections to allow spotlights to be mounted. In addition, DMX controlled RGB colour change LEDs were concealed on the top of the profile to provide soft light to the ceiling coffers, which can be adjusted to suit the use of the room.

For general back of house downlights in corridors and other ancillary spaces, Wila’s Econnect LED Nero and Tentec LED Power Nero were used for their efficiency.

All external and public realm lighting was provided by Philips. Specifically, within the public realm, four-metre columns were installed with clusters of Philips iW Burst Powercore spotlights. Lensed with different beam angles, these provide the necessary ambient light as well as some theatrical drama from pools of light. The same iW Burst fittings were used to uplight the overhanging concrete soffit around the perimeter of the building and mounted to the refurbished lighting masts within the open square areas adjacent to the river front and Dorfman foyer. These fittings are controlled via the NTs DMX network so that they can be incorporated as part of a show setup if required and also have the ability to change their colour temperature from a warm to cool white.

Philips also provided LED handrail lighting that is used on the public realm stairs and on the newly landscaped terraces Philips IP rated Riga LED tape was concealed behind a baffle on the concrete perimeter wall and under new timber benching to provide low level lighting.

Atelier Ten’s lighting scheme adapts to the National Theatre’s multi-purpose usage – a place to eat, rehearse, relax and perform. With precise selection of luminaires, the spirit of the building has been elevated to reflect its world-renowned status.

Pic: Philip Vile