Pic: David Lake Photography

NOMA Earth Tubes, UK

18th February 2016

Cundall Light4 was appointed by The Co-operative Group and Hermes to provide the lighting design for the three earth tubes adjacent to the new Co-operative Group office building at 1 Angel Square in Manchester. Using an Osram Lighting Solutions package, they have designed a showstopper.

Public lighting installations are becoming more common in our cities, both as individual elements in the landscape or as integrated schemes within façades and bridges. Local authorities and the public have an increasing understanding of their importance in defining an area’s ambience, creating a social destination and supporting a sense of pride. With each new lighting installation, the publics’ expectation grows, it is also true that the younger generation are more exposed to and aware of lighting installations and as such they continually need to see something different.

NOMA is an £800m, 20-acre mixed-use redevelopment scheme in NOrth MAnchester (NOMA). The Co-operative Group, working in partnership with Hermes Investment Management and supported by ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) are creating 4,000,000sqft of office, residential, retail and leisure space in NOMA. The central feature of the site is the three concrete and aluminium fin earth tubes. The purpose of the earth tubes is to supply fresh air to the Co-operative Group office, 1 Angel Square. It is these three earth tubes for which the client required a lighting installation.

The project brief was to deliver an interactive and ever changing light installation. The design needed to relate to the local and wider community and be available to them as a blank canvas for their own ideas and designs.

In the past, an installation that consisted of a static display or a limited range of animations quickly faded into the city scape and became invisible to passers-by. What was once innovative or an attraction, finds itself little more than a way finding sign at best. Therefore the new lighting installations must have evolving content and in particular content that engages with the social mood of the area, while capturing and reflecting a global event. Better still, content that can be created by the community gives an installation an ever evolving, deeply personal and engaging longevity.

In 2014, Cundall Light4 won the proposal as lighting designer for the earth tube lighting installation. In responding to the brief and through a desire to make the earth tubes a global landmark, Cundall Light4 set about identifying who and how people would view and engage with the earth tubes.

In the age of iPad and smartphone technology, it was obvious that this would be one avenue of interaction, but there was also the need to engage with that cheeky five-year-old who is walking past with his mum on the way to the shops. Various ideas of capturing and replaying the movement of people and using fixed furniture as an input device to create the light show were studied. To display the lighting effects, a range of lighting designs were created and presented to the NOMA stakeholders. The preferred design utilised three lighting elements that can be operated together or independently. These elements are known as the curved fin lights, crown lights and linear lid lighting.

Along with the review of the interactive options and selection of the lighting design elements, a series of content ideas were proposed for the day-one scenario. The content ideas included a sunrise to sunset lighting animation that follows a person as they walk past the earth tubes; an app where a person’s music would turn the bass – middle and treble waveforms into light; recreating the tram network and current tram positions; a flower arrangement to suit the seasons and so on.

It was always a requirement that the lighting programming should be easy to update and refresh using open source software. This would allow for future light shows to be created by local schools, art students and visiting artists to the city. Once the installation has settled down and established itself, the content will be created by the visitors. Making it quite unique, making the installation a true community project.

During the design period, a number of companies were invited to create mock ups to show what was possible with different equipment and control systems. During this time it became clear that Studiotech using Osram lighting components had the knowledge, skills and equipment to deliver Cundall Light4’s lighting design aspirations.

Following a European wide tender process Studiotech started on site in July 2015. The project ran over a period of just over three months and there were up to twelve Studiotech engineers on site at any one time working through all kinds of weather conditions to complete the project. Studiotech was the Principal Contractor with overall responsibility for the lighting component design, associated brackets, containment and overall installation of the lighting solution; from the digging of the trenches and ducts to the programming of the finished product.

Studiotech turned to Osram and the Traxon product range to provide the solution to cope with the intricate and non-uniform nature of the structures and then engineered the proprietary product into a bespoke and interactive solution that seeks to enhance the experience of all who journey through the NOMA neighbourhood. The flexible nature of these products means that each section can be fully customised. The whole lighting installation is managed via e:cue control servers to provide the tools necessary to control the lighting displays and deliver the interactivity required. NOMA is a complete Osram solution.

The installation totals 28,440 individually addressable lights or 9,480 individually addressable lights per tube. A total of 14km of cable was used to provide power and data to the tubes. As far as energy consumption is concerned, when the tubes were tested it was found that each one was using only 15 amps which, when converted into power usage, equals just 3450W.

Pic: David Lake Photography


Pic: David Lake Photography