Designed by Heatherwick Studios, Coal Drops Yard is an architectural marvel. Adjacent to London’s King’s Cross Station, the chic, high-end retail space is dominated by two curved, ‘kissing’ rooftops, making it instantly recognisable as one of the city’s newest landmarks.
Situated underneath these swooping rooftops is Samsung KX, a new ‘retail and experience space’. Working alongside project managers Portview, architects KSS and interior designers Brinkworth, Nulty was brought onto the project to complete the lighting design and to find an impactful way to illuminate Heatherwick’s remarkable architecture.
“Our brief was to create a rational lighting solution for the space,” explained Anna Sandgren, Associate Lighting Designer at Nulty. “We were working with a clear architectural blueprint when it came to Coal Drops Yard’s curved rooftops, so our lighting scheme had to work sympathetically with the building. Architecture always took priority.”
As such, Nulty created an all-LED lighting scheme that was befitting of its architectural backdrop, enhancing the iconic appearance of the near-identical gabled roofs – an element that had to be factored into the lighting design too. “Everything about the final scheme needed to be symmetrical to ensure that the lighting design is consistent throughout both linear structures,” Sandgren added. “The fixed parameters of the space are what made this such a unique project.”
Inside, the complexity of the infrastructure of the building, and the changing functionality of the Samsung KX space, required the team to create a day-to-night lighting scheme that is constantly visible through the floor-to-ceiling windows, and can be modified depending on how the experience-led space is used.
“Our role was to master the technical challenges that the building presented and ensure that this didn’t impact on our ability to deliver the quality of light throughout that the client needed,” continued Sandgren. “We were always respectful of the building, so the success of the project lay in creating a lighting solution that could work harmoniously within it.”
A key facet in this lighting solution is a continuous ribbon of light that soars throughout the east and west retail showcases, unifying the two sections of the building. Created by The Light Lab, the circular swoop of light travels up through the floor, walls and ceiling to form a central architectural feature for Samsung KX, designed to host masterclasses, workshops and talks. Visible from every aspect of Coal Drops Yard, the ribbon of light mirrors the curves of Heatherwick’s original design, while enveloping the space in a layering blanket of light.
“A number of the manufacturers that we approached said that it couldn’t be done because of the sheer scope of the space that we were dealing with,” said Sandgren. “Thankfully, The Light Lab had the vision to understand what we needed.”
The bespoke fixture provides the majority of the illumination in the main area of the space, alongside Targetti’s surface-mounted Zeno spotlights. Positioned across the ceiling in a concentric circular formation, the tunable white spotlights work with the curved contours of the building, and can be adjusted from cool white through to warm white to create different moods.
Speaking of the lighting in the main space, Sandgren said: “We were confident that the ribbon of light would provide the right level of illumination throughout. It brings symmetry and balance to the space.
“Beyond this, we needed to think technically about how to create different lighting moods, because the functionality of the space changes almost daily. This is why our lighting scheme is flexible at a lower level.
“The entire space is controlled by a DALI system, which has the capacity to be totally transformative. Every one of the LED lights that you see in the space is individually addressable and can be adjusted according to how Samsung KX is being used.”
By creating this flexible, tunable lighting system, Nulty were able to achieve the client’s desired cool white light – something fundamental to the Samsung brand and how they display their products, Sandgren explained – while making it work within a space dominated by a warm timber aesthetic.
While the light ribbon and its complementary spotlights provide the right level of illumination in the main body of the space, other areas required different solutions. For instance, in the kitchen/entrance area of the space, LED Flex’s Lumen Line linear fixtures interplay with a wooden slatted ceiling, while the manufacturer’s Eco Flex fittings provide linear lighting behind the banquettes in the showcase east and customer service area, creating a gentle, diffuse illumination to offset the primary lighting feature.
However, the instantly recognisable ‘kissing rooftops’ required special consideration, as Sandgren explained: “The kissing rooftops were undoubtedly our biggest architectural consideration. It was where all of the design decisions began and ended.
“The area under the kissing rooftops was the one area of Samsung KX where we couldn’t have too much light, so we had to work out how to achieve consistent levels of illumination throughout the east and west showcase, without allowing the quality of light to drop across the building.
“Our response was to frame each of the east and west showcases with surface mounted LED spotlights, but then let the light levels naturally drop away where the rooftops meet. By doing this, we have created a pocket of calmness at the kissing point, but also preserved a layering blanket of light throughout.”
By letting the light drop away towards the kissing rooftops, it also reduced any potential impact of light spill onto the Coal Drops Yard exterior – something that had to be taken into consideration, on account of the vast windows in the space. “Coal Drops Yard is dominated by floor to ceiling windows, so we had to appraise every decision to ensure that the lighting scheme looks great from every angle,” Sandgren elucidated.
“We also had to work out how to avoid unnecessary light spill. Testing each and every fixture on site and reviewing how they read from the exterior of the building was how we made all of this work.”
Indeed from the reduction in light spill, to the flexible, tunable lighting system, Sandgren believes that the scheme that Nulty has created works in harmony with the overall architectural design of the space. “The architect’s vision for Samsung KX was in place right from the beginning so we worked within the parameters of what was set,” she said.
“Our team worked hard to make sure that the overall lighting scheme pays homage to Heatherwick Studio’s design legacy, and that every part of our final solution contributes to preserving the building from every angle.”
The end result is a lighting scheme that serves to complement and highlight the unique architecture of the space – an important aspect that Sandgren was keen to implement in the lighting design.
“We strongly believe that a great lighting scheme isn’t always what you can see – the role of lighting is to enhance a space and give it depth,” she enthused. “And lighting shouldn’t distract from the architecture that surrounds it.
“Samsung KX is a great example of this. Lighting is deliberately restrained to bring the space to life, but it is respectful of where it sits. Everything that we’ve done to illuminate it has been about celebrating important architectural details, but also about creating a calm and welcoming environment throughout.”
Although Nulty as a studio, and Sandgren personally, have a great deal of experience in creating lighting schemes for retail environments, the opportunity to design the lighting for such a remarkable site meant that this remained a unique project.
“How often do you get asked to create a lighting scheme for a project of this scale? And how often do you have to create a workable solution for two gabled rooftops?” asked Sandgren.
“Everything about this project was unique – especially the building itself. Heritage, an architectural legacy, structural challenges, an innovative retail concept; this project had it all.”