The Cathedral Church of St.Nicholas
A new inclusive lighting design highlights the way Newcastle Cathedral is affecting positive change in the most populous city of Northeast England
Newcastle Cathedral is a magnificent Grade 1 listed building that dates back to the early 14th century – a tumultuous time that saw the Black Death unleashed across Europe and social revolutions that truly reshaped the United Kingdom and neighboring countries. Founded under the Normans, the church became the epicenter of a burgeoning city that grew around it. It was raised to Cathedral status in 1882 (officially becoming the Church Cathedral of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors and voyagers) when the Diocese of Newcastle was established in response to the rapidly expanding population. If the Cathedral’s walls and ledger stones could talk, they would speak of the city’s heritage and the profound impact that historical events have had on society, economy, and culture in the region.
For over 900 years, the church has remained a mainstay of the city’s spiritual and civic life offering sanctuary alongside the opportunity to worship, socialize, and access key services. Under the auspices of the “Common Ground in Sacred Space” project, the medieval site has recently been empathetically modernized to better serve today’s community. By retrofitting inclusive design features such as disabled access, modernized settings for relaxation, reflection, and congregation, and new visitor facilities, more people can be helped. And just as its famed lantern spire has served as a navigational aid for many bygone ships, the renovation of Newcastle Cathedral is seen as a homecoming call to today’s community – an invitation back to even better common ground in a sacred space.
As a multi-purpose hub that offers different amenities to different people – connecting people from all walks of life – the Cathedral’s lighting design has been renewed to enhance the aesthetic appearance of the building while simultaneously catering to a broad range of needs, activities, and events. At Casambi, we’re proud to have provided the smart technology that enables highly customizable, wireless lighting control. It was installed with minimal disturbance to daily life and conservation efforts.
Lighting a sacred space
James Davison from TGA Specialist Lighting was the lighting consultant on this project. We had worked with James on lighting projects for the British Museum, and therefore inherently understood the role that Casambi would play in relighting the Cathedral. It would enable non-disruptive installation that would avoid the need for surface reconstruction and allow for remote commissioning of lights. And it would provide an intuitive user interface on mobile devices that could be used by the congregation to switch lights on/off or to easily configure scenes to fit the changing needs within the space.
‘The Cathedral was very dark and unwelcoming’, explains James, ‘the exact opposite of what it should be. The building also generates a strong emotional attachment, and the client wanted the lighting to emphasise this by using both light and shade. The new scheme needed to highlight the beautiful architecture of the space and also make the space useable for both parishioners and other end users. The client wanted the Cathedral to be a multi-use space whilst maintaining its primary use as a place of worship. An element of drama was key for the client.’
‘With this aspiration in mind, the lighting design always set out to serve two main purposes – firstly to illuminate the body of the Cathedral to a usable level and secondly to add a sense of drama to the space. We wanted the Cathedral to be a bright welcoming space but where the lighting is hidden wherever possible. The building, and the Nave, in particular, is a large, cavernous space. The design needed to be able to flood light into the space without it appearing flat.’
It was so dark inside the Cathedral that occupants struggled with low visibility. The pre-existing luminaires were positioned at nearly 12 meters – at their highest point – above the floors and the old lighting control solution had become obsolete. However, the brief stipulated that we were to minimize architectural alterations by keeping the original luminaire positions and by using the old wire penetrations. James adds:
‘To lessen the impact of the luminaires on the historic fabric, it was agreed that existing penetrations and positions would be used wherever possible. This severely restricted the locations of the luminaires and the effects that could be achieved. Despite this, the Cathedral is evenly illuminated whilst maintaining an aspect of mystique and drama.’
‘The lighting design can be roughly split into two categories, general usable light and accent lighting. There is of course an overspill between these two installations and the intention is that they are blended together to form a complete lighting design’.
One fine mesh
ERCO luminaires were specified for 95% of the retrofit with additional fixtures from Concord and Hacel. 135 luminaires were installed in total, and the lighting was set to a warm 3000k static color temperature with a minimum color rendering index of 90 to highlight the flagstones, monuments, and wall-mounted paintings. Casambi has also been specified by the landscape architects to control the outdoor luminaires.
Initially, some project stakeholders had been a bit skeptical about deploying a new wireless lighting control solution – they assumed that we would still need to draw the wire to the switches. Upon realizing that with Casambi there’s indeed no wiring, nor separate control devices to install, the benefits were quickly appreciated… although it took some fine tuning to establish a robust mesh network befitting the gothic structure.
‘From the outset, this lighting refurbishment presented some technical challenges. A centuries-old Grade 1 listed, gothic stone cavern with mains electrical wiring points preordained and most luminaire mountings nearer to God than man. In complete consideration of the restrictions, we religiously searched for the most efficient way to construct an effective Casambi Bluetooth mesh network, enabling the best access to free air and in consequence, facilitating stronger radio signals between nodes. We were, it transpires, looking to cannon said signals off and round the Cathedral’s gargantuan stone pillars’ explains Cliffe Tribe, UK Specification Sales Manager at Casambi.
Wireless communication uses open space – air – as the medium for transmitting signals. All luminaires hooked into a Casambi mesh network carry the complete system intelligence, and all devices speak to each other across radio waves. Casambi products operating in free air and with no additional enclosures can achieve a typical range of around 50 meters indoors. We circumnavigate obstructions that can block signals by adding extra Casambi nodes into the network that work as signal repeaters.
‘Clever, discrete use of shortened vertical track positions allowed for an increase in Casambi-enabled ERCO high-powered LED projectors located at the highest points. The optimisation of low-level mountings, using Casambi-enabled Concord LED strips in both the north and south windows and Hacel downlighters in the entrance porches enabled the mesh to carry to outlying spaces, typically the ornate Saint George’s Chapel, and the spiritually minimal Crypt. The magnificent Quire being constructed primarily of wood, eased signals from the mass expanse of the Nave through to the contemplative outreaches of the Eastern Chapel’ explains Cliffe.
‘On a daily basis, phones and tablets join the Bluetooth mesh when Cathedral personnel open the Casambi App, to not only control their fixed lighting scenes, but also to effect changes to lighting levels, creating mood and balance – complementing the many ecclesiastical festivals, baptisms, weddings, and secular events held in the building. Casambi proved the perfect choice for upgrading the lighting controls using existing infrastructure. The daily human interaction with the system by Canon Clare and her team means that now, and for many years to come, Saint Nicolas’s Cathedral will be consistently seen bathed in its new light’.
A better approach to community lighting
With Casambi, the church staff can light the Cathedral as if it were a theatre. A variety of different lighting scenes have been preset in the Casambi App and can be activated with the touch of a button. Casambi grants the ability to enhance the space with lighting, to create an atmosphere befitting an event taking place. For example, when the choir performs, they can choose a certain scene of lighting so the ambiance in the church fits with the pieces they sing. It’s quite wonderful – very inclusive and reinvigorating.
‘The refreshment and renewal of the lighting scheme at Newcastle Cathedral has really transformed and enhanced our beautiful and ancient building. Before, we would struggle for even lighting coverage. For example, the bride and groom might find themselves standing in a pooI of shadow, and some members of the congregation struggled to read their service sheets’ says Clare MacLaren,the Senior Residentiary Canon of Newcastle Cathedral.
‘The [Casambi] app is instinctive and simple to use for basic functions – and yet sophisticated enough to create multiple, easily accessed scenes. We can now create subtle and really beautiful effects of light and darkness throughout the building, whether we’re hosting a rock concert, or Midnight Mass. We now have a “fit for purpose” system, which gives us the quality of light we need 24/7’ she adds.
Among the numerous religious festivals, daily services, and non-denominal activities, Newcastle Cathedral’s calendar includes events like the immersive ‘Stories in the Stones’ tour, during which the ceiling-mounted lights highlight the ledger stones, while an audio experience tells the stories of people commemorated by the Church.
The precision-tweaking of light temperature, color, positioning, and brightness plays a huge role in altering the way in which a place is perceived. Casambi has given the custodians and users of the building more control over lighting. Any adjustments can easily be made to meet individual or group needs today and in the future. Since all control group decisions are configured in the software it’s now possible to control certain lights separately and to personalize the lighting overall – it’s all done in the app. Lighting can be installed and controlled with minimal disturbance to daily life and conservation efforts but orchestrated in a way that brings history to life.
Allowing people to see the Cathedral in a totally new light.
‘Our collaborative partnership with ERCO and Casambi has delivered a far more energy-efficient, effective and user-friendly system. We have really appreciated the care and personal attention that ERCO and Casambi have put into working with us on this project. They’ve listened to our brief, taken feedback on board at every stage, and have been tireless in the delivery until everything was just right.’ Canon Claire MacLaren.
TGA Specialist Lighting
TGA Consulting Engineers
Project Manager Newcastle Cathedral
Historic Properties Restoration
McNally and Thompson
ERCO, Concord and Hacel
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