A recent project we have been working alongside with Nigel Lewis to re-light St Andrew’s United Reformed Church. Thank you to Nigel for this fantastic write up!
St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, often referred to as St Andrew’s Frognal, is perched on a hill on the junction of busy Finchley Road and Frognal Lane, Hampstead, London. It is placed so high that from the road it is easy to miss, but this is one of the highest churches in London and can be seen for miles around. Built in 1897 as a Presbyterian church, it was originally set with hanging chandeliers of candles, later gas, later still electric light. It boasts a stunning array of stained glass windows, a robust and deeply set architectural structure and a grand set of steps from the road.
I first knew the church due to the opera company that resides there, Brent Opera. I became resident lighting designer to Brent Opera about ten years ago, and twice a year I lit their productions. The spanner in my designs was always the house-lights, a series of five high bay discharge metal halide lamps, more akin to industrial installations. Not only did they require warm-up time and lack a hot restrike, but at 35mtrs high, required specialised access equipment and an operator to change a lamp. For over a year the church managed on just two working lamps due to the prohibitive cost of changing the lamps. When it came to an interval in a production it was necessary for the audience to wait for the discharge lamps to warm up before safely moving from their seats.
The steep outside steps were unlit and the ageing congregation found it difficult to see the steps in the winter months.
I was approached by the church committee to provide a proposal to carry out a complete re-light of the church. I am a theatre lighting designer, but had carried out a few architectural designs over the years, so I undertook a piece of research to find the best possible lighting solution for the church. The main brief from the church was ‘We need to be able to see’. My main concern was the high colour temperature of the metal halide lighting, and the lack of depth and character of the architectural features this caused. The one piece of research I didn’t need to worry about was the lighting manufacturer, I had used Collingwood products previously and knew this was lighting made to last, and that their expertise would provide me with the information I needed to put a proposal together.
My first proposal was presented to the church committee a year prior to installation, we gathered on a cold winter’s evening in the church and I presented my design, along with an idea of costings. After several months it became apparent that the Synod would need to be involved in these decisions because the church was subject to a grade II listing and we had to be very careful about how we applied new lighting to the fabric of the church, most importantly no cables should be on view.
A trial of the scheme was requested by the Synod architect, this involved purchasing two FL200 floods, attaching them to a fly lead and taking them up to 15ft above the pews to view the resulting light. But first I had to find a supplier, I looked at many companies but G&R Electrical/Direct Trade Supplies had very good reviews and this lead me to contacting them. The efficiency of the staff was exactly what I needed, quick replies to emails, friendly, knowledgeable and personable, I could work with this. The trial units arrived in 2 days and was ready to fix up for demonstration purposes.
I had chosen a warm colour temperature for the pews to bring out the natural wood and create a warm glow over the pews. The scheme worked and the architect liked the effect. Being a point-source, we decided to backlight the pews and tested this with a hymn book, there were no shadows and the light was a powerful source, even at 15ft from the floor. The beam angle allowed me to overlap the light to result in a smooth wash.
The scheme got the thumbs up and I arranged a meeting with my electrician, Chris Tomlins of Inglewood Power, we came up with a plan for the install and created a lighting plan. I really wanted the lighting to highlight the architecture of the church, create a welcoming warmth and concentrate the eyes of the congregation on the altar and pulpit areas. I achieved this by dividing the church in to 2 distinct areas, treating them much like a theatre space, the body and the altar. The body of the church is lit in a warm white at 3000K and the altar and pulpit using the same lanterns but at 4000K, this created a distinct difference between the 2 areas. The FL200 is so small and powerful that it was easy to hide them in the rafters, being a dimmable unit this allowed me to install a dimming system to make adjustments to the intensity.
The side aisles had been lit with a mixture of 1000w floods and sodium floods, these were replaced with Collingwood LEDLINE wash-light bars at 3000K, a 45 degree unit that allowed me to focus the light exactly where I wanted it. I was surprised at how small these units are, I’m not sure I had carried out enough research of this unit and was a bit nervous when I saw them. But once installed, the light quality was just what was needed, bright enough for the cover but so slim and small that they hid away nicely.
Then I applied a theatre trick, I lit the organ pipes, either side of the altar using a Collingwood UL030 High Output Universal Unit with a blue LED source, this was located about 12 ft away from the pipes, the effect brought in the sides of the church and drew the eyes away from the deep transept. The eyes are drawn towards the centre of the altar and the space becomes more personal and intimate, a difficult task for such a large space.
The side walls of the naïve have embedded pillars on them, these were lit with by placing a small LED spot at 4000k with a beam angle of 9 degree. This helped to bring down the ceiling height by creating a canopy effect above the pews. This worked particularly well and helped to highlight the architecture.
The work took around 5 weeks, I was particularly insistent that no cables showed in the public area and Chris did an amazing job, having to use a special drill bit to get through the deep walls, some of which were filled with a hard engineering brick.
The result of the attention to detail, diligence and professionalism of the electrical contractor made my work as designer so much easier as he was able to make decisions in my absence with an excellent understanding of what I had in my vision. There is something to be said for working with the same electrician for more than 10 years!
Chris installed 2 dimmer units set up as master and slave, this is controlled by a touch button pre-set system that allows me to control the intensities in different areas and to create an auditorium house lights system for the operatic performances.
The outside steps were lit by embedding Collingwood WL341 Asymmetric Step Light, this kept the light on the steps and not in the faces of the folk using them. Chris connected them to an LDR sensor and time switch arrangement so they automatically switch on at dusk but don’t run all night
The congregation’s reaction to the finished work was a mixture of delight and not-so-sure about the blue on the organ pipes. We have gone from bright, cold, industrial light with no empathy for the architecture to a warm glow with control over the beam, texture and intensity. That will take a bit of time to get used to.
The entire project has been a huge success in my eyes, but only due to the flexibility, adaptability and professional of the entire team from the manufacturer and supplier to the electrician and his team of riggers. Thank you to them all.