RIBA Insight Monthly Briefing

Night of Heritage Light

Night of Heritage Light was an event that saw nine, normally unlit, UNESCO World Heritage Sites across the UK expertly illuminated by professional lighting designers. Organised by the Society of Light and Lighting (SLL), a division of the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE), it received a Highly Commended accolade at the Construction Marketing Awards in December 2016.

Held on 1 October 2015 as part of the UNESCO International Year of Light, the Night of Heritage Light was a spectacle that lit-up the UK from top to bottom.

The challenge was to promote and celebrate the work of lighting designers – a reticent group whose skill is little understood and often unrecognised. The dramatic success of the Night of Heritage Light certainly created impact and far-reaching attention.

The project involved some fascinating back-stories of these beautiful sites and the teams that lit them, providing ample material for growing press interest. These stories brought the subjects to life: the grandson of the man who originally created the lighting at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire returning to finish his grandfather's work, the usually hidden paintings illuminated at Blenheim Palace, and the ambitious plan involving a rowing boat at Devon's Jurassic Coast.

The brief was to communicate the 'art and science' behind lighting, and to get the message across that light is far from just a workaday thing that we should take for granted. The SLL represents all professional lighters who work alongside allied professions in building services engineering, lighting everything from homes and offices to stadiums and streets. It's one of those disciplines that you don't notice if it's done correctly.

A casual acceptance of lighting belies the work and expertise that goes into making sure it works effectively. Considerable knowledge and expertise goes into ensuring that lighting is specified and installed properly, juggling variables such colour temperature and flicker rates to keep us happy and healthy. These affect everything from how well we sleep to how productive we are at work. The industry needs a constant supply of young minds to keep it at the top of its game.

The flip side of the coin is the artistic element. Lighting is also a creative industry. The way light is used in buildings significantly impacts the way people perceive them. With the rise in LED technology creating a whole new palette of colours and types of light to choose from, we are entering a boom time for lighting, so the industry also needs creative thinkers who can turn a wall into an installation.

Communicating all of this in one big event was a tough ask, and the message came through not in the monuments, but through the lighters themselves. Speaking in the local press, on the radio and on The One Show – the passion and skill behind the displays the lighters put on was plain to see. The dedicated band of volunteers operating on shoestring budgets and using borrowed equipment were clearly in their element, showcasing their trade and their talent. It was their stories that really brought their skills to life on the big stage, and from local kids playing in the LED glow at Ironbridge Gorge to those watching at home, a few may even have been inspired to take a look themselves.

By Matt Snowden, PR and Communications Executive at the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers.

 

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