BDP’s Senior Lighting Designer Lora Kaleva gives Trends in Lighting the full report on the new 45 million GBP University College London Student Centre. Multi award-winning global architecture, engineering and design practice BDP has received recognition from the British Education Estates Awards, which crowned the UCL Student Centre Project of the Year, an achievement that specifically recognises a new build project that enhances the educational/research experience. The centre also won the Pupil/Student Experience Award which acknowledges a learning establishment that significantly improves its students’ experience, and positively enhances health and wellbeing, via a buildings or facilities investment. November saw the Lux Awards also presented BDP with Office, Education and Healthcare Lighting Project of the Year.
BDP delivered state-of-the-art informal study facilities over 8 storeys including two basement levels. The new building is the main focus for student activity on the Bloomsbury campus providing 24 hour access and over 1000 spaces for all learning needs.
The lighting scheme for the 5,300 square-metre building demonstrates commendable sustainability considerations. Photocells on the roof are linked to the lighting control system to make use of available natural light. Presence and absence detection is employed in all individual rooms to prevent the waste of energy. Automatic scene setting scrolls through several scenarios throughout the day and into the evening so that the building has a dynamic lit effect, appropriate for the time of day and season.
Trends in Lighting: As Senior Designer for the project congratulations on receiving so many accolades for your work. This project demonstrates an excellent understanding of end-user needs. How did you approach the task of gathering input from the students?
Lora Kaleva: We collaborated very closely with Nicholas Hare Architects who ran several student-engagement sessions in conjunction with UCL. They captured the ambitions, hopes and dreams that the students had for this project so we had a good source of information to work with. Also, I am a UCL alumnus and I vividly remembered the issues around not having enough study space, especially for group work and the endless search for a comfy reading spot. Having been through it myself, I could appreciate what the main concerns for the students would be.
Trends in Lighting: What were the main priorities when designing with light on this project?
Lora Kaleva: Sustainability was a major consideration and the drive to create an energy efficient and also comfortable place led us down the path of deploying desk mounted task lighting as much as possible. However, this mainly works well with fixed furniture layouts so this had to be balanced with the need for present and future flexibility, as we did not want to overlight the spaces either.
The Client’s brief was very open. The majority of spaces are not designated as such, so what we have is six levels with mostly open plan study areas. It was up to the lighting to create differentiation between the spaces and provide the students with a variety of lit effects to enable them to choose how and where they want to work based on their day-to-day needs. We had busy, flexible group working areas where the lighting is more uniform and the levels are higher and we have quiet study areas where the ceiling and furniture layouts are coordinated to provide concentrated light on the study benches. There were also the study pods with a lot of individuality in the interior design where the lighting responded by being more decorative, with a focus on providing an element of surprise.
Trends in Lighting: Designing for the utilisation of 2 basement levels presents unique demands from a user-friendly lighting perspective. How did you balance the challenges of the space and the needs of users?
Lora Kaleva: It was important to ensure that the basements did not feel like gloomy underground places. The main tool to create a sense of brightness is light at horizon eye-level. Regardless of how many lux there are on the floor, if the walls are not bright enough a light-locked space can feel dim and oppressive. In above-ground rooms the window will be the brightest spot of the room. Below ground we re-create that sensation with having bright walls instead. We made sure that all the solid vertical surfaces were highlighted by localised, recessed linear luminaires. In addition, where the ceiling height allowed it we utilised luminaires with an indirect component to give the impression of bright light coming from above as well. The lower basement housed two quiet contemplation spaces and they benefitted from scene setting capabilities allowing the individuals to tailor their lighting experience.
Trends in Lighting: The project has BREEAM certification. How is sustainability and natural light design shaping the future of BDP? Also, how did you achieve the sustainable requirements within the lighting scheme?
Lora Kaleva: Sustainability is at the forefront at BDP. We have champions in daylight design that utilise the newest software with climate based daylight modelling to help our architect colleagues make the most of the building design from the earliest stages of the project. We look out for the emerging technologies in lighting controls and luminaires. We try to educate our clients in the importance of zoning and creating a varied lit environment. In many cases, it is ok to let the light levels drop and with the use of task lighting, we can create pools of higher light levels where they are needed, but then let the background illumination step down.
The Student Centre has ample amounts of daylight from floor-to-ceiling windows and a large atrium skylight. The building has an excellent control system that allows the light levels to the main atrium and associated study spaces to be adjusted according to the availability of daylight. Photocells on the roof also regulate the automated scrolling of several pre-set scenes according to the time of day it is. Presence detection is utilised in all spaces not directly connected to the atrium and in all individual rooms. Of course we used energy efficient luminaires and as mentioned before we concentrated the light to only where it’s needed, rather than trying to create blanket uniform light levels, which is a much more inefficient approach. Exterior lighting was also kept to a minimum, with an emphasis on the stairs and the canopies to create a smooth transition between outside and inside. No uplights were used to minimise the contribution to sky pollution.
Trends in Lighting: What kind of lighting design approach did you follow and which new technologies were the basis of the lighting concept?
Lora Kaleva: Enhanced opportunities with lighting controls were at the heart of the design. We grouped together the luminaires by typology, colour temperature and directionality to achieve a more tailored approach for the large open spaces. We programmed four standard scenes, which vary greatly in intensity. During the day the uplighting to the pale concrete soffits which is 4000K creates a sense of brightness from above to complement the atrium skylight. In the evenings this is dimmed right down and the 3000K downward lighting to the warm stone floors takes over. This not only complements the architectural finishes but also creates a night-time environment, which is distinctly different from the daytime. The light levels, which are higher during the day, drop in the evening to create a comfortable and inviting space. This is very important because the Student Centre is a 24-hour building and we did not want to overstimulate the students with high levels of cool light in the evenings.
Trends in Lighting: Thinking back to your student days how were your study areas different to the new UCL Student Centre?
Lora Kaleva: I did my Bachelor’s degree in Drammen, Norway (University College Buskerud and Vestfold) and in my second year there, we moved to a brand new building on the riverfront. It was gorgeous with plenty of daylight, nice group study rooms and a beautiful new library. Coming to UCL straight after that …what can I say… I enjoyed my Master’s course immensely, but there was a severe lack of study space and the facilities were generally a bit outdated. We ended up doing most of our group work in our respective accommodations and that was not ideal.
I think the new Student Centre will plug a big gap at UCL. It is a place entirely for the students. The great variety in spaces from bright open plan to cosy small pods should cater for everyone’s needs. UCL has embarked on a big programme of renewing the campus and I applaud them for it.
Trends in Lighting: What inspires you personally?
Lora Kaleva: Nature. I find calmness in being outdoors, even if it is only the neighbourhood park. I am at heart a city gal and I love how green London is despite being such a large, busy metropolis. My living room windows look out over three large chestnut trees and as we are on the top floor it gives me a beautiful view of the painted skies at sunset. Watching the endless natural variations of the sky gives me boundless inspiration.
Trends in Lighting: What are you most excited about for the future of lighting?
Lora Kaleva: Lighting focused on the human experience. The increasing affordability and quality of good control systems and tools such as tuneable white, dim to warm and flicker-free luminaires puts the focus back on the user experience and moves away from costs, blanket high light levels and grid arrays of uniform lighting. The clients are starting to understand the value of providing variety in the lit environment and places more in tune with the needs of the occupiers.
Lora Kaleva studied lighting design in Norway and then went on to earn a Master of Science at UCL in Light and Lighting. Lora has worked with BDP on many highly awarded projects since 2011 as a Senior Lighting Designer.
BDP’s building services engineering, lighting and acoustic teams worked with Nicholas Hare Architects, Mace, Arcadis, AECOM and Curtins on the BREEAM Outstanding project. It is designed to facilitate 24/7 usage and offers 1,000 new flexible learning spaces, tailored for research and collaboration.
Lighting equipment: Ridi, Led Linear, iGuzzini, Ecosense, Aktiva, Fagerhult, Foscarini, Philips, Color Kinetics, Louis Poulsen, Original BTC, Vibia, Modo Luce, Zero Lighting, Traxon, XAL, Grupo MCI, Mike Stoane Lighting
Image Credits: Alan Williams, Tom Niven