More than two years of close collaboration between the lighting consultants of LKL Design Hub Barcelona, the German Licht Kunst Licht offices and the team of architects of the Sagrada Família have culminated in a glorious new landmark changing Barcelona’s skyline both day and night: The tower of Virgin Mary is now topped by a gigantic star with a diameter of 7.5 m made of artistic textured glass. With a height of 138 m it is the second tallest tower of the Basilica. It took 140 years of construction time according to Antoni Gaudí’s plans until the completion at the end of last year.
The tower shaft and the star dedicated to the Virgin Mary were illuminated for the first time in an emotional inauguration ceremony on 8th December, 2021 accompanied and celebrated by thousands of people on site and followed internationally on television. Overnight, the radiating 12-point star has become an iconic symbol for the city and the world alike.
The Architecture of Sagrada Família and the Tower of the Virgin Mary
Located in the Eixample district of Barcelona, the place of worship, consecrated as a basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010, is a landmark in Barcelona and one of the most visited sights in Spain. Before the outbreak of the pandemic, more than 4.5 million visitors were counted annually.
The Sagrada Família will have 18 towers when Gaudí’s magnificent work since 1882 will have been completed. Each of the architectural elements has a symbolism that relates it to its entirety. Likewise, each of the towers also has a symbolism and hierarchy underlined by its height.
The tower of the Virgin Mary, located above the apse of the church, is 138 m high and will be the second tallest after the tower of Jesus Christ, which will measure 171 m. This height is slightly lower than the altitude of the Montjuic mountain in Barcelona, and as this mountain represents the work of God according to the architect, he decided that the temple should not superelevate for reasons of respect.
The body of the tower of Mary is made of sandstone covered with artistic ceramic stoneware trencadís in a blue color range, which symbolizes the purity of the Virgin Mary. The tower has 800 windows and is topped by a terminal that is made up of three parts: the crown, the shaft and the star.
At the bottom of the terminal a 6 m high stone crown is placed with 12 points topped with wrought-iron stars. This crown surrounds the lower part of the terminal in an ascending manner.
The 18 m high shaft is the intermediate element that starts from the crown and supports the star with three arms. It is covered with broken tile mosaics in white and blue tones that evoke the Virgin’s mantle with golden elements. It has triangular and diamond-shaped openings.
The star is the crowning element of the tower. It is a body of 7.5 m in diameter with a total of twelve points and a central core in the shape of a dodecahedron. The metal structure is enclosed with artistic textured glass, created especially for the star.
At the beginning of the project, the most important task and challenge was to get to know the architecture of the basilica in its entirety. It was crucial for the lighting designers to thoroughly understand and read Gaudí’s architectural intentions in detail to be able to provide adequate lighting solutions within the overall framework of the project. The lighting concept is based on Gaudí’s ideas: “…His crowning star must be a luminous element at night, and during the day a non-transparent architectural element, so that it does not become dematerialized. The luminosity of the star must not be excessive, but rather dim to avoid the architectural dematerialization of the star…”.
The lighting designers followed this premise and developed a respectful, subtle and discreet lighting concept that complements the fascinating architecture of Gaudí and allows it to be admired from near and far.
The lighting concept for the tower consists of three components adding to a well-balanced overall scheme: the interior lighting of the tower, the lighting of the crown and shaft and the illumination of the star.
Inside the tower, there is a large central hyperboloid which filters the natural light falling in the windows of the tower towards the presbytery during the day. During nighttime, the inner skin of the tower is illuminated from the top of this hyperboloid. Three groups of luminaires with different optics are placed on top of it and provide a soft and uniform illumination of the walls. The reflecting warm white light with a color temperature of 3,000 K indirectly illuminates the interior space and emanates through the windows of the tower as a gentle glow.
At the terminal, the crown is shaped through the illumination of the shaft, which starts from the crown and supports the star. The 12 points of the crown are cut out against the illuminated background. The shaft is gently illuminated from bottom to top by means of 12 small narrow-beam spotlights directed towards the facade. A finely tuned gradient from bright to dim light puts the star in the focus of this striking architectural composition.
In favor of a noticeable far-distance effect, the star is additionally lit from the inside. It is the only tower that is crowned with a luminous body and represents the morning star as a symbol of Mary. Inside the star, there are 12 projectors custom-developed for this project, one for each point of the star. The fixtures are placed at the base of each pyramid and oriented towards the tip. Each of these low-power projectors has three types of optics that optimize the light distribution for the pyramid surface. Thorough mock-ups conducted by the lighting design team resulted in a combination of very wide beams to illuminate the base of the pyramid, medium beams to illuminate the body and a very narrow beam for the tip.
The color temperature chosen for the illumination of the star and highlighting its glass structure is 4,000 K – the light color appropriately contrasts with the warmer hue of the facade lighting. The exposed position of this light body was a major technical challenge, as these luminaires had to operate under the high temperatures generated inside the steel and glass body in summer. The luminaires were also subjected to various lighting tests to ensure that they would function correctly even in the most unfavorable weather conditions.
The entire set of luminaires in the tower is controlled by a DALI system which allows maximum flexibility in dimming and scene programming. This makes it possible to display the tower and its terminal as the most prominent elements or to integrate these elements into the basilica’s illuminated ensemble in the future.
During the day the star is illuminated by sunlight, while at night, the star emanates light from inside and becomes an iconic beacon and a strong visual point of reference in the sky of Barcelona. Participating in this emblematic and iconic project and being able to realize Gaudí’s ideas in terms of light has been a great honor for the whole LKL team. It is particularly gratifying that the cooperation will continue and LKL will accompany the construction of the Sagrada Família in the future.
Project: Interior and exterior lighting of the Virgin Mary tower of the Basilica Sagrada Família in Barcelona
Client: Junta Constructora del Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família Foundation
Architects: Antoni Gaudí, Junta Constructora del Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Família
Project management: Junta Constructora del Templo Expiatorio de la Sagrada Família
Lighting design: LKL Design Hub Barcelona SL, www.lichtkunstlicht.com
Project lead: Naiara Caballero, Martina Weiss, Alejandra Kuri
Project team: Stephan Thiele, Till Armbrüster
Photos: Daniele Speranza, LKL Design Hub Barcelona SL