The National Theatre shortlisted for the darc Awards

In addition to the RIBA National Award, RIBA London Award and two NLA Awards, the lighting scheme on the National Theatre was recently shortlisted at the Mondo*arc Darc Awards.

The National Theatre is undergoing extensive refurbishment and remodelling to transform this Grade II* listed building into a place that brings together world-class artists, emerging talent and the public. This £80 million project, known as NT Future, has created a new scenery art studio, a public viewing gallery as part of the remodelling of the workshops and the new Clore Learning Centre. The Cottesloe Theatre has reopened after modernization as the Dorfman Theatre, with an improved foyer. The main foyers and public spaces of the National Theatre have been revitalized with the creation of new bars and cafes on the riverfront, a new bookshop, a new entrance and the landscaping of the public realm and terraces.

Atelier Ten designed the lighting throughout the new and refurbished areas of the National Theatre, working closely with the architect Haworth Tompkins and the theatre.

A previous refurbishment had diluted the drama of Denys Lasdun’s original design for the main foyers; Atelier Ten developed a new lighting concept to play with the balance of darkness and light. The lighting design created a sense of darkness by minimising the spill of light onto the diagrid of concrete coffers. This was contrasted with focused lighting of specific horizontal and vertical surfaces. A 2700K colour temperature was selected for all lighting to bring warmth to the Brutalist board-marked concrete. The design incorporates playful elements of accent using gold reflector cones in luminaires over seating areas and red-sleeved pendants over bars and atrium areas.

Atelier Ten worked with Aether Lighting to develop a custom family of luminaires for the National Theatre, bringing a sense of unity throughout the new and refurbished spaces. Two main families of luminaires were created: a collection of spotlights and downlights, and a family of linear pendants.

Honeycomb louvres moderate light distribution and control glare from the spotlights and downlights, which use a warm 2700K LED Xicato module. Bronze anodised and natural anodised finishes match the original metalwork finishes used in the theatre.

The linear pendants use T5 fluorescent lamps with a simple acrylic tube with red or straw coloured sleeves. Pendants are arranged in various vertical, horizontal and double length formats; the common shape and colour of the pendants provides a unifying theme across the foyers of the National Theatre.

Atelier Ten created a simple lighting aesthetic to complement the interior design of the “found spaces” housing the new café and bar areas.

For the workshops and other back of house spaces, the main driver of the lighting design was functionality. High performance luminaires with an industrial aesthetic were selected in keeping with the architectural design of the original and refurbished building. The lighting of the triple height paint studio was particularly challenging due to the extremely high lighting levels required on floors and walls, and Atelier Ten carried out extensive modelling to optimise the lighting and meet the uniformity and 1500 lux light levels required.

Not only did Atelier Ten’s lighting design provide the drama, sense of place, and functionality required of the theatre, but the lighting design also has been key in reducing the energy use of the National Theatre. Efficient lamps and luminaires were the first step, and controls were the second step towards cutting energy demand. A new Lutron control system was installed throughout the new and refurbished areas, using DALI addressable controls, occupancy sensing and daylight harvesting.

Cost savings were inherent in Atelier Ten’s lighting design, as the DALI protocol is so robust as to allow the reuse of exsiting of wiring in the foyers to transmit power and control. Each luminaire can be individually addressed, enabling simple zoning configuration to suit the new layouts.

Through the careful design and specification of lighting and controls, Atelier Ten has reduced the energy use by 70 per cent from the existing scheme. More significant, however, is the sense of drama that has returned to the foyers of the National Theatre.