Mark Sutton Vane
||Spot-lit statue of St Michael at the Church of St Michael and All Angels, Chiswick (All photos: Sutton Vane
Associates unless otherwise stated)
Lighting historic churches poses
many challenges. At times, much of
the light is natural daylight, which is both perfect in quality and free. However,
in a typical church there will be places
where natural light does not penetrate well,
particularly where stained glass predominates.
Even on a bright sunny day, daylight must
often be supplemented by artificial light, but
without negating the benefits of available
As dusk approaches, the use
of artificial light will need to be extended
to suit the various functions and activities
taking place. Controlling the varying lighting
requirements can be complex. This article
outlines the use of artificial light in historic
places of worship and how it can be controlled.
Church lighting has a number of
requirements, some practical, some aesthetic.
First there needs to be enough light to move
around safely and comfortably so that, for
example, steps or obstructions are clearly
visible at all times. There also has to be enough
light for church users to carry out activities
comfortably, from reading the small type
in a hymn book to watching the minister
or reader, or following a performance.
The church may have fine architecture or
furnishings that can also be accentuated. The
human eye is drawn to the brightest object in
the field of vision so spot-lighting can be used
to pick out a crucifix, organ or other significant
feature. By using light in this way it is possible
for the people running the church to highlight
some features and exclude others, changing
the atmosphere and character of the space.
Churches are increasingly being used for
a wide range of activities, including concerts,
talks, meetings, art exhibitions and children’s
activities. For some events the building may be
full to capacity, while others might be confined
to a small gathering in a side chapel. The lighting
must be right for each activity so it needs to be
flexible. However, this can result in a huge array
of switches in even a small church or chapel,
making it difficult to control.
Making a scheme
flexible in a user-friendly way requires skill and
an understanding of the specific requirements of
the church. The first step in the design process,
therefore, is to explore the requirements with
the client as fully as possible. Then the resources
must be established – usually the funds and
time available. Finally, the design is created that
matches the requirements to the resources.
A large parish church will have several
spaces with different requirements. For
example, when the church is open to visitors
on a gloomy winter day, a low level of light
might be provided in the aisles, while a higher
level might be used for a side chapel witha fine altar. It may be that the choir is only
present in the choir stalls during some services,
so it makes sense to light the stalls only at
these times and to let them be less visible
when empty. At times the west end and the
area around the font may be the centre of an
event, while at others it may be the chancel.
If performances are regularly held in front
of the chancel, then the lighting installed in
this area can be used to create a concert-hall
atmosphere. The seating area needs to be
brightly lit while the audience members find their
seats, but the performance area may be dimly
lit to give a feeling of expectation. When the performance starts the ‘house’ lighting is dimmed
down and the lighting on the stage brought up
to focus attention on the performers. In order
to do this two things are needed: dimmable
lighting and a control system which manages
the performance area separately from the rest
of the interior.
|Typical arrangement of spaces in a small cathedral (Newcastle), each of which may be considered a separate
lighting zone. Steps may be considered as specific hazards in the circulation areas which run through the zones.
It is these two fundamentals,
dimming and independent control of each
area, that create flexibility. By being able to
raise or lower the brightness of the lighting in
different areas it becomes possible to set up
different lighting scenes for different needs.
To light a specific area, the light must
be contained and prevented from flooding out into other areas. If bright modern lights
are used they should generally have narrow
beams so that they only light a specific area.
It is easier to reduce glare by using fittings
with a narrower beam. This principle also
applies to the light from decorative fittings:
it is best if the light is directed at welldefined
areas and does not produce glare.
The lighting for areas which will be used
by churchgoers and other visitors should be
more or less vertical to avoid glare. Lighting
that is directed vertically downwards also
feels natural and comfortable. However,
the lighting of the building can shine at
whatever angle is appropriate, and there
will be occasions where even floor-level
uplighting can be achieved without glare.
Whatever angle is chosen, a decision
must be taken about the visibility of the
fittings. In a historic church it is generally
best to conceal non-decorative fittings. If
there is nowhere suitable to hide them, it is
important to consider their appearance and
the visual impact on the church interior. It
may be possible to adapt existing historic
fittings to incorporate small spotlights, or
new decorative fittings may be introduced
that are sympathetic to the historic space.
It is essential that the dimming is easy to use.
Lighting controls come in a bewildering range
of different types. The best way to achieve a
user-friendly control system is to consult those
who will be using the system regularly.
button control system is often the best choice.
Pressing one button calls up the lighting for a
Sunday service, another for a small service in
a chapel, the next for a concert and so on. This
type of control is called scene setting, as each
button activates a pre-programmed lighting
scene (the concept, and hence the name, comes
from the theatre).
It is possible to have more
than one control panel so that lighting scenes
can be activated or adjusted from different
parts of the church. For example, some lighting
could be controlled from a panel at the entrance
and some from a second panel in the chancel,
thus avoiding a bewildering array of options.
A remote control can also be added to the
system. One priest likes to add a little theatre to his services by subtly raising the brightness of the light on the altar
area at appropriate times using a remote control hidden in his pocket.
Some places of worship have a scene set control system that
is not altered after it has been installed and set up. Others like to
change the scenes and modify them as the uses of the spaces change.
Depending on the type of control system, modifying lighting scenes
can require some technical ability. Some churches may have staff
or volunteers who particularly enjoy getting their hands on an
iPad and setting up a lighting scene for a special event. It’s always
important that the control system matches the needs and capabilities
of the place of worship and its staff, both now and in the future.
Alternatively, the lighting can be controlled by dimmer knobs or
sliders. This means that the levels have to be set each time the lights
are used, but this system is intuitive, cheaper and completely flexible.
||Modern narrow-beam light fitting used at the
University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford:
the unit is just 100mm long by 115mm high
(Photo: Mike Stoane Lighting)
Recently, lighting has been revolutionised by improvements in light
emitting diodes (LEDs). These fittings have a number of advantages.
LED lamps can last for up to 50,000 hours. If they are used for 40 hours
each week they should last for around 20 years. Furthermore, LEDs use
less electricity than conventional light sources so they save energy. They
can also be dimmed very well and are generally smaller than other types
of light source.
However, they do have a major disadvantage: although
there are many cheap, poor quality LED fittings on the market, good
quality LED fittings are expensive. It is essential to use only fittings from
known, reliable manufacturers. The extra cost of good quality fittings is
off-set by their longer lifespan. The savings in maintenance and energy
make LED light fittings the favourite choice for many churches.
Because good quality LED lamps last so long, they can be
installed in less accessible, and therefore less visible, locations. It
is now possible to have light fittings hidden high up among the
ceiling rafters. The fittings can be maintained when the church is
redecorated or when high level repairs or inspections are carried out.
Like fluorescent tubes and other energy-saving light sources, different
LEDs produce light in different shades of white, and quality may vary
considerably. Selecting the wrong type may result in a very unnatural
effect, so quality is just as important as brightness. Light quality is
defined by two measures: colour temperature and colour rendering.
Colour temperature Light can be a cool, bluish white or it
can be a warm white like a domestic tungsten lamp, or anywhere
in between. The colour is precisely defined by a colour temperature
rating. This is a non-intuitive number – the higher the temperature,
the cooler the light appears.
|A statue at the cathedral church of St Marie, Sheffield with and without spot lighting
Colour temperature is measured in
degrees Kelvin (K). A warm domestic light is 2,700k, while a cool,
bluish white would be around 4,000k. If the light from a fitting is only
described as, for example, ‘warm white’, this could mean anything and
this type of fitting should be avoided.
As a rough guide, 3,000k is a
good compromise colour temperature for most church buildings.
Colour rendering The other measure of the quality of light is the
Colour Rendering Index (CRI). This is a measure of how accurately
the light can render colours using a scale of 0 to 100. The higher
the number, the better the light source’s colour rendering accuracy.
A modern, good quality light for church use should have a CRI of 90
or above. Unfortunately, fittings with higher colour rendering tend to
be more expensive and less efficient at converting electricity into light.
The only advantages of old-fashioned tungsten filament lamps were
that they had a fixed CRI of 100 – the highest possible – and the limited
choice of colour temperature made choosing fittings much simpler.
In view of the current trend towards broadening the function
of historic churches to suit the needs of local communities, recent
developments in lighting technology are invaluable. Many churches
which have installed new flexible lighting systems are able to host
a much wider range of events and activities than previously. Often
only relatively modest changes to improve the functionality of
their interiors can provide the key to securing their future.