Newcastle Cathedral is a magnificent Grade I listed building, dating back to the early 14th century. For over 900 years it has been at the centre of the city’s spiritual and civic life as evidenced by its memorials and ledger stones which, together, reveal much of the heritage of Newcastle and the wider region. The Cathedrals’ heritage project, Common Ground in Sacred Spaces, sought to breathe new life and new light into this historic landmark. ERCO’s lighting solutions together with Casambi and TGA Specialist Lighting, delicately illuminated this spiritual and cultural architecture, bringing new light to this awe-inspiring place of contemplation. Modern LED and Bluetooth control technology enable the light to be controlled at the touch of a button via a smartphone or tablet, bringing this historic building into the 21st century.
Sustainable and future-proof lighting solutions
The Cathedral boasts one of the finest lantern towers in the country, dominating the skyline since the 15th century. Woven into the very fabric of the building are substantial elements of medieval design as well as evidence of its evolution over a number of historical periods, with examples of work by prominent architects including Daniel Garrett, John and Benjamin Green, John Dobson, and George Gilbert Scott.
Inside the stone façade, the Cathedral holds one of the largest collections of monuments and ledger stones in northern England which date back to the 1600s. It also displays medieval heraldic bosses and a fine medieval font with a contemporary wooden cover, an elaborate gothic tracery, and a stone effigy of an unknown medieval knight. The 19th century chancel embellishments showcase wood and stone working skills by Ralph Hedley, Robert Beall and J S Westmacott. The landmark presents a beautifully integrated appearance, displaying superb artistry and craftsmanship executed in the medieval style.
The Cathedrals new heritage project, Common Ground in Sacred Space, revives the medieval role of the building as a dynamic hub for worship, community and business activity. Through National Lottery funding the Cathedral has been refurbished to reinvigorate the space and its functions. The goal was to open up the Cathedral, uncover the historic ledgers within the floors, and illuminate untold histories and stories of this beautiful building.
Speaking with the Senior Residentiary Canon of Newcastle Cathedral, Clare MacLaren, the idea behind the cathedral project, was to create a greener, more sustainable and future-proof building, and integrate a lighting solution which aligned with this, ‘’The refreshment and renewal of the lighting scheme at Newcastle Cathedral has really transformed and enhanced our beautiful and ancient building. Our collaborative partnership with ERCO, TGA Specialist Lighting and Casambi has delivered a far more energy-efficient, effective and user-friendly system.’’
Contemplated and considered illumination
TGA Specialist Lighting were appointed by the Chapter of Newcastle Cathedral to provide design advice and specific areas of design associated with the proposed upgrade and refurbishment of the artificial lighting, provided to the main body of the Cathedral. Working closely with TGA and with architects Purcell, ERCO were specified to supply a range of luminaires to illuminate the space.
The lighting design elevates the architectural details and also the atmosphere within the space, welcoming new and old visitors to the Cathedral. The luminaires have been carefully considered to create an oasis of peace and tranquillity within a vibrant and busy city. The goal was to create a lighting scheme which reinvigorated the meaning of the Cathedral and the community’s emotional attachment to it.
The lighting provides form and function, with two elements to the design; general lighting and accent lighting, blended together to form a complete lighting design. The general lighting installation was utilised to provide a base level of illumination to the whole area. Using a range of ERCO spotlights with flood and spot lighting distribution, like Parscan, Optec and Gimbal the luminaires flawlessly highlight functional areas and walk ways, giving the Cathedral a new dimension and nurturing the visitor experience. The accent lighting component was designed to highlight key features within the Cathedral, whether individual architectural elements or specific plaques and statues. Using 2W LED Optec narrow spot the illumination further contributes to the general lighting levels and artistically illuminates the historic architecture and spiritual structures, adding depth and dimension to the space. The lighting has been beautifully set to a warm 3000k static colour temperature with a minimum colour rendering index of 92+, creating an engaging and inviting atmosphere as you step into the Cathedral.
This 14th Century landmark has been brought forward into the 21st Century and into the light, with a lighting design which invites visitors into a warm, safe space of contemplation. The Cathedral has been restored to an integral space for the community.
Bringing light to the darkness
Newcastle Cathedral certainly presented its challenges for the lighting scheme. With intricate architecture, both high and low ceilings and stone walls, the lighting design, luminaires and Bluetooth controls, had to be carefully considered to bring the right light to the space and its multiple functions. ERCO’s approach is light not luminaire, and this ethos is apparent throughout the Cathedral. With minimal impact on the historic fabric and material, ERCO’s solutions provide functional illumination levels throughout whilst maintaining an aspect of mystique and drama.
Canon Clare MacLaren, said, ‘’Before this, we would struggle for even lighting coverage. For example, the bride and groom might find themselves standing in a pooI of shadow, and some members of the congregation struggled to read their service sheets.’’
Now regular members of the Cathedral’s services have welcomed the new light and enjoy its visual comfort. Crossing the walkway to the alter, a bride was mostly in the dark, now she is adorned with a beautiful light on her special day.
The building, and the Nave in particular, originally felt like a large, cavernous space. The lighting design and luminaires have worked to create a light and welcoming space, still with depth and dimension, but now reinvigorated with a sense of intimacy and belonging to this community space.
Working with TGA and Casambi, ERCO have succeeded in creating an interactive, flexible and inclusive environment for all visitors, within this hub of contemplation.
Flexible Bluetooth control in a historic cathedral
Aligned with the lighting scheme, was the need for flexibility. The Cathedral is a place for worship, weddings, concerts and community celebrations. The long-standing relationship between ERCO and Casambi proves to have no limits and has once again produced an innovative lighting solution for this historic building.
With the Casambi app, individual ERCO spotlights and floodlights can be dimmed at any time and without effort by a smartphone or tablet. This automatically directs the gaze of the visitors to the open and perfectly illuminated sections of floor, ceiling and exquisite architectural features. The Cathedral needed a flexible, supportive and reliable system, which could create multiple scenes for seasonal and daily events, from choir practice, Christmas concerts to Sunday service. The Advent Sunday Carol, is one such event, beautifully illuminated with a pool of light, which follows the Choir service. This event was articulated with 9 different scenes, all available to Cathedral staff at the touch of a button.
‘’The app is instinctive and simple to use for basic functions – and yet sophisticated enough to create multiple, easily accessible scenes. We can now create subtle and really beautiful effects of light and darkness throughout the building, whether we’re hosting a rock concert, or Midnight Mass’’, said Canon Clare MacLaren. ‘‘We now have a “fit for purpose” system, which gives us the quality of light we need at all times. We have really appreciated the care and personal attention that ERCO and Casambi have put into working with us on this project. They’ve listened to our brief, taken feedback on board at every stage, and have been tireless in the delivery until everything was just right.”
Through the new lighting solutions and technology, the staff at the Cathedral have full autonomy over the luminaires. They can set a variety of scenes, create atmosphere and ambience much like a theatre. Every detail from colour temperature, positioning and illumination levels can be controlled at the touch of a button, allowing the staff to create bespoke scenes for choir performances or any other event.
Artistic vision and practicality
There is a new, sustainable, human centric and future-proof light in the Cathedral, in which functionality of the space is communicated, through artistic vision and practicality. ERCO, TGA and Casambi have worked together to marry these elements creating a place of worship, a beacon of hope and a space for the community to thrive. This modern approach to community lighting has shone a new light on the Cathedral and what it means to the people of Newcastle. The Cathedral is more than just a building, it is made by the people, and the new human centric illumination elevates this to create an inclusive space, connecting people from across the community.
Photography: Rob Parrish
Client & Project Manager: Newcastle Cathedral
M&E: TGA Consulting Engineers
Lighting Designer: TGA Specialist Lighting
Bluetooth Technology: Casambi
Contractor: Historic Properties Restoration
Electrical Contractor: McNally and Thompson
Lighting Manufacturer: ERCO Lighting UK