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Redesigning church lighting

14 August 2015

We are adapting our church for more varied use, including events and activities booked by people in the area. There is a great deal of reordering to do, because the building is a bit dilapidated. We want to redesign the lighting, as rewiring has got to happen, in any case; are there issues we should check before we get designing?

 

FOR any but the smallest of buildings — and here you should take your architect’s advice — you should consider whether you engage a lighting designer. This professional would look at all your needs, activities, and events, and help provide a suitable system in what is also often an historic or listed building. The complexity will determine whether you need such a skilled designer.

Often, the quality of religious space is important to people’s sense of wonder and worship; so the lighting of the church when it is “empty” matters a great deal. Alongside this, there may be features that can be highlighted to enhance the building’s historic features and architectural beauty: rafters, nooks and crannies, carvings, paintings, and decorative features.

Next, list the activities that you know will take place. Many community spaces are well served with a blanket of white light, but a church is a much more sophisticated space, especially when you are planning for multiple types of activity.

Start with your religious activity, and list the services you hold regularly, the occasional offices and festivals, and how you use spaces such as the vestry. Explain your churchmanship in, for example, the importance of the holy table in your eucharistic tradition, as you may wish the lighting to emphasise the table as the visual focal point.

The practical issues are endless, seemingly. But here are some.

I have yet to find a church where the ubiquitous “computerised”, scenario-based lighting switches are totally self-explanatory, or usable by more than one, or occasionally two, people. The result is that most key-holders walk in and switch on everything, because that is the only thing they know how to do, even if they are just visiting the sacristy. Most of us are better off with a bank of switches carefully labelled: north aisle, south aisle, chancel, and so on.

You should be able to light only the part of the church that is going to be used. Small groups may be in a side chapel or meeting room, and need only the room, and the access to it, well lit. So consider how these uses are provided for in your scheme.

Those well-meaning low-wattage eco-friendly light bulbs that we were all given a few years ago do save power, but are often not fit for purpose, as we cannot see to read. LED lighting is more expensive than ordinary bulbs, but has a long life, and offers brightness that meets the need.

Changing light bulbs can be a nightmare, and even dangerous; so ensure that fittings are accessible. High ceilings do not need high fittings, but uplighters. An alternative, if high fittings are the only solution, is to book a builder with the necessary access equipment to come in every two years or so, and change all the high-level and relatively inaccessible bulbs in one go. Any of those taken out that are still usable can work out their time in low-level locations.

When you check the design, carefully “walk through” it, envisioning what happens for each of the types of activity that will take place, and ensure that the design meets the requirements. The specialists on the diocesan advisory committee, your architect, and various historical societies will address appropriateness to the architectural heritage, in particular, but only you know the day-to-day needs.

 

Send your issues and questions to maggiedurran@virginmedia.com.

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