Following the first implementation of the Antwerp lighting masterplan – elaborated by Susanna Antico Lighting Design – for the new lighting for the historical city centre and its surroundings, also designed by Susanna Antico Lighting Design, the city launched a series of competitions for the lighting of heritage sights, the most prominent of which was the Onze Lieve Vrouw Cathedral and its surroundings. Studio Susanna Antico reached first place and was commissioned to design the project, the completion of which was to coincide with the celebration of the 500th anniversary of the cathedral’s completion.
The cathedral surroundings, in addition to square on which it overlooks, is made up of narrow historic streets that wind through the many historical buildings, some of which adorned by Dutch stepped gables, some with historical façades decorated with small statues of Virgin Mary with Infant Jesus.
Picturesque public spaces provide shelter during summer time in the shade of beautiful trees.
In the cathedral forecourt there is an historical well (By Quinten Matsijs, a 16th century painter and blacksmith), and a sculpture depicting stone workers directed by one of the 14th century architects of the cathedral, Pieter Appelmans, located at the base of the cathedral tower (the lower of the two main towers). The surroundings of the cathedral are pedestrian areas with very limited access for motorized vehicles.
The existing lighting of the cathedral consisted of 51 remote HPS projectors, consuming annually 60.5 MWh. Most of them were located on rooftops and façades of surrounding buildings, creating glare, deep shadows, leaving large areas of the cathedral completely dark at night and flattening all the details and the three-dimensional qualities of the gothic structure, the belfry tower of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Some buildings owners have taken the initiative of lighting their facades, some more successfully than others, and there is an unfortunate profusion of garish neon coloured lighting on restaurant and bar signs.
The pedestrian lighting is provided by a few wall mounted lanterns with 150W and 70W HPS lamps and with some linear projectors in the cathedral’s forecourt – like those usually used in tunnel lighting – with 2x150W HPS lamps in each. The lack of uniformity, the glare, the creation of very dark areas, all contribute to an unpleasant and insecure feeling when walking around the cathedral at night-time.
Location City of Antwerp – Belgium
Project management and engineering Eandis
Installation contractors Maes, Verstraeten
Lighting equipment manufacturers We-Ef, Schréder, Griven, Meyer
Lighting design project arch. Lighting designer Susanna Antico and arch. Lighting designer Gad Giladi, with arch. Helena Gentili, arch. George Balan
The cathedral is the most prominent and important monument of the city. It is visible from most parts of the city and its belfry tower from great distances, thus it is part of the corporate image of the city and an obvious orientation clue.
The guidelines of the masterplan require an attentive approach to the lighting of its heritage. They demand that lighting solutions be a part of the night-time visual vocabulary of the city, i.e. that there is a visual dialogue and synergy with neighbouring areas. Lighting intended for pedestrian zones has strict quality requirements (CCT, CRI, light distribution, avoidance of glare and intrusion).
The character of the imposing gothic structure, the medieval urban fabric and the façades around it require the creation of a soft, pleasant and inviting atmosphere prompting local and foreign visitors to spend time in the immediate surroundings of the cathedral at night-time. The historical heritage status precludes the use of any coloured light and demands a high colour rendering white light to bring out the natural hues of the original stone construction.
The profusion of architectural detail requires close scrutiny in order to select the more important and form-defining ones to ensure that none of the emphasized details upstages the perception of the entire structure.
Create a night-time city identity.
Emphasize the three-dimensional qualities of the architecture and the details of the cathedral while respecting construction materials and avoiding intrusive views of lighting equipment.
Allow for the discovery of the beauty and the craftsmanship of the architectural details at the top of the tower.
Allow for a flexible play of intensities so as to enable fine-tuning luminance balances and creation of different scenes and images according to time of night or annual events.
Create continuity to the adjacent Grote Markt square and streets leading to it.
Enhance the night-time environment around the cathedral for visiting populations and boost the area’s night-time economy.
Reduce energy consumption and production of greenhouse gasses.
Meticulous analysis of the cathedral and its details as well as the surrounding buildings and public spaces and perusal of extensive documentation allowed for a precise choice of elements to be lit so as to create an enhanced perception of the three-dimensionality of the whole structure while highlighting exquisite architectural details till now hidden from observing eyes.
It also enabled precise decisions on the location of many luminaires intended to be installed on the cathedral itself, on the installation techniques to employ while respecting imposed limitations and on the routing of power and communication wiring.
The approach was to construct layered lighting, starting from the base of the cathedral and moving upwards:
The main roofs of the nave and the apse were treated with a uniform grazing wash that also allowed the silhouetted perception of the carved balustrade surrounding the roof.
A selection of historical facades surrounding the cathedral was chosen to be lit in a similar fashion to the way the historical facades of the nearby Grote Markt had previously been lit: grazing light mainly provided by slim linear luminaires mounted at the base of the facades (above ground floor level). Most often the same facades are culminated by Dutch stepped gables where an accent is provided for the side steps.
The pedestrian lighting is provided by a series of façade-mounted “historical” luminaires identical to those used in the Grote Markt, with a soft diffuse distribution located and spaced in such a way to achieve a relatively uniform coverage and avoiding very dark areas.
The trees in two public spaces adjacent to the cathedral, traditional seating locations of cafes and restaurants, are provided with in-ground up lighting allowing for the comfortable and intimate feeling of the trees’ coverage during spring and summer time.
Finally, five small Madonna & infant Jesus sculptures, the Matsijs and the Appelmans sculpture were also given accent lighting from roofs of a few buildings.
Lighting should be felt and not seen.
The lighting design schemes of the built environment are considered added values, in harmony and integration with the environment to be lit.