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St Giles' Church

The church of St Giles, one of the few remaining medieval churches in the city of London, recently underwent a lighting upgrade. 

The church, which survived the Blitz, (a German bombing campaign against the United Kingdom during the Second World War, where London in particular was targeted), is located in the centre of the modern Barbican development. Since 1950 it has been Grade I listed, the category reserved for the UK’s most historically significant buildings, and was extensively restored in 1966.

It is thought that there has been a church on this site for 1000 years, with a small chapel likely existing on this site during the Saxon period, followed by what we know was a Norman church, which stood on this site in 1090. The church was dedicated to St Giles during the Middle Ages. 

The foundations of the church are Roman, while the structure above ground refer to various eras and architectural styles as it was regularly strengthened and rebuilt. In 1394 it was rebuilt in the Perpendicular Gothic style, with the stone tower added in 1682. The church also suffered damage by fire on three separate occasions: in 1545, 1897 and 1940. The appearance of the church today is the one created by the 1966 restoration. 
Today, St. Giles is a busy parish church in the heart of the vibrant Barbican community. It is a place of worship, but is also an important music venue, often used for recitals and radio recordings. With book fairs and other community events also regularly organized.

The new lighting system had to meet different requirements, as there are three important altar positions, a large musical performance area and two organs. Accommodating these requirements in a Grade I listed building is no easy task and Light Perceptions considered a number of different options before proposing the scheme that was eventually approved and installed.

Indeed, works in Grade I buildings are subject to the advice of conservation bodies. In the case of St. Giles, the Diocese of London, Historic England and, because of the major post-war restoration, the 20th Century Society were involved.

During the essential preparatory study for the evaluation of the existing situation, the discovery of the image of 'Arts & Crafts' style pendants (late 19th century) was very important. It was a record of a very effective earlier design that could be taken into consideration for a possible new project. 

The lighting from the post-war reconstruction period, on the other hand, was judged neither attractive nor effective: the original 'tulip' pendants in the aisles were considered not in keeping with the architectural style and more suitable for a domestic context. The more recent (1990) Gothic-inspired pendants were already considered ineffective and equally out of place in the modern 20th century environment.

The lighting design studio was therefore inclined towards a restoration of the Arts and Crafts style pendants. However, it was considered that the adoption of this style would set the hands of the clock back too far in time, beyond the major post-war renovation of the entire Barbican area. Moreover, the central position of the suspension would not have allowed the flexibility required for today's performance requirements.

It was therefore decided to design a lighting scheme without suspensions, using floodlights and placing them on the uprights of the nave and at beam level in the aisles.

Light Perceptions presented a summary of the client's requirements and the two design hypotheses: replacement of the suspensions or the use of projectors positioned high in the nave and side aisles. The latter proposal was a great success.

Neat groups of Palco luminaires provide most of the general and accent lighting, with luminaires of different sizes proportionate to the areas in which they are installed. General lighting is generous in all interior areas to facilitate reading by the congregation, performers and worshippers. Accent lighting is provided by spotlights specifically dedicated to the different relevant positions on the altar according to the liturgy and to the baptismal font. 

At musical events, the lighting of the conductor and soloists is individually controllable, while the performers enjoy ample light coverage, enabling them to easily read the scores and be clearly seen by the audience.
When general lighting is not required, miniature floodlights emphasize the architecture, creating a beautiful setting for recitals. Organs are also highlighted so that they can be a strong visual feature during musical events. 

All luminaires are DALI for maximum flexibility and reliability as well as ease of operation. The DALI system allows the general lighting to be controlled zone by zone to accommodate the different uses of the space.

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  • Year
  • Client
    St Giles Church
  • Lighting project:
    Light Perceptions
  • Electrical installation:
    Tom Flynn Electrical Contractors
  • Photographer
    James Newton

Project Quote

"It was an honour to be asked to contribute to the future of this historic, and in many ways unique, place of worship. It has been especially rewarding to see the installation come to fruition in Light Perceptions’ 20th year of business. The design provides a modern and very flexible system, sitting very much in harmony within the medieval origins of the building and its post war repairs and additions. The use of modern lighting technology achieves an appropriate combination of practical and aesthetic lighting throughout the church, supporting its broad cross section of liturgical and musical functions."

Bruce Kirk, Light Perceptions

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