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Finsbury Avenue Square, London

Finsbury Avenue Square, in the City of London’s financial district, is home to a striking lighting feature which, at the time of its completion in 2004, was one of the most sophisticated installations in the world. It consists of a large in-ground array of colour changing lamps, laid out in a semi-symmetric pattern. The array uses over 650 individually controllable light modules, each providing independent colour mixing. The set effect is a dynamic floor of colour providing effects ranging from subtle moods to lively animation.

The concept was designed by Mark Ridler at Maurice Brill Lighting Design. ALI was commissioned to develop, manufacture and install the system.

Colour-changing LED was the only technology able to fulfil the design brief: an installation life in excess of ten years was required, and low maintenance and power consumption are also key considerations in a project of this scale.

A custom lighting fixture was required. The final design was based on the use of custom aluminium extrusion, providing mechanical protection and thermal management for the optics. A specialist glass company was contracted to bond the architectural glass to the light fixture achieving the required effect that only glass be visible from the surface.

The fixture design provided numerous technical challenges. The physical size of the lighting array precluded the conventional approach of centralised dimmers and ‘dumb’ fixtures; cable voltage drop would have led to variation in fixture brightness. The concept of an intelligent lighting fixture was the only real option. With a lighting fixture buried in the ground and only glass visible from the surface, how would we access the fixture electronics to configure the DMX address and so forth? The fixture was to be waterproof to IP68 – could we risk an access cover for the controls?

It soon became clear that a control mechanism more powerful than standard DMX512 would be required. From 2001-2007, ALI was heavily involved with the ESTA standards programme, which was developing a new standard called RDM or Remote Device Management. RDM was to provide a new method of controlling intelligent fixtures and allow attributes such as DMX base address to be remotely programmed.

Even though RDM was still at the concept stage, ALI committed to using RDM for Finsbury Avenue Square. Not only did it obviate the need for access covers, but it also provided new features such as the ability to upload software to the fixture, and to retrieve sensor information. In large architectural projects such as Finsbury Avenue Square, fixture sensors can be a huge benefit to maintenance management, providing advance warning that a fixture may need servicing. Three sensors were implemented for temperature, input voltage and moisture.

Use of the new RDM protocol for control had a significant impact on the entire control system and data distribution infrastructure. A new breed of DMX512 splitter was designed, allowing both DMX512 and RDM data to flow over the same cable. The Art-Net Ethernet standard was upgraded to provide a transport mechanism for the new types of control data.

The control system or lighting console provided another challenge. A conventional memory console could have been used, but the task of programming the matrix of lamps on a console that understood only channel numbers was considered too great a burden. Had a conventional console been used, there would still be a requirement for a separate computer system for RDM configuration and sensor monitoring  (there were not at the time any production consoles that supported RDM).

Colour-Tramp was to provide the solution, communicating via Art-Net and implementing all the functionality of RDM. Such functionality allows Colour-Tramp to operate as both a lighting controller and an installation management system. One screen can show a topographic output mimic of the lighting, while another shows sensor status of all the fixtures. Colour-Tramp also provides email reporting functions on the status of the fixtures. This allows concepts such as statistical analysis of fixture temperature over a period of time. During installation, the ‘Auto-Patch’ function enabled all 650 fixtures to be programmed, at the touch of a button, such that their start address matched the patch – a huge improvement on the days of DIP switch setting!

Awards:

  • IALD Award of Excellence 2004
  • LIF Exterior Lighting Category 2004
  • IEIJ Japan Exterior Lighting Category 2004
  • FX Awards Highly Commended for Best Office or Public Lighting Scheme 2005

Finsbury Avenue Square won the exterior category for what the judges called quite simply “one of the outstanding schemes of recent years”, and, “a technically demanding creation”.