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The Games master

LoveLight on 6 October will feature a segment on the lighting of the London 2012 Games. In the build-up to the event Ben Cronin talks to former lighting designer and LOCOG design principal Kevin Owens

If the organisers of the London 2012 Games are to be commended for recognising the importance of lighting when the Olympic Park switches to ‘Games mode’ next summer, some of the praise must surely go to Kevin Owens. The former lighting designer turned LOCOG design principal credits his early experiences working at Speirs and Major for a holistic attitude to design and has applied what he has learnt in his approach to the London Games.

“All the projects I’ve worked on have been large, urban-scale pieces and so it’s a question of always keeping an open remit, not necessarily closeting things,” he says. “I think what I learnt early on is that, as much as possible, you consider all of these aspects at the outset, rather than at the end. Historically, lighting design as a discipline was always thought of as an add-on, so it came on [the project] late and suffered as a consequence.”

Owens was responsible for putting together the group of architects, designers and engineers that will apply the theatrical make-up to the temporary and permanent venues in preparation for their two weeks under the global gaze next year, and lighting, of course, will play a fundamental role.

Reference point

“Primarily, when it comes to the Park, the lighting has been a question of working with the ODA and its teams in terms of developing strategies for Games time that don’t clash with the legacy mode,” he says. “Everything we do, from the lighting to the architectural design, we do as if we were dealing with a permanent facility. So, in the Park, if we’re working with 15 lux as our lighting levels, we’re looking to that as our reference point and always trying to deliver a uniform approach, rather than what potentially could be an over-lit solution.”

Owens thinks large, televised events often suffer when the back-of-house lighting overpowers the front-of-house lighting but, such is the attention to detail on the London Olympics, that even the temporary retail concessions have received lighting guidelines. He says: “We work through our approach with all of our partners, so when we build the Common Domain – which is the term of reference for the operational Park during the Games, including the concourses and the spectator services and concessions – we’re working with catering, we’re working with our merchandising partners and we’re working with our sponsors about integrating a lighting approach to ensure that we can highlight them in the right way. Catering units need to be lit, but let’s not over-light them.”

Lighting consultants often fantasise about what they would do if they were allowed this amount of control and attention to detail in town planning, for example, but this is the reality for the team working under Owens. The fact that he oversees all of this made-for-television choreography brings to mind the role of a set designer.

“The remit that we have is holding true to the visual representation of the Olympic Park to a wider global audience,” he says. “That’s not often the type of remit you get in the lighting realm, but there will be four billion TV viewers tuning into the Games.

“Most of the primetime TV images that will be relayed back to the United States, for example, will be broadcast in the hours of darkness. So a lot of our emphasis has been on framing and setting up those views so that the way in which London and the Olympic Park is represented to an evening audience is appropriate.”

Kevin Owens will join a cast of stellar speakers at this year’s LoveLight event, which will take place at the Classic Car Club inShoreditch, east London. Places are now limited so, to secure yours, go to www.we-love-light.com

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