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Peterborough’s square deal

Sutton Vane Associates’ commission to design a lighting scheme for a project to rehabilitate Peterborough’s historic Cathedral Square in the centre of the city went far beyond public realm lighting. Amanda Allen reports

In recent years, poor urban planning has resulted in the emergence of a host of out-of-town attractions popping up on the outskirts of many UK cities. Peterborough was one such city, suffering a shift in focus from its central Cathedral Square to attractions on its periphery. As a result, the square was transformed into a nine-to-five space, prone to anti-social behaviour after dark. Eager to reinstate the square at the heart of Peterborough, the city council embarked on an overhaul, which included a new lighting scheme for the space.

The lighting design was considered a key component for putting the square back on the map, not only in the evening but during the daytime as well. It integrates the lighting of public and private buildings to create an inviting space that includes a water feature lit by colour-changing LEDs and warm, even, white light reflected from the façades of heritage buildings.

“We wanted the lighting to create something unique, to enhance the historical backdrop of the square,” explains Michael Grubb, director at Sutton Vane Associates. “We never wanted it to be over the top. The idea was to create something pleasant, where people could relax in the space and feel comfortable.”

Lighting for heritage

Comprising both perimeter buildings and heritage buildings in the middle of the square, the team felt that if they solely dealt with the public realm lighting, the scheme wouldn’t be successful, as it would leave dark buildings in the centre of the square. It was also felt that the perimeter buildings could be quite imposing and dominant and also needed to be addressed.

“In a way, we worked from back to front. We set about lighting the buildings and monuments in the square and we then filled in the other areas that still needed light to ensure the square felt safe and secure,” says Grubb.

A major consideration for the project was how to light the heritage buildings sympathetically, namely St John’s Church and the Guildhall, both located in the square. “When lighting a heritage building, you need to ensure that you preserve the building but you also have to carefully consider whether the lighting equipment adds any visual impact during the day,” says Grubb. The approach taken by Sutton Vane Associates was to hide the majority of the equipment. Any equipment that couldn’t be concealed was spray-finished using a special paint, making the fittings as unobtrusive as possible.

To light the façades, the team used surface-mounted spots, supplied by Commercial Lighting, with 3,000K metal halide sources with spreader lenses and a narrow palette of colour temperatures designed to match the stonework. “We wanted everything to be up-lit so that it all felt connected and part of the public realm space,” says Grubb, “In the Guildhall we configured the recessed spotlights in a way that creates shadows between the pillars. That was deliberately developed to ensure that, when you walked into the square, you didn’t encounter glowing, flat, uninspiring buildings.”


Because the square is quite enclosed, attracting people into the space was another key factor for consideration and the lighting design seeks to enable wayfinding to and around the square.

Shops and significant structures such as the Roman archway, all four façades of the Guildhall and the tower of St John’s Church were lit at a high level or at the corners to help wayfinding and the team was also keen to light the perimeter areas.

“We knew we wouldn’t be able to light the entire perimeter, so we had to consider which buildings would be most valuable lit, in terms of what we were trying to achieve,” says Grubb. “There are three roads that lead into Cathedral Square but, when you start your journey at the other end of those roads, you can’t see it. To correct this, we lit the three buildings on the corner, wrapping the light around the corner, which became a visual marker for those approaching from a distance.”

In addition, new decorative and energy-efficient street lighting has been added. In Church Street, inefficient street lamps have been replaced with decorative columns supporting cast aluminium Parklight Asymmetric luminaires at a height of 10.5m, incorporating 150W HCI-T metal halide lamps.

Colourful spectacle

Eager to add a splash of colour to the square, the team incorporated a spectacular new water feature into their scheme.

Designed by Fountain Workshop to create dynamic, coloured lighting effects, the piece incorporates recessed RGB colour-changing LED modules. The LEDs are doughnut-shaped with the water passing through the middle of the ring. “The fixture gives a nice illumination and looks neat and tidy, which was important in this instance, because the fountain is not on during the day or during very cold weather, so at these times you don’t want unused fittings on display,” says Grubb.

The fountain also allowed the team to play with colour in the square, albeit with a limited palette. “We were careful not to create a ‘raver’ effect of colours,” says Grubb. “But we were quite keen on the red, despite the negative connotations in a public space. We went with the reds, mauves and blues, as we felt those colours sat quite nicely against the warm white backdrop of the light on the historical surfaces.”

LED meets water

LEDs proved very beneficial in the context of the water feature.

Shape and size Modules could be discreetly designed around the fountain jet, making the installation visually clean and simple.

Colour and control Individually addressable modules animate the space and can be altered for special events.

Safety Using LED s removed the potential risk of electrocution.

Maintenance The longer life of LED s removed the need for regular lamp replacement.

Power consumption At 3W per LED fitting, the team was able to create an energy-efficient lighting solution.

Wayleave agreements

Collaboration between the lighting consultant, the local authority and local businesses was crucial in transforming Cathedral Square from a dark and unwelcoming area at night into a destination with a growing night-time economy. The main issue the scheme faced was not its initial cost but how the scheme would be maintained in the future.

“We worked closely with the local electrical highway engineers on the project and it was made clear to us that they didn’t have funds to maintain the scheme so we set about establishing wayleave agreements with the private owners,” explains Grubb.

These agreements put the onus on the private owners to maintain the fittings for the perimeter buildings in exchange for the supply and installation of the fittings. “This was an excellent deal for St. John’s Church, for example, which would struggle to raise the funds for such a scheme” says Grubb. “We were able to supply the fittings, install them and cover the running costs. In exchange, the church covers the cost of maintenance, such as cleaning, and the replacement of lamps.” To ensure the success of this approach, Sutton Vane Associates did a demonstration of what the lighting would look like when completed, and also demonstrated how easy it is to take the lids off and clean and replace the lamps.


Project: Cathedral Square, Peterborough

Lighting Design: Sutton Vane Associates

Electrical Engineer: Engineer Pell Frischmann

Electrical Contractor: McCann and Partners

Contractor: Osborne

Suppliers: Encapsulite, Louis Poulsen Lighting, Mayer Lighting, NJO Technology, Vega Lighting, We-ef Lighting, Woodhouse

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