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One year on from its opening, Speirs + Major revisit their collaboration with Heatherwick Studio on the lighting design for Coal Drops Yard (CDY), the innovative retail and leisure experience in King’s Cross, London.

The unique historical character of CDY required an equally individual approach to the illumination. Rich in shadow play, contrast, and texture, the lighting sensitively re-interprets the heritage of the listed former goods yard buildings, contributing to a unique experience for visitors after dark.

Speirs + Major Principal Mark Major comments:

“Our starting point on this project was to refer back to the King’s Cross Masterplan we developed and have overseen on behalf of our client Argent over the last 13 years. One of its central tenets was that any architectural lighting should focus on celebrating the heritage of this former industrial area. Our masterplan also seeks to be highly sustainable by using lower levels of illumination to save energy and minimise the risk of over-illumination and light pollution in this mixed used district. At Coal Drops Yard we had a fantastic opportunity to use light to express the rhythmic, repetitive nature of the railway architecture and the textural qualities of the fine brickwork. We were fortunate to have very early involvement and a highly collaborative relationship with Heatherwick which allowed us to integrate the light fully within the design approach. The previous completion of the lighting designs for the adjacent Granary Building, Gasholders London, and Gasholder Park gave us the unique perspective of design ing the light for CDY as an important part of a wider lit composition and visitor experience. We also developed the scheme to minimise the impact of such a major retail development after dark for local residents.”

The design balances light with shadow to create visual depth and enrich the pedestrian and shopper experience after dark. Understated wall-mounted lighting details do not compete for attention with the retail units, but rather contribute atmosphere by defining the periphery of the open spaces and revealing the texture of the façade materials. Light lifts the large soffit under the main anchor store, softening the transition from the open space. The underside of Heatherwick’s unique flowing roof structure is clearly defined, helping to shape a strong visual identity for the development when seen from a distance.

Design Associate Hiroto Toyoda explains:

“Retail design tends to prioritise uniformity and high levels of consistency, but we felt that the character of Coal Drops Yard needed to be more flexible yet harmonious – more ‘urban’. Our design embraces this, while remaining mindful of the commercial requirements of safety , security, legibility, and attr activeness for the retail and le isure outlets. One of the bold er design decisions we made was not to attempt to over-light the facades but to internally illuminate the entry thresholds to help draw people into the scheme. The perimeter of the central courtyard is well lit, with the levels towards the centre of the space falling away to provide a context against which the illuminated archways of the retail units glow, animated by the silhouettes of people circulating at the periphery. Changes of le vel are lit positively to aid safety and way-finding. We also worked hard to keep to a refined palette of materials and lighting details – avoiding adding any clutter that would interfere with the lines of the listed architecture or the open landscape.”

The lighting design also included a set of non-prescriptive tenant guidelines to help ensure that the lighting in the retail units have a positive impact on the scheme as a whole.

Project Credits

Client: Argent
Architects: Heatherwick Studio
Lighting Design: Speirs + Major; Mark Major, Hiroto Toyoda, Andrew Howis, Ting Ji, Jaime Fuentes McGreevy
Wayfinding + Graphics: Holmes Wood
M&E Engineer: Hoare Lea
Contractor: BAM
Key Manufacturers: iGuzzini, Original BTC, Wila, We-ef, Simes, Hoffmeister, Philips ColorKinetics, Spectral

Photo Credit:Speirs + Major + © John Sturrock

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