Marianne North Gallery

Kew Gardens, United Kingdom


Donald Insall Architects

Electrical Engineer
Atelier Ten

Project Manager

Main Contractor

James Newton


Award of Merit, IES Awards, 2012

Finalist, Heritage, Lighting Design Awards, 2012
Arts and Education

Architecture + Environment

The Marianne North Gallery is a Grade II listed art gallery, built in 1881 within the grounds of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, housing the life’s work of botanical artist Marianne North.

With the building in dire need of repair, the lighting was also upgraded to not just address the damage but also to restore the original character of the building, bringing the architectural and gallery lighting up to contemporary standards without the equipment impacting on the look of the gallery.

Unusually, because the gardens close at dusk, the lighting was only to address the look of the gallery during daylight hours. Research carried out in conjunction with Kew’s conservator determined that the gallery was originally lit by a combination of daylight and large suspended gasoliers. Indeed, the use of daylight was identified as a key part of the architect’s original concept for the building.

Whilst the modern conservation requirements dictated that direct daylight could not be reinstated, the glazing was replaced and linen blinds added to ensure that a sense of daylight was retained. It was also decided to avoid using high contrast lighting as this would be out of keeping with the architectural heritage.

Reproduction pendants were introduced, which both recreate the original look and ambience of the gallery and provide much of the general illumination. The light from the pendants is reinforced by concealed linear fluorescent uplighting of the soffit to emphasise the height of the gallery.

The final key element was the lighting of the paintings themselves. The challenges were threefold: the stringent UV, IR and light level conservation requirements, the absence of concealed mounting positions and the source reflections caused by essential protective front glass on the paintings which are hung frame-to-frame across the whole expanse of wall.

Extensive testing was carried out to find the right combination of system, source, optical system and mounting method to address these challenges. The final solution comprised a metal halide fibre optic solution consisting of a custom-designed rail to house the lenses, and curved brackets to support the rail in the optimum position whilst also concealing the fibres. The resulting installation sits almost imperceptibly beside the black metalwork of the balcony railing and provides a wash of high CRI light over the paintings. The reflections, unavoidable with painting protective glass, are restricted to angles outside of the normal viewing positions.

A simple lighting control system allows the installation to respond to daylight, enabling energy savings through the dimming of the pendants and uplighting.

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