Newnham College, UK

September 12, 2019

Design studio Nulty designs lighting scheme for the Newnham College modern extension incorporating a light-filled homage to notable former students and research fellows.

Newnham is one of the 31 colleges of the University of Cambridge in the UK. Established in 1871, as a women’s college at a time when women were not allowed to attend the University, its co-founders included Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the famous campaigner for women’s suffrage and as such, today, remains a space that brings together outstanding women from around the world for study and research. With a mixture of beautiful historic and contemporary buildings, set in stunning gardens, Newnham is located by the University’s Sidgwick site and University Library.

Having recently introduced a new modern extension, lighting design studio Nulty was asked to design the lighting for the space, which incorporates a light-filled homage to some of the college’s most notable former students and research fellows, including: Prof Dorothy Garrod, Anne Jemima Clough, Anne Jemima Clough, Rosalind Franklin, Eleanor Sidgwick, Philippa Fawcett and Basil Champneys to name a few. 

Working in close collaboration with Walters & Cohen Architects and Ab Rogers Design, Nulty was tasked in creating an inviting warmth to the new wing, as well as addressing the practical needs of the students and faculty.

Inside the entrance, Nulty Bespoke produced 36 beautiful surface-mounted ceiling pendants, with the capability of producing two layers of light. Each pendant consists of two circular plates with a gap in between. The lower plate holds a series of small LED lights, which project light onto the larger brass disk close to the ceiling, producing a soft ambient glow of reflected light, highlighting the sensual texture of the ceiling’s timber coffers.

Nulty Bespoke cleverly utilised some of these pendants further by incorporating a pop out, adjustable spotlight within the lower disk. When popped out and angled, these allow highly targeted beams of light to illuminate art on the walls when required. Alternatively, the spotlights can stay partly hidden and create a pool of light on the floor directly below the pendant. Some of these pendants are also fitted with concealed emergency lighting features, ensuring the necessary function doesn’t impact on the aesthetics of the space.

In the café and social area, Haberdashery design studio was commissioned to develop a lighting sculpture inspired by the fascinating written and photographic history of Newnham College and the prints of Japanese artist Hokusai. Designed to represent 270 pages of paper flying through the air, the ‘pages’ made of brass and powder-coated steel are etched with historical documents and letters written by women associated with the college. Small LED lights are positioned on some of the ‘pages’ and carefully targeted spotlights positioned on nearby walls allow light to be reflected from the piece. 

Associate Lighting Designer at Nulty, Anna Sandgren comments: “We were determined to reflect the history of the college in the main lighting installation and tell the inspiring stories of these pioneering women. Due to the double-height configuration of the space, it is possible to be close enough to read many of the pages when looking from a first-floor opening.”

Haberdashery’s Ben Rigby adds: “As a brand-new architectural space, we were very aware that our sculptural interventions needed to absolutely complement the architect’s design language while also maintaining the harmony of the architectural lighting, without making the room feel crowded or over-complicated.

“We always take care to ensure our work integrates with the light qualities of the surrounding architectural lighting but also ensure it makes the most of the natural light available. This gave the sculpture several identities depending on what time of day you see it, or the position you view it from – light reflects off the curved ‘paper sheets’ and passes through the perforated surface produced by the photoetching process, allowing distinct light and shadow to evolve through the day.

“The pages were carefully positioned along curved ‘arcs’ that guide the viewer’s eye through the space, hence the sculpture name Arc of History; overall a feeling of lightness was preserved, allowing for a relaxing café environment below – inspiring free thought and imagination.”

“The decorative lighting elements add playfulness and warmth to the space,” continues Sandgren. “Creating an environment that inspires students and teachers alike. The space is brought to life and the mood changes throughout the day. All of the bespoke elements were tailored for the audience. Every light element was developed with the use of the space in mind; linking academia with design throughout.” | | |

Images: James French