Architecture and Design

Bringing New Light to Olderfleet on Collins

Horatio Burton
Horatio Burton
Senior Lighting Designer
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The 477 Collins Street site is an amalgamation of three older buildings known as the Record Chambers (1887), the New Zealand Chambers (1887-8) and Olderfleet (1890).

Constructed at the height of the building ‘boom’ in the 1880’s Marvellous Melbourne era and designed by a number of architects, the buildings encompass varying Gothic and Romanesque Victorian architecture and continue to retain their rich history and heritage.

The redevelopment of Olderfleet

Extensive redevelopment works began in 2017. Grimshaw Architects and Mirvac Development were presented with the challenge to seamlessly integrate a modern commercial tower with one of Melbourne’s most important pieces of heritage architecture. Grimshaw’s winning design connected the two buildings with one of the largest lobbies in Melbourne, creating a 25-metre-high glass atrium. The beautiful heritage buildings remained intact with the extensive refurbishment and modernisation of the interiors to create boutique office and retail space. Olderfleet sets a new precedent for adaptive heritage and workplace integration in Australia.

Electrolight was commissioned to design specialist lighting for the ‘Olderfleet’ development including building entrances, lift lobbies, circulation, the impressive Atrium void and the iconic Collins Street Heritage façade.

The lighting approach needed to consider not only the visual aims of the project but also to avoid damage to the original heritage architecture. The outcome celebrates the impressive architectural façades and uses carefully positioned light fittings and varying intensities to create a balanced and sophisticated night-time composition that enhances the prestige of the buildings.

The project’s initial focus was the new-build interior areas within the Tower and Lobby. However, as the design progressed, the client and stakeholders expressed a desire to extend the scope of the project and highlight the façade at night as part of the overall upgrades to the precinct. For us, this meant working closely with heritage architects from Lovell Chen to gain a detailed appreciation of the unique elements of the heritage façades and how we would best approach lighting them.

The three heritage-listed buildings are some of the most unique architectural façades along Collins Street and within central Melbourne built during the post-gold-rush boom. These façades recall the height of architectural fashion in the late 19th century, and little expense was spared in their construction. The heritage architects briefed us on many of the unique cornices, parapets and balconies that make up the façade. This assisted our understanding of what lighting locations and mounting strategies were acceptable and which were off-limits.

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Olderfleer, Melbourne. Image by Nicole England.

One of the key benefits of lighting heritage buildings is that it can strengthen interest in an old landmark and make the community interact with the architecture differently. As such, successful lighting design is an important element of placemaking, alongside architecture, signage and wayfinding.

The lighting design journey

When developing our lighting concepts, an important consideration was how we wanted the façades to reveal themselves in the evening and how best we should light such a unique, intricate building? One of the key benefits of lighting heritage buildings is that it can strengthen interest in an old landmark and make the community interact with the architecture differently. As such, successful lighting design is an important element of placemaking, alongside architecture, signage, and wayfinding. This was a key aspiration for the project.

A common discussion point when considering lighting heritage buildings is how will modern lighting technology and controls overlay with architecture from the past? There can be a misconception that lighting heritage buildings in a modern way will clash and result in a confusing outcome of time periods. However, provided the lighting interventions are undertaken in a considered and sensitive manner, this is generally not an issue. Indeed, modern lighting technology can result in a more discreet outcome with less visible clutter and better quality and controlled lighting.

The façades provide a necessary arrival experience to the Olderfleet development for visitors entering Collins Street, so the lighting design needed to support a sense of arrival and occasion. Also noteworthy was the consideration of how the lighting concept created a cohesive visual journey from outside to inside.

Through developing our lighting concept, we carefully reviewed each of the many architectural elements in detail to create a composition of lighting highlights that felt balanced across the three façades while also celebrating the unique identities of each. In addition, our concept relied on utilising lighting controls to provide a high level of individual control over selected elements so that intensities could be balanced and features could be highlighted where intended.

Once we had developed our conceptual ideas, we needed to validate that the concepts were feasible. Because the façades have such a high level of complexity in their three-dimensional form, it was not sufficient to simply document lighting locations on a 2D elevation.

Fortunately, as part of the site survey, a detailed 3D scanned model was available for review, which proved invaluable in testing and validating each lighting condition in lighting software. It meant we could quickly confirm how the projection of light would hit the complex surfaces and mouldings and how it would render the form of the building.

The second part of this validation process was that we could attend the site during the construction phase and undertake a number of lighting prototypes and mockups. Due to the significant renovations, we were fortunate that the entire façade was accessible via scaffolding, enabling us to test lighting locations and optics in-situ.

The combination of 3D modelling and physical site-visits provided us with a high level of confidence in how the final lighting installation would appear.

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Olderfleet, Melbourne. Image by Nicole England.

Selecting the right instruments

Once lighting locations had been finalised, we developed a sensitive installation approach to the lighting infrastructure and conduits to reduce the impact on the heritage-listed buildings. Existing cable building penetrations were identified and utilised where possible. All remote drivers were concealed from view and located within the interior spaces of the building.

It was important that the light fixtures themselves were discreet in form and of matching finish to blend into the surrounding stonework. We spent considerable time researching lighting manufacturers that offered a palette of luminaries that would satisfy the performance and aesthetic requirements of the project. The chosen lighting manufacturer was specified as they were among the few manufacturers that could provide all the required lighting types, optics and wattages from a single brand. Even with modern LED technologies and increasingly better colour consistency, it is always wise to limit the number of different brands on a lighting installation to reduce the likelihood of noticeable differences in lighting appearance. In this instance, any variation in the stonework’s colour appearance would not be acceptable.

For a lighting designer, the desired colour temperature is a criterion that is absolutely critical to the success of the project and typically has much thought. We identified that it was essential to bring out the warmth of the heritage sandstone and finishes and create a welcoming feel and sense of arrival to the development. At the same time, we needed to consider the neighbouring site conditions of Collins Street and the surrounding civic lighting and street lighting, which was typically a mix of warm and cool light sources.

In the end, we selected 3000K warm white fixed colour temperature for all the façade lighting as it offered a good balance between warmth and not being too warm that it looked disjointed with the rest of the Collins Street precinct.

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Olderfleet, Melbourne. Image from Electrolight.

Once construction was completed, the final step was to undertake commissioning with the design team and programmer. The project was completed in mid-2020 at the height of Covid lockdowns, but fortunately, construction was deemed an essential industry, and on-site commissioning was able to occur. One of the key commissioning aims was to balance the Olderfleet building, which has a lighter finish than the other two façades. This meant we needed to reduce the intensity of the Olderfleet building's lighting. This is where modern lighting technology proved invaluable, as we were able to fine-tune the lighting intensity via dimming of separate lighting channels until we reached a happy balance.

One of the underrated aspects of this project was the requirement to meet ESD Green Star credits for upward waste light to the night sky and obtrusive light to neighbouring properties. To achieve Green Star credits for external lighting that uses only uplighting approaches is a challenge, to say the least. In order to comply, a Green Star lighting impact study was undertaken to validate each lighting detail and aiming strategy to ensure no direct upward waste light was emitted to the night sky.

This required many lighting accessories to be used, including spotlight snoots, exact angle adjustments, and custom lighting baffles for the linear fixtures. In the end, we demonstrated for each unique lighting condition that all the lighting was directed towards the façade entirely, which was a great outcome given the complexity and upward light nature of the project.

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