The Benefactor’s Arch, Merton College, Oxford, UK


The Benefactor’s Arch project is an exterior historic link connecting the college’s Front Quadrangle which is accessed through the Gatehouse/Porter’s Lodge off Merton Street, and the adjacent St Alban’s Quadrangle.  The space has been transformed from a dark and functional external place that had been more of a storage facility in recent years, and remodelled to form a point of gathering for the college and visitors to pause, sit, stand, and hold conversation, whilst enjoying the architectural features, new urban furniture, and college plaques, which have been sensitively lit.  The new lighting scheme has positively contributed to the public realm in making this piece of the college more accessible, usable, comfortable, and welcoming by virtue of the quality lit environment, which has an atmospheric, warm, and residential feel about it.

dpa worked closely with the project team to develop a sympathetic and integrated lighting scheme with minimal disturbance to the historic fabric, with ease of reversibility for feature needs and alterations.  One key requirement was to improve the functional ambient light levels, but to achieve this in a subtle and measured way.  A brightness hierarchy was established, with the new seating bench area accentuated with concealed lighting to the underside, ‘floating’ this from the existing stone slabs.  The timber panelling was utilised to accommodate concealed uplighting to provide a layer of ambient indirect light to wash up on to the white ceiling, whilst a surface mounted pattress was applied to the soffit to house miniature semi-recessed adjustable downlights with appropriate optics, aimed and focussed at the plaques.  The discreet ceiling downlights are also used to depict the entrance arch architectural stone detailing.  Lighting also brushes down the engraved college shields in the carpentry.  The main plaque was backlit using a ‘Light Sheet’ product, essentially a uniformly glowing lit sheet placed behind the font, with changeable colour temperature, cool to warm white to coincide with the time of day.  The lighting is controlled via an architectural lighting control system, accessed via a smart phone app, as well as being automatically controlled for ease of day-to-day operation.  The various lighting ‘layers’ are separately controlled, so variation and lit composition can be achieved via dimming the lighting channels, using a small number of lighting scenes.

Client: Merton College, Oxford
Concept Architects: BGS Architects, Oxford (ceased trading September 2020)
Contract Administrator/Principal Designer: Ridge + Partners, Oxford
Electrical Contractor: N & M Electrical Ltd
Photography: dpa lighting consultants