Pembroke College Chapel, Cambridge, UK

dpa were commissioned in January 2012 by Pembroke College, Cambridge to design a lighting scheme for the interior of the College Chapel. The Chapel was built after the Civil War by Christopher Wren and was a real change from the late Gothic style of the 17th Century. This is a fine example of his earliest work.

Being such an important building, this was always going to be a challenging project for the practice. We had to consider the sensitivity of the architecture as well as fulfilling the brief set by the College. The main issue with the current lighting scheme was an insufficient light level to the pews to enable one to read during service.

Having completed extensive lighting trials, we devised a scheme that consisted of LED and linear fluorescent light sources throughout. It was very important that all of the luminaires were concealed from normal view where possible and that they did not have any adverse effect on the building fabric or the joinery.

The main ambient light levels come from concealed projectors positioned on the large stone window sills to either side of the Chapel, which are uplighting the intricate plaster ceiling, one of the main features of the Chapel. The reflected light provides sufficient illumination to the pews below.

Many key architectural features have been highlighted to add drama and focus to the Chapel. For example, the perimeter timber panelling has been illuminated using several miniature cantilevered spotlights. The large pilasters have been uplit using small recessed uplights within purpose-built timber boxes and slim fluorescent battens are positioned on the ledge above, to illuminate the underside of arch at the altar end.

The organ casing has been illuminated with concealed spotlights positioned on the window sills and backlit using linear fluorescents adding depth to the Chapel, as this was previously a very gloomy area.

The Chapel is used for many different functions, day and night. Therefore a control system has been installed to enable the College to set various lighting ‘scenarios’ to suit the particular event being held on that day.

The lighting scheme was very successful and, most importantly, the College is very happy with how the lighting compliments the building, and the functionality and flexibility the scheme now provides.