Worth Abbey, Sussex, UK


dpa were delighted to be asked by Heatherwick Studio to design the lighting for this Monastic Church at Worth Abbey. The original architect-designed lighting scheme comprised simple cylindrical pendants and wall lights in a ‘rustic’ finish with tungsten PAR 38s. The design of the lights was in keeping with the simplicity of the architectural design and of monastic living. The inefficient light sources were still being used at the beginning of the project in 2010. The main body of the church was significantly underlit, so that reading was very difficult and there was not accent or feature lighting. The tungsten lamps provided constant maintenance issues.

The Brief: 

1. To provide a new lighting scheme which significantly improves light levels for ambient and task requirements.

2. A new scheme which utilises much longer life lamps, and which can be maintained without the regular need for special high level access equipment.

3. Will cater for a variety of services and events at various times of day and year.

4. Which utilises the existing luminaires as far as possible and which are to be refurbished for more modern and suitable light sources.

5. The new lighting should be fully dimmable.

6. It should provide feature and accent lighting as appropriate to the architectural design, and should also incorporate new emergency lighting.


The existing luminaires appeared like sections of rusty pipe with lamps inside and this very simple pared down aesthetic was to be continued, albeit in a technically more modern way.

The elements in the church to be illuminated included the school choir area, the monastic choir, the altar, font, and ambo (lectern), the cross the congregational seating, the private chapels, and the impressive architecture.

In re-using the existing luminaires, the obvious direction was to custom design a small family of luminaires in the same style, which would carry out different tasks within the church.

These consisted of:

1. Refurbished single lamp pendants previously over the pews were relocated over the new elliptical monastic choir.

2. Refurbished up/down perimeter wall lights for circulation and lighting of the ceiling, retained in position and some replicas added.

3. A four lamp version of the pendant to provide ambient, task, and accent lighting where required across the church. In the old scheme light levels over the pews measured an average of 70 lux with low uniformity. During the design period we concluded that at least 120 lux was required for satisfactory reading of hymnbooks. The achieved levels in the final design were in the region of 200 – 220 lux to cater for flexibility and lamp life extension through dimming.

4. A ten lamp pendant located at high level in the central lantern to highlight the altar and ambo area. This fitting is mounted via a raise/lower motor system for maintenance.

All fittings are designed for consistent appearance and lamps are fully lockable to maintain focusing.

The lamp type is AR111 tungsten halogen for good beam control and full dimmability. Luminaires contain anti-glare louvres and emergency conversion where required.

Additional elements include high level surface mounted spotlights to the Altar and Font, concealed cold cathode uplighting to the timber roof, concealed LED uplighting to the central lantern soffit and drum.

The cross was also high-lit but to a lesser extent as in the Benedictine Order the Altar is the focal point of the church.

A Lutron system controls all the lighting. Fourteen lighting scenes are set up for various applications and the system is designed so that scenes can be added in to current scenes by pressing the appropriate buttons. This means that a much larger combination of scenes is possible.

Architect: Heatherwick Studio
Photography: James Newton