This winter, the National Theatre on the South Bank caught my eye with a dramatic array of colours that suddenly erupted from its façade, radically changing its appearance.
Not only is the NT one of the top arts venues in London, it also has very distinctive architecture that makes it stand out from what often seems to be a standardised high-rise London skyline. It has always divided opinion but it certainly has architectural relevance. The impact it had when it was built contributed to its reputation as one of the best examples of the ‘Brutalist’ style in the capital – another notable example being The Barbican Centre.
It comes as no surprise that the NT’s strategy is to preserve its bold and often controversial history whilst looking at ways to stay relevant today – here by using lighting as a colourful weapon to fight climate change while improving energy efficiency across its premises.
As part of a major project that began in 2015, the façade of the NT building underwent a huge makeover this winter, which has helped to revitalized it and attract even more people to the venue than before.
The project shines a new light onto the concrete finishes and highlights details in its architecture that were left unnoticed previously. How has the NT’s lighting design achieved this? By clever use of different LED colours that add an extra layer of texture and depth to its concrete walls.
A stroll around its interior and exterior public areas makes it really clear that the venue’s lighting makeover has made it more welcoming and it feels like a safer place to walk around, due to spot lighting being applied in staircases, pathways and on the entrance level. In the interior areas within the building, light has been used as means to add more variety, improving visitor experience throughout.
But perhaps the most fascinating thing about the new lighting is its interchangeability. With different colour variations available for the NT to programme the building appears to change every couple of days – creating an extra element of surprise designed to turn the heads of the thousands of commuters who travel through the South Bank area every day.
On top of that, the project now allows the building to consume 20% less of energy than before. This is a great achievement and a brilliant example of how it’s possible to tackle one of today’s most challenging issues. The improvement of LEDs over time means today’s LEDs allow the NT to successfully reduce their building’s CO2 emissions while adding dramatic effect, turning an iconic building into a truly sustainable one that will no doubt inspire other venues around London.
Our Point 6 view
This beautiful lighting project proves that you can successfully strike a balance between functionality and aesthetics and also shows how the NT took an ambitious idea and then created a dramatic (and environmentally friendly) result.