Jan 5, 2022
Media and light art create a sense of grandeur on the walkway to London’s famous Wembley Stadium
By Samantha Schwirck

We often focus on our destinations while traveling, hurrying along pathways or bridges in anticipation of a flashy exterior or grand entrance coming into view. But opportunities lie in these in-between spaces, and with the right design elements, unremarkable passages can become destinations themselves.

These transformations are particularly enticing when the route is used by millions of people each year, such as Olympic Way, which connects the Wembley Park tube station to London’s famous Wembley Stadium, the largest football stadium and music venue in the U.K.

Speirs Major was engaged to provide lighting design for the Olympic Way pedestrian pathway—as well as the stadium entry stairs on one end and underpass to the tube station on the other—in 2016. The assignment “was to create a great pedestrian experience for the journey between the tube station and the stadium—whether they be residents, shoppers, diners, people attending events, or football fans on their way to and from a match,” says Mark Major, cofounder and senior partner at Speirs Major (London).

The experience kicks off at the tube-station end of Olympic Way, where visitors pass beneath the Bobby Moore Bridge when arriving and departing. Previously neglected and unwelcoming, the new underpass incorporates high-definition media advertising screens on the fascias at each end.

Inside the underpass, low-resolution media screens on walls and illuminated slots in the ceiling (the Light Lab) allow content from the fascias to appear to flow into the underpass. “A wrap-around design draws the artistic content from the fascia media screens into the tunnel,” Major says. “The content appears on low-resolution screens and extends across slots in the highly reflective soffit, creating an effect that envelops pedestrians in dynamic light.”

The journey continues on Olympic Way, where illumination creates an appealing, secure ambience for residents day-to-day, but also enhances the high-level buzz of crowded match days. “The lighting is designed to be flexible, taking care to balance the needs of residents with a vibrant nighttime character in support of social, retail and leisure opportunities,” Major explains. “As well as being able to create different moods and atmospheres, it was crucial that the lighting contributed to safety and security regardless of crowd density.”

To achieve this, Speirs Major collaborated with architect Dixon Jones on bespoke light columns that now frame the central walkway. Each 13.5-meter (44-ft) high column (Urbis Schreder) supports a lit banner and five different projector types (Ewo) along a 4.5-meter (15-ft) outreach arm. Dimming of selected fixtures crafts the distribution required for each day or occasion, and the optic that controls the downlighting to the banners also delivers rhythmic pools of light beneath each column.

“These multipurpose structures integrate several functions,” Major explains. “Multiple miniature projectors with a range of five precision optics are focused and programmed to create a series of tailored light levels and distributions, supporting the requirements of different evening times and events, while minimizing energy use and light pollution.”

In addition, the arms of the columns create a linear perspective that contributes to a sense of processionary grandeur. While the columns currently showcase static celebratory displays, they are engineered to support up to one ton of equipment, making digital banners with fully immersive live content possible in the future.

At the stadium end of the boulevard, an elegant new terrace of steps connects two plazas. The steps and plazas are lit by rows of 3000K projectors (Ewo) mounted vertically on 16-meter (52.5-ft) and 12-meter (39-ft) tall masts, respectively. At the tip of each mast, an RGBW color-changing beacon creates a colorful visual link to events and matches when desired. “These are programmed to deliver appropriate light levels for maximum public safety and security depending on time of day and crowd conditions, with additional unobtrusive handrail lighting [Urbis Schreder] supporting uniformity with minimal clutter,” Major says.

Beneath the steps, cross-lighting from a series of roof lights (Stoane Lighting) reflects into the new public space below, boosted by additional 3000K downlighting (Urbis Schreder). From above, the disc-shaped domes of the roof lights appear to glow. “They create giant glowing discs that gently animate the plaza above,” Major says.

An Owlet system (Urbis Schreder) controls the columns along Olympic Way, while a Pharos system controls the bridge underpass, RGBW beacons, handrail lighting and under-step lighting, including the roof lights and downlights.

Phased over three years, the project culminated in a summer 2021 completion. “The delivery and procurement schedule were incredibly complex and presented a major challenge,” Major adds. “Each of the three elements—the Bobby Moore Bridge, Olympic Way and the Wembley Steps—needed to work successfully both as a whole and as stand-alone experiences as they were being installed sequentially.”

In addition, key routes needed to remain open throughout construction and installation, including engineering of the bespoke columns, which Major describes as “a huge technical challenge” due to their size and loading.

Despite the phased approach, the end result is cohesive, immersing users in a blend of media and light art from start to finish. However, it’s also adaptable, should the pedestrian journey require another transformation in the coming years. “The future-proofed multifunctional columns allow for huge flexibility in shaping ambience and atmosphere as well as being engineered for future digital banners,” Major adds. “They are a powerful, elegantly integrated means of communicating with pedestrians on multiple levels, both intuitive and direct.

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Samantha Schwirck

Samantha Schwirck is Managing Editor for... More info »