Literary Lights Nulty designs lighting for Newnham College, Cambridge
Nulty is pleased to have designed the lighting for Newnham College’s newly opened modern extension, incorporating a light-filled homage to some of its most notable former students and research fellows.
Working in close collaboration with Walters & Cohen Architects and Ab Rogers Design, Nulty was tasked to create an inviting warmth in the new wing of the Cambridge women’s college, as well address the practical needs of the students and faculty.
In the café and social space, Nulty commissioned Haberdashery design studio to develop a lighting sculpture inspired by the fascinating written and photographic history of Newnham College and the prints of Japanese artist Hokusai. Designed to represent 270 pages of paper flying through the air, the ‘pages’ made of brass or powder-coated steel are etched with historical college documents and letters written by women associated with the college. Small LED lights are positioned on some of the ‘pages’ and carefully targeted spotlights positioned on nearby walls allow light to be reflected from the piece. The documents etched onto ‘pages’ of the lighting sculpture are:
- A letter by archaeologist Prof Dorothy Garrod, first female Professor at Cambridge
- A letter from Anne Jemima Clough, the College’s first Principal, to Horace Darwin
- A letter home by Mary Hutton, one of the College’s first students
- The estimate for repairs to the Clough Gates, after male undergraduates attacked the college in 1921, in riots protesting degrees for women.
- A photograph of Anne Jemima Clough and the first five Newnham students of 1871
- A letter home from Newnham student Rosalind Franklin, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA
- Second Principal Eleanor Sidgwick’s 1890 publication of Health Statistics, demonstrating education did not damage women’s health
- A travel journal by Philippa Fawcett, who received the top mark in the mathematics Tripos exams at a time when women could not receive degrees
- A letter from Newnham’s architect, Basil Champneys, to campaigner for women’s rights Professor Henry Sidgwick
- A 19th century student’s satirical sketch of Henry Sidgwick giving ‘Lectures for Ladies’
- A 19th century student’s cartoons of Tripos exams
- A comic play by Newnham students from 1906, poking fun at University traditions
Associate Lighting Designer at Nulty, Anna Sandgren comments, “we were determined to reflect the history of the college in the main lighting installation and tell the inspiring stories of these pioneering women. And due to the double-height configuration of the space, it is possible to be close enough to read many of the pages when looking from a first-floor opening”.
Externally, the texture of the brickwork of the entrance area/ Porter’s Lodge is highlighted by a series of low intervention uplights to warmly ‘lift’ the façade.
A highlight of the exterior is a two-storey tall artwork by former Turner Prize nominee Cathy de Monchaux, inspired by a lecture Virginia Woolf gave at the college, the basis for A Room of One’s Own. Cast in bronze and standing in relief from the brick wall the sculpture needed carefully considered lighting. The Nulty team visited de Monchaux at her studio prior to the installation of the artwork to determine the appropriate colour temperature and type of lighting required. A narrow, very powerful uplight reveals the tall piece’s highly textured surface, preventing any light from flooding elsewhere.
Inside the entrance, Nulty Bespoke produced 36 beautiful surface-mounted ceiling pendants, with the capability of producing two layers of light. Each pendant consists of two circular plates with a gap in between. The lower plate holds a series of small LED lights which project light onto the larger brass disk close to the ceiling, producing a soft ambient glow of reflected light, highlight the sensual texture of the ceilings timber coffers.
Nulty Bespoke cleverly utilises some of these pendants further by incorporating a pop out, adjustable spotlight within the lower disk. When popped out and angled, these allow highly targeted beams of light to illuminate art on the walls, when required. Alternatively the spotlights can stay partly hidden and create a pool of light on the floor directly below the pendant.
Some of these pendants are also fitted with concealed emergency lighting features, ensuring this necessary function doesn’t impact on the aesthetics of the space.
Bringing the history of the college to life further, linear LEDs are fixed to cabinets washing historic artefacts with light. Each fitting has a high light colour rendering and is dimmable to minimize the potential for light damage to any of the pieces.
Each of the individual teaching rooms has a central ceiling light that emits a generous amount of light onto the space, using both direct and indirect light distribution, reducing glare.