Lighting The 13th Century Benedictine Basilica of Pannonhalma Monastery

Speirs + Major have designed a simple, sensitive and flexible lighting scheme for the 13th Century Benedictine Basilica of Pannonhalma Monastery as a key contributor in John Pawson’s restoration team.Speirs+Major_James Newton_Pannonhalma2

Following centuries of religious and political upheavals and consequent architectural intervention, Pawson’s scheme set out to pare back selected elements from within the heart of the famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. In so doing they sought to restore a sense of volumetric and architectural integrity. The layout has been addressed to better support the celebration of the liturgy, as well as rationalising and simplifying materials and furniture for visual clarity and functional coherence.

The design of the lighting was considered essential to the success of the project both for physical reasons – to adequately illuminate the different areas of the altered layout – and more importantly for liturgical reasons – to aid in creating the right ambience to support the rigorous focus of contemplative life, and to concentrate attention in only those areas relevant to the celebration of a particular liturgy.  The lighting scheme has provided much needed flexibility between these two requirements.

By offering layers of lighting at different levels that each can be individually controlled, the ambience can be simply tuned to suit different liturgies ranging from quiet prayer to high mass. The sensitive subtle interplay of light and shade and the progressive revelation of the form, mass, volume and detail of the architecture looking east formed a key part of the design.  Human scale and focus were key considerations. It was agreed that the quality of the light should be soft, warm and dim and that any dramatic reinterpretation of the architecture should be avoided at all costs.  All existing lighting was replaced (or refurbished, if historically significant) with energy efficient, longer life and more discrete fittings with better optical control to minimise glare.

Photo credit; James Newton / Speirs + Major

Photo credit; James Newton / Speirs + Major

Inspired by the ambience that would have been created by the candle light of the early life of the building, localised lighting from low level light fittings has been re-introduced to provide the bulk of the task lighting. This approach brings attention down to the stalls for the liturgies that require it, introducing human scale and highlighting the warmth of adjacent stonework. A family of light fittings was specifically designed by Pawson with Speirs + Major for this purpose using the form of a specially cast glass-shaded candle as inspiration, but using warm white LED as the source.  The family includes floor-mounted, wall-mounted and stall-mounted versions, as well as a suspended version for the aisles. In selected areas downlighting from wall-mounted or soffit-mounted fittings provides general light from discrete locations. When used in an area where there is localised lighting this downlighting is for augmentation only.

Items of a particular significance may be highlighted, for example at the altars, tabernacles, lectern and sedes, through restricted numbers of small spotlights that have been concealed in the bases of the low level fittings, or are wall mounted in such a manner that they are only visible from the east. Although it is considered to be inappropriate for use during most liturgies, uplighting has been created to the various vaulted volumes (nave, aisles, Sanctuary and the chapels).  This is used to allow tour parties to view the famous mid-19th Century frescoes by the famous Hungarian Pre-Raphaelite artist Ferenc Storno. Uplights are either discrete wall mounted fittings or concealed fittings mounted on capitals.

The lighting was designed in close consultation with the Community of the Benedictine Archabbey of Pannonhalma in which all members played a part – from the Archabbot right through to the Novices. Mark Major and Philip Rose of Speirs + Major conducted a number of research and study trips to the site where they spent time with the Community and participated in the daily orders. These started before dawn and consist of five periods of worship each day with six at the weekend. The lighting designers were asked to understand the nature of each of these services alongside special religious festivals such as Easter, Christmas and various Saint’s Days such that appropriate focus and ambience was provided.

Client: The Archabbot and Community of the Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma, Hungary.
Lead Architect: John Pawson Architects
Executive Architect: 3H Architecture & Design
Lighting Designer: Speirs + Major (Mark Major and Philip Rose)
Executive Lighting Designer and Systems Integrator: Belight
Major Suppliers: Belight, Sky, Deltalight, Helvar, Glassworks Novosad & Son

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Photo credit; James Newton / Speirs + Major

Photo credit; James Newton / Speirs + Major

20 Jun