Using light to define spatial dimensions
These then were the experts that needed to be impressed when the interior of the Cathedral was to be fitted with new lighting for this year’s EXPO 2015 world fair in Milan. Fortunately, the lighting designers of Ferrara Palladino e Associati, Milan, were as familiar with the building as with the Veneranda Fabbrica, having previously worked on the façade lighting for the Cathedral back in 2000. Nonetheless – a gigantic task in light of the fact that the Cathedral is among the world’s largest sacred buildings. It is 157m long, the transept is 92m wide and the nave is 45m high. The primary concern of the lighting designers was to bring these majestic dimensions to life for the visitors. “Effectively – the first aspect to consider is the monumentality of the architecture as a whole. The impressive size, its enormous scale which accompanies us from the moment we enter through the main portal,” Pietro Palladino says explaining his design approach. “These are dimensions that confront us right away.”
In its concept, the light therefore needed to emphasise the lofty character of Gothic architecture as much as the vastness of its interior. In the words of Palladino, it was to “be a tool used to bring out the grandeur of this building and pay homage to the Cathedral as the most significant place of worship in the city.
Worshippers and tourists will see the Cathedral in an entirely new light
In the light of the old system, the Cathedral’s interior had appeared mundane, indeed almost neglegted. Floodlights with 400W high-pressure lamps had been mounted along the base of the vault, from where they illuminated the interior for the most part indiscriminately with a cool daylight character. A rather disappointing solution today, dictated by the lack of light sources back then that offered higher efficiency and a longer life. Maintenance and operating costs are invariably a critical aspect for the “Veneranda Fabbrica” in view of its formidable responsibilities and its difficult task of working with the typically limited budget of a cultural institution. One-off investments, in contrast, can generally be financed by raising extra funds, grants or donations.