Lighting design for heritage buildings

Where specialist knowledge and attention to detail make the difference

A world-renowned building

King’s College Chapel, Cambridge

Spella Case Study page

The challenge

The chapel at King’s College, Cambridge, is a Grade 1 listed building of international importance, which has remained largely unaltered since its completion in 1515.

Lighting installed in 1970 was proving wholly inadequate for services, concerts and other events. The College decided new lighting was required and assembled a project team.

Lampholder’s principal, Benedict Cadbury, was appointed project manager. The London firm, Atelier Ten, was engaged to draw up the detailed lighting design; and various local and specialist contractors were appointed to undertake the work.

A major objective of the project was to minimise the visual effect of the light fittings and any intervention in the fabric.

As project manager, Lampholder provided a wide-ranging service, including:

  • a design brief for the chosen design firm
  • managing the project budget
  • preparing paperwork for the Faculty application, liaising with Historic England, the Diocesan Advisory Committee and other authorities, as well as the chapel architect
  • monitoring the results of three trial installations to confirm the final specification
  • procuring light fittings from various suppliers
  • booking contractors and overseeing installation
  • assisting the electricians and designers to devise solutions to problems as they arose.

The lighting solution

Each of the 12 bays is lit by a vertical lighting bar, tucked into a fold of the masonry about 10m above floor level. Most of the bars have four 30 watt LED spotlights: one lights up to the fan vault, three light down to the floor and seating. These bespoke lights were manufactured in Britain.

Now the iconic fan vaulting is evenly lit along its full length from west to east. The congregation can see to read service sheets, yet the familiar candlelight has not been eclipsed. When a concert is held in the antechapel, the performers have sufficient light to read their music. Emergency lighting has been discreetly installed.

Technical highlights


The lighting bars are held in place with compression bolts to avoid drilling into historic masonry


Wireless DMX control of the lights means that most of the lighting bars could be connected to existing mains cabling; very little new cabling was required


The lighting control system provides 7 standard pre-sets and easy recording of 28 scenes.


The 30 watt LED chips are colour tuneable, so can be set anywhere in the range 2500K - 6000K, i.e. from very warm white to daylight white.

In November 2022 the King’s College Chapel project won a LIT Lighting Design Award for Heritage Buildings. This prestigious international award honours the best in lighting design globally and recognises creativity and innovation.

Picture credits: Shatanik Mandal and Benedict Cadbury

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the benefit of experience

Our experience over the years of working with planning and regulatory authorities, and organisations such as Historic England, ensured the various project stages received approval to suit the timetable.

What our clients said

“The ability to set different scenes at a touch of a button is of enormous value, especially given that staff using the chapel are from different departments. Major services can now be enhanced by a variety of lighting scenes to complement the liturgy; audience lighting can be brightened or dimmed at concerts.”


During the day, when the chapel is open to visitors, ambient lighting is automatically controlled by a photocell, yielding a power saving of approx 50%.

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