WHEN A HISTORIC BRITISH THEATER CHANGED OVER TO LED LIGHTING, THERE WERE CONCERNS THE WARM INTERIOR AMBIANCE WOULD BE LOST.

PHOTOGRAPHY BY DIANE AUCKLAND

Located in Bristol, England, the Hippodrome is one of Britain’s top provincial theaters, renowned for hosting programs that appeal to a wide variety of tastes — from musicals, ballet, and opera to concerts, comedians, and pantomime. As a Grade II-listed building (a U.K. designation for buildings of special historic interest), great care was taken to ensure none of the theater’s Edwardian look and atmosphere were compromised during the upgrade.

Designed by Frank Matcham, one of the leading theater architects of the time, the Hippodrome opened for business in 1912 with a variety bill which included the rare sight of diving horses, a spectacle featuring a tank of 100,000 gallons of water at the front of the stage.

From these spectacular origins, the Hippodrome’s stunning Edwardian interior has witnessed Broadway and West End musicals, survived the aerial bombardments of World War II, and remains one of the finest examples of its kind in the country.

Last year, when the Bristol Hippodrome reached the venerable age of 105, it was deemed time for a facelift, part of which was to replace its tungsten house lighting system with a modern, sustainable LED alternative.

Although maintaining the tungsten lighting had become more labor-intensive and energy-inefficient over time, the quality of light was still very much desired. The new system had to emulate the character of tungsten light as closely as possible while saving energy as well as the time-consuming routine of replacing blown lamps.

The Ambassador Theater Group (ATG), which owns and operates the Bristol Hippodrome, hired lighting manufacturer GDS in Bristol to aid with the lamp replacement (GDS is a licensee under the Philips LED luminaire and retrofit bulb licensing program). The two companies had done business together before. Nearly 10 years ago, GDS – which specializes in the entertainment sector – had installed its BluesSystem dimmable working lights for the Hippodrome’s backstage area, making the award-winning firm an obvious choice for the latest renovation.

The LED retrofit project has greatly reduced maintenance costs as well as energy use.

As LED lighting has evolved, so has GDS’ product line. For example, over the course of two years, the manufacturer’s engineers were able to create a perfect emulation of a tungsten lamp in LED, not only in terms of color rendering but also in its capacity to dim to a warm ambience. It was this ArcLamp Fade to Warm (FTW) lamping that GDS recommended as the lighting solution, which was installed by Integrator Push the Button (PTB). Thanks to its intelligent thermal management capabilities, each lamp is estimated to last for 55,000 hours.

For the Hippodrome, PTB retrofitted more than 200 ArcLamp Candle Clear FTW fixtures, largely utilizing the building’s existing wiring. ArcSystem’s capacity for retrofit was essential, given that to rewire a Grade II-listed building on such a scale would have involved prohibitive costs.

GDS’ Managing Director Matt Lloyd is delighted with the reaction to the installation. “Perhaps the most significant thing to observe about the installation is that it hasn’t been noticed by the theater’s patrons. Usually, any new addition to the landscape attracts some kind of reaction, but the fact that visitors are oblivious to the change represents a complete success!” Lloyd adds, “While ATG is firmly committed to introducing low-energy technology to its venues, it had been determined from the outset not to compromise the experience of patrons, nor affect in any way the objectives of producers and companies using the theaters.”

Brendan Gage of ATG, who worked closely with PTB on the upgrade, observes “The ArcLamp Fade to Warm, while bright for the audience’s safety, reproduces the gentle enveloping fade of a traditional incandescent lamp. It maintains the Hippodrome’s beautiful ambience without compromise, perfectly meeting our requirements. Running costs have already dropped significantly. In the long term, the savings on lamp replacements as well as those on air-conditioning, will offset the cost of the installation and further assist our sustainability goals. We have also regained time that was spent changing lamps and reduced our exposure to some of the more inaccessible areas. We have been able to realize other projects and raised the quality of service we can offer to visiting companies and shows.”

GALLERY