Sheffield's Diamond masters variety in style

Sheffield is an engineering city built on steel that has flourished in post-industrial Britain. It has marked its success by adding a series of perfectly crafted, modern, forward-looking buildings to its skyline.

The Diamond is the latest £81 million addition to the city’s ever developing architectural scene and features an impressive aluminium lattice facade designed by Twelve Architects, inspired by the stone tracery of a local church. The building is home to the University of Sheffield's Faculty of Engineering and it contains a series of adaptable teaching and study areas that are available to students 24 hours a day.

‘The university wanted something unique that pushed the boundaries’ says Dan Lister an Associate at Arup who worked on the building’s lighting design with Elizabeth Cooper. ‘The main purpose of the building is to provide teaching space, but it also has a looser side in the student areas. The lighting had to reinforce these two sides, while retaining a consistent appearance.’

The team were tasked with lighting a vast area of space, which included teaching space, laboratories, workshops, clean rooms, experimental test beds and large occupancy lecture theatres.

The general circulation areas of the Diamond are lit with LED.

The most challenging part of the project for the lighting designers was the development of a scheme for the building’s four storey atrium, which is the heart of the building. A flood and reflector system was developed for the space, which casts patterns and shadows, while natural light floods through the glass craters in the moonscape style roof.

The moonscape concept runs throughout the building, with hole-punch style openings and craters providing a link to the outside world.  A seemingly sporadic arrangement of circular diffuse downlights of variable diameters were installed to strengthen this unique motif.

Another of the more difficult spaces to light was the main lecture theatre, due to the range of different uses the space would need to be put to. A Dali control system is used in the theatre, allowing the light to easily adapt to the needs of those occupying it at any given time. Circular luminaires have also been carefully arranged to provide uniform, shadow-free lighting.

The wide variety of different spaces posed a major challenge for the lighting designers.

The laboratories feature fluorescent lamps because they provide the necessary amount of light for the highly technical work that will go on inside them. Fluorescent fixtures were also used because of a concern, at the time of specification, about the flicker that LED products can produce, something that could be off-putting in a space were intricate work would be taking place.

‘The laboratories were the only places were we used fluorescent fixtures and this will probably be the last project we specify them because LED technology is advancing. The rest of the building, including the general circulation spaces, all feature LED,’ Lister told Lux.

The lecture theatres feature a Dali control system. 

A low energy approach to the lighting is a common thread throughout the building and the project fully embraces task driven lighting design. For example, in the small group and self study areas relaxed and random lighting arrangements are used to provide a sense of spontaneity and creativity, two words not traditionally associated with engineering campuses. The building also features passive infrared sensors that feed statistics on room usage back to the building management.

‘The building is in many ways a victim of its own success as it has proved to be so popular with students that it is always busy,’ Lister added. The university is also seeing a spike in applications for admission to study. The Diamond has turned its back on the sometimes austere and unfriendly university buildings of old and created a friendly, durable space that is open to all.

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