Increased urban density drives a need for more public spaces – our havens of community respite, relaxation and social interaction. With little new space available, one opportunity resides in the optimization of existing outdoor spaces, enhancing their quality and extending their usage into the evening hours with catenary lighting technology.
Australia’s own specialist tensile contractor, Ronstan Tensile Architecture, has pioneered a simple yet effective lighting solution to transform the utilization of public environments. Just as warm candlelight springs to mind when we think of romantic dinners, the cold, harsh light of the shadeless bulb screams interrogation and conflict. Light can make us feel relaxed and friendly or cold, nervous and agitated, affecting our mood and our desire to engage with a space. Luminaires suspended from structural cables or catenaries provide uncompromised flexibility, allowing lighting designers to play with mood and encourage night time use with improved atmosphere.
Catenary lighting is based on “less is more.” Sometimes brighter light is needed, but more often it is not. The cables allow light to be focused in the areas that need it, leaving other places in darkness. In this way, people can be guided to safer areas, with light spill reduced to minimize light pollution and energy consumption. At the same time, character can be built by carefully pinpointing features, while keeping others in darkness, something conventional public lighting cannot achieve. And in the process comes the realization that the shadows can be as evocative as the areas that are lit. There is no place for blanket floodlighting with intrusive, ugly poles that segment and destroy the value of true open space.
There are three main catenary lighting cable systems. Simple, single span cables are highly effective in smaller laneways, spanning short distances at ninety degrees to buildings along the space or zigzagging from side to side at varying angles. Cable nets can also be formed with cables intersecting in space to allow full and random flexibility for positioning multiple luminaires. Cable grids are the final category. These consist of systems of cables arranged in a rectangular grid like pattern to provide increased stability for cable lengths of up to 200 metres. The cable design and geometry of all systems reflect consideration of upwards and downwards wind pressures, cable behaviour over time, and the weight and volume of the luminaires themselves.
The Ronstan Tensile Architecture team understands these requirements along with structural design of the buildings to which catenary lighting cables are mated. Cables are modelled for performance to ensure luminaires maintain their position and the integrity of the lighting concept. Working with the Ronstan team – from concept development to installation and commissioning – has allowed many designers to ensure some of Australia’s premier outdoor spaces remain fully utilized in the face of dense surrounding development, including Federation Square, Pitt Street Mall and Manly Corso to name a few.