Top 6 Considerations When Designing a Catenary Lighting System

The term ‘catenary’ refers to the shape that a rope, cable or chain main when hanging under its own weight. In the case of Catenary lighting, the term refers to the use of structural cables to suspend lights, rather than mounting them on poles, walls or other fixed structures. Catenary lighting allows lighting designers unparalleled flexibility, whether they are looking to light large open spaces, or tiny laneways. Light can be placed exactly where needed, even if there is no support structure close by. This helps reduce the intensity and light spill and even energy consumption, whilst at the same time creating open and well-lit spaces.

Ronstan Tensile Architecture is a world leader in the design and execution of catenary lighting system, having delivered dozens of systems over almost 2 decades. We have helped designers push the limits to achieve the perfect balance of form and function, and can provide you with as little or as much help as you need.

Here are the top 6 considerations when designing a catenary lighting system, based on our experience as designers, engineers, installers and manufacturer of components used in these systems:

  1. Define the Purpose: Is your design artistic or 100% functional? Is it intended for active interaction with users or is it a background feature? What components and features of the lighting system would you like to stand out most? Most significant is making sure you know the budget.
  2. Figure out your Specific Light Requirements for the Space: Work out where and how you would like specific areas to be lit, and just and importantly the areas where light is to be minimized. Where do you want to encourage pedestrian traffic and is there a need for color, vibrancy or animation with the lighting? These will all influence the luminaire type and location, which will in turn influence the cable layout.
  3. Know your Site Conditions: Consider the topography and where and how the net will be supported; existing structures or new poles are both options. How and where will power be brought into the system and will it need to be supplied from multiple locations?
  4. Look at cable net arrangements which most closely align with proposed light locations: Although every project is unique, there are a few different system types are used as the building blocks for more complex systems. Ronstan Tensile architecture can help guide you through the selection process. You will need to consider the height for sufficient light spread as well as emergency access, and whether the cables should be noticeable or even visible.
  5. Look to engage a specialist early in the design process: one of the best ways to help achieve the perfect solution is to get a specialist, such as Ronstan tensile Architecture involved early. We can guide you through system selection and best practice, ways to improve the efficiency (and reduce the cost) of the system, design standards and installation considerations. At the appropriate time we can provide computer modeling to accurately determine loads and component sizes, and allow accurate pricing to be developed. You will need to consider the weight and wind load of the luminaries and find out if there are plans to suspend anything else from the cable net. There may be limitations on the support capacity in some locations. The cables will need to be allowed to deflect to keep the loads down.
  6. Think ahead! Consider the future maintenance of the System: Materials are important when it comes to the longevity of an installation. Grade 316 stainless steel is commonly used as it provides long-term performance with minimal maintenance. You should also consider what the overall accessibility of the cable net and lighting is for future maintenance such as luminaire cleaning and light replacements, as well as any seasonal and themed decoration changes.

For more information, Ronstan Tensile Architecture offers a complete AIA CES approved 1 LU/HSW hour course at your location of choice called “creating open and well-lit spaces with catenary lighting”. Find out more and register your interest here. 


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