Illuminating the oldest castle in South Africa

December 19th, 2016, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: Vector


Jolting a three-century-old castle into the 21st century with lighting designed to allure and dazzle tourists, yet to be delicate on the old walls, is not a simple feat.

The more than 300-year-old Castle of Good Hope received a modern face-lift in the form of a beautiful lighting solution to bring its historic architecture to life. Located in Cape Town and built between 1666 and 1679, the castle is known as the oldest surviving building in the country and has been the centre of civilian, political and military life since 1679. It now houses the William Fehr Art Collection, an African pottery collection, the Castle Military Museum and a forge.

The castle’s 2015 and 2016 renovation followed the first phase of the lighting project. Phillips Lighting South Africa and Solid State Lighting International (SSLI) teamed up to design, supply and deliver an aesthetically-pleasing, energy efficient lighting upgrade to attract visitors to the castle. The companies took on the project as a “donation to the African continent”.

LEDs were the chosen technology for the project, and the controllable VAYA flood products from Philips Color Kinetics were used to provide a cost-effective colour-changing lighting solution.

The project has three phases, and Phase 1 saw the installation of 78 LED fixtures comprising the VAYA Flood MP RGB medium beam (1800 lm) on the castle’s entrance tower and main walls to create a wall wash effect. These flood fixtures were also used on the bastions and the north and south walls to create a “curtain of light” effect.

Fig. 1: Phase 1 consisted of lighting the front of the castle.

VAYA Flood LP RGB narrow beams (1000 lm) were used to light 65 m of the Darling Street wall and three of the five main bastions (Buuren, Leeudam and Orange) to create vertical patterns. The lighting solution reduced the building’s power consumption by 50% and maintenance costs decreased as the lamp life increased from 4000 to 75 000 hours.

All of the lights are controlled by one Philips Color Kinetics iPlayer3 controller, which can control up to 340 individual lights. The lighting solution needed to be inexpensive, so this controller was selected for its ease of use and because it eliminates expensive lighting boards and technical programming expertise. The controller uses ColorPlay 3 light show authoring software and is loaded with a variety of lighting shows that bring vibrant colours to the iconic landmark.

Fig. 2: The lights are controlled by a single controller with pre-loaded lighting shows.

The LED fixtures integrated well with the castle’s exterior because they have a slim design. The UV-free lighting fixtures do not transmit heat with the light beam, which prevents damage to UV and heat sensitive materials, such as the 300-year-old clay-and-limestone concrete used for construction.

Further to this, the castle’s patina (a thin, usually green, layer that forms naturally on stone, copper and bronze when they are exposed to air for long periods of time) required the lighting to be installed without damaging the exterior walls, so the challenge was to mount and position the lighting fixtures to create the optimum effect.

Other features of the lighting solution that formed part of Phase 1 consisted of 1 km of power and data cabling that required trenching, installing a dedicated power distribution board housing the controller, four weatherproof boxes to house the DMX data splitters, individual weather-proof junction boxes for each light source – one each for power and data connectivity, and mesh boxes to prevent vandalism were provided for lights located in public areas. Additional civil work was also required, with the fixtures being predominantly ground-mounted.

Fig. 3: The “wall wash” and “curtain of light” effects.

Phase 1 consisted of lighting the front and one side of the castle (see Fig. 1). Phases 2 and 3 will see the rest of the walls lit. These phases are currently awaiting necessary approval and funding. The entire lighting project was sponsored by SSLI and Philips Lighting South Africa as part of Philips’ annual Cape to Cairo Roadshow initiative.

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