Bright ideas at The Forum


By Katie Thompson

Katie Thompson explains how a variety of lighting types and illuminance levels used in The Forum helps to create a stimulating, interesting environment.

Last month the programme makers of Channel 4’s ‘Double Your House for Half the Money’ filmed the lighting effects at The Forum. Their intention was to show how the clever use of lighting in the building could be applied on a much smaller scale in a domestic kitchen. 

Whatever the scale, a successful lighting scheme is made up of several layers: natural, general, ambient, accent, concealed and task light.  Whether illuminating an architectural feature, defining a focal area, or using task light for a specific job, the combination of these layers can enliven spaces and create a stimulating environment.

General down lighting for example can be enhanced with other light features, to help define different zones. Concealed/back lit lighting is an imaginative and cost effective way to create focal lighting when used in conjunction with a more general down-lighting.

Architectural features can also be illuminated in a subtle way. The use of LED lighting, suspended ceiling rafts and wall panels can play an important part in achieving this effect. As a contrast to concealed lighting, feature pendant lights can also have a big impact in a room and help define focal areas.

Lighting at the Forum

Lighting at The Forum in Southend had to meet the requirements of three client partners: Southend Borough Council, the University of Essex and South Essex College.  Arranged around a linear naturally-lit atrium the building provides a shared municipal and academic library, teaching and study areas, a lecture theatre, a cafe and a gallery.

This presented the team with the challenge of providing lighting for different uses and functions whilst balancing natural and artificial light.

The Forum has three main internal lighting zones:

General lighting in the main circulation zones, atrium, study areas

Focal hanging pendants in main entrance and around the perimeter of each floor

In-direct/concealed lighting in the feature ceiling rafts, wall panels, joinery work and on the staircase

Main Entrance

Lighting in the main entrance creates a dynamic and welcoming first impression, whilst also helping with orientation. Suspended, acoustic ceiling rafts and illuminated white globe balls are the main feature as you enter the building. This creates a ‘wow’ factor and helps direct visitors towards the reception area.

The ceiling rafts represent pages of a book making reference to the activities within the building. The globes highlight the rafts and help accentuate the surrounding space and height of the entrance area. The clean, white features are a great contrast to the exposed concrete soffit and adjacent accent coloured walls.

Concealed, coloured LED lighting is located above the skirting to the reception desk.  A slim flexible fitting was specified and an orange colour render programmed in to fit with the colour palette of The Forum brand.


Balancing natural and artificial light in the atrium was a key consideration.

Natural daylight floods into the central atrium via roof lights above. Walls are washed in natural daylight at certain times of the day.

General lighting is provided using wall lights.

Key elements of the walnut clad staircase are highlighted using back lit /concealed LED linear lights. The effect is very distinctive and a great contrast to the general lighting in the atrium.

Internal – Zoned areas to upper floors

The upper floors provide accommodation for the Council Library, University of Essex and South Essex College. Much of the floor plate is open plan. A variety of lighting has been used to help define the different study zones.

General, linear fluorescent lighting located in study areas provides sufficient lux levels for a working environment.

The LED back-lit, circular acoustic ceiling rafts create focal areas at strategic points across the floor. Their distinctive shape and ambient glow helps define a change in activity from the more formal study areas. They act as building landmarks and aid way-finding.

The pendant globe lights located around the perimeter help to reflect the change of use once again and provide accent lighting at the window (viewed from inside and outside).

The Focal Point Gallery

The space is made up of a series of galleries, display and circulation areas. The strategy for the light fittings had to work with the minimal aesthetic of the galleries.

Three types of light source are provided:

Linear fluorescent fittings are located along circulation areas and within the galleries, providing a general even lighting level.

Display cabinets are internally lit with fluorescent tubes and provide an additional light source in the reception area.

Adjustable lights are located along the main corridor to allow for display work on the walls.

The Educational room is a much smaller, intimate space. The under cupboard lighting and LED back lit pelmet around the perimeter help create a warm, comfortable, informal space.

External Lighting

As one of four major regeneration schemes in Southend, The Forum’s external lighting scheme was important in a creating distinct urban identity.

Internal lighting spills out into the night, illuminating views of the various activities within the building. The Forum’s branding and identity is again highlighted with a large illuminated sign, announcing the entrance. Linear LED light fittings highlight the external end walls and create a geometric pattern in the hard landscaping in front of the building. Pathways are lit by recessed circular lights.

Double Your House for Half the Money

Channel 4’s ‘Double Your House for Half the Money’ will be aired in August this year. The programme follows TV presenter and property developer Sarah Beeny as she takes a family extending their home in Chelmsford, Essex to The Forum to explain how the imaginative use of lighting in the building can be applied in their kitchen.



Katie Thompson

Katie Thompson

Katie joined ADP in 2006 and has experience in many areas of interior design including Education,
Retail, Corporate, Healthcare,
Leisure and Residential.