Lighting designer meets challenging deadlines to illuminate Sheshan Basilica

Sept. 13, 2010
Thor Daniel Hjaltason has designed and planned the nest illumination of the exterior and interior of the Sheshan Basilica, a Roman Catholic Church in Shanghai.
In mid-December 2009, Thor Daniel Hjaltason, an Icelandic lighting expert with multiple awards for branding design, was contacted by his long-time friends Josef Fung and his wife Chang Yan. Fung provided Hjaltason with an extremely challenging opportunity in China. Hjaltason had to present a design and a plan to illuminate the exterior and interior of the Sheshan Basilica, a Roman Catholic Church in Shanghai.

The Basilica was built by the Portuguese in the 1800s. It was simultaneously undergoing a major renovation inside and out when Hjaltason examined the project. The plan was to have an opening ceremony by beginning of May 2010 at the time of the World EXPO opening.

Hjaltason took on the challenge, and the first meeting with Vice Mayor Wang took place at the end of December. “We had to finalize a complete design / illustrations and engineering plan by end of January 2010, and if accepted, the project would start after Chinese New Year or by end of February 2010,” said Hjaltason. “The project had to be concluded in its entirety by end of April. We basically had two months from start to finish - imagine that!”

Hjaltason and his son Tomas Freyr, a graduate from the Icelandic College of Art, finalized all visual illustrations by the end of January 2010. Hjaltason, together with Josef Fung and Chang Yan, presented a “green” and energy-saving RGB-LED solution to the mayor and other investors.

First and foremost, it is important to note that Hjaltason was faced with multiple challenges due to a deadline that had been set by the Vice Mayor. The goal was to finalize the project before the ceremony of the China EXPO on May 1, 2010.

“The Basilica is a complex structure and we had to find an LED lamp manufacturer that was able to provide LED lamps that could do the job and would be delivered quickly,” said Hjaltason.

“Secondly, the scaffolding around and inside the church made lighting tests almost impossible – a major challenge for our entire team.”

“Thirdly,” said Hjaltason, “due to the fact that this basilica is considered to be a historic relic, we were not allowed to fasten any of the lamps to any surface of the basilica, which meant, no screws, no nails, no disturbance of the original materials on the basilica.”

Hjaltason contacted dozens of Chinese LED floodlight manufacturers and unfortunately was faced with poor results. Finally Hjaltason discovered suitable LED floodlights from Philips in Shanghai.

Several fixture types were used. Color Reach RGB fixtures illuminate the church tower, the dome and the statute of Mother Mary on top of tower. This 290-watt fixture has an 8-degree beam angle for long reach and power, and also for long-reach sharp washing effect up the high tower walls.

Color Blast 50-watt fixtures with a 10-degree beam angle were used to achieve and sharp, clear beams for the ground structure, as dramatic effects were needed. Also, Color Blast 23-degree fixtures were used for the roof to spread the light effectively.

“We grouped the lamps in sections and programmed each section with DMX to change the effects at specific dates and hours during the night,” said Hjaltason. “We created very smooth and slow-fading in/out effects to show different colors such as the blue roof and the green structure. However, we kept the base colors as the low-kelvin yellow/white to authenticate the color of the bricks and green roof to match the green tiles.”

The arrangement enables changes in the color of the roof, dome, balconies, church structure and interior and windows.

“We want to give credit to the dozens of Chinese workers who worked day, and night so that we could complete our job,” said Hjaltason. “We especially want to give praise to our main assistants, Tomas Freyr and Charles Miao who were instrumental as designers and project managers in completing this project on time.”