The success of the National Library of Scotland in using 21st century technology to bring 19th century stories to life was recognised as the John Murray Archive exhibition won a major UK award for lighting, winning in the Public Buildings category. NLS was the only Scottish organisation short listed in any category at last week's Lighting Design Awards.
Designed by Glasgow-based designer Nich Smith, the sophisticated lighting in the exhibition responds to visitors, illuminating display cases as they approach, and spotlighting specific items as they are selected. Described by judges as 'an exemplary use of controls', this facility does more than simply adding to the atmosphere and the interactivity of the exhibition: it also adds to its longevity as original manuscript documents are only illuminated when people are actually reading them, thus reducing any potential damage done by prolonged exposure to light. Commenting on the display, the Lighting Design Awards judges said: 'Nich Smith's interactive and carefully controlled lighting scheme played a pivotal role in evoking atmosphere and drama in an exhibition of manuscripts and private letters.' Also shortlisted for the award were Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art, V&A, London and White Cube, Mason's Yard, London.
Designer Nich Smith said: "The opportunity to light such a varied and important collection as the John Murray Archive was a pleasure, and the enthusiasm for the archive passed to me from the NLS staff involved. It is not often you get to light such a varied array of artefacts as a note on dinner parties from the original "domestic goddess" Maria Rundell, a manuscript from Byron, and a Galapagos tortoise! Winning the award is a great compliment to the ambitious, evocative, and above all enjoyable exhibition that the National Library of Scotland has created.' NLS director of Collections Development Cate Newton said: 'Not only does the lighting in the exhibition look fantastic, it also does a very clever job in both bringing the collections to life and also in protecting them as much as possible. Accordingly, we are thrilled with this award and we are particularly pleased for Nich, who did an excellent job and thoroughly deserves the recognition.'
The exhibition lighting has many interactive elements, with cutting-edge technologies and a unique purpose built 'light trail'. At the heart of the light trail is a 'digital festoon' of over 400 individually controllable light fittings, programmed to react to stages of the Publishing Machine interactive game [where visitors are invited to follow the steps of the publishing process to produce their own bestseller] as it is played. Each of the 11 display cases in the exhibition has its own mini-lighting rig of lights which target specific exhibits and are operated by the visitor as they select individual items on the touch screen panel. Programming the exhibition control system took over a week, including one final 15 hour marathon session.
The John Murray Archive exhibition is open to the public from 10am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 10am to 5pm on Saturdays and from 2pm to 5pm on Sundays.
National Library of Scotland
George IV Bridge
Tel: 0131 623 3700
19 March 2008