New lighting scheme transforms Radcliffe Camera’s Lower Reading Room


A major re-lighting project has turned the Lower Reading Room of the Radcliffe Camera, a heavily-used part of the Bodleian Libraries, into a far brighter and more attractive place to work. The new design shows off the building’s fantastic architecture to much greater effect, as well as using far less power than before.

The challenge

The Radcliffe Camera may be Oxford’s best-loved building, but until recently its interior was ill-served by an aging lighting scheme. This had not been updated for more than 30 years and left large parts of the Lower Reading Room in shadow. Light levels for people working in the library were much lower than they should have been, while much of the intricate architecture of its ceiling was hard to see.

The new scheme had to be in keeping with the design of the Grade 1 listed structure, while also making its lighting cheaper to run and reducing its environmental impact. It also had to be installed quickly and efficiently to minimise disruption to the library’s users.

The solution

Rob Gregg, Principal Electrical Engineer in the Building Services team, took responsibility for designing a new scheme that took advantage of the dramatic advances in lighting technology that have been made since the previous one was installed, with support from external consultants CBG.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) were the obvious choice, since they offer far better long-term reliability and use much less power. In recent years they have also started to offer the range of light colours and temperatures that were previously only available from incandescent or fluorescent lighting, so their main disadvantage – that they offered only colder and less pleasant white light – has disappeared.

Local contractors Monard Electrical installed more than 250 metres of LED tape around stone cornicing, on top of columns, along balconies and in other places where the lights couldn’t be seen directly from ground level but would send light washing over broad areas of wall and ceiling. The team chose LEDs that produce warm white light to make the room more pleasant to work in for long periods.

They also removed and refurbished the building’s existing desk lights to increase illumination around the room’s primary working spaces.

The work was carried out over an eight-week period, with electricians working on one section of the Lower Reading Room at a time so that the rest of it could still be used.

The result

The re-lit Lower Reading Room has proved popular with staff and students, as well as earning the appreciation of lighting professionals – it was highly commended in the lighting industry’s Lux Awards for the year’s most innovative new lighting schemes.

The move to LED lighting has increased energy efficiency hugely, slashing total power load from 7kW to 3.1kW. It has also added drama to the experience of working in the building. The new system is 20% brighter and includes more architectural lighting, showing off the building’s interior to much greater effect – in particular its magnificent vaulted ceiling. It also features revamped emergency lighting and desk lights.

Building Services - Radcliffe Camera 2016 (2)

Building Services - Radcliffe Camera 2016 (1)