Bristol Hippodrome – LED House Lighting

Designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham for Oswald Stoll, the Bristol Hippodrome first opened its doors in 1912. This project saw Push The Button (PTB) approached to design, supply and install a LED houselighting system to retrofit into the Grade II listed auditorium. The project that followed was to become the world’s first installation of GDS “Fade to Warm” ArcLamps.

Key Information
Client: Bristol Hippodrome – ATG
Project:LED House Lighting Installation
Brief:To design, supply and install a retrofit LED houselighting system.
Execution:Six Week Closure Period – July 2017

The fundamental aim when replacing the existing tungsten houselight system in the theatre’s 2,000 seat auditorium was to maintain the look and feel of the historic venue, traditionally illuminated with the classic soft lighting of glass empire shades. The client, knowing how poor many LED lamps dim was keen to use a LED product that dimmed to the same standard as the existing tungsten lamps. Re-wiring the venue would also have been unfeasible so the solution needed to be retrofitted using the existing wiring.

The GDS ArcLamp range was launched in 2014 with the concept of this range being to allow a dimmable LED Lamp to be retrofitted into the place of an existing tungsten lamp, with the installer changing the existing Dimmer to a GDS Driver and the existing lamp to a GDS Lamp but the wiring between the two points remaining the same. This allowed venues to implement a transition to LED Lamps with seamless dimming, without the need to re-wire the building. The product was perfect for the requirements at the Bristol Hippodrome. Further to this 2017 saw the next development in the ArcLamp range, the “Fade to Warm” Lamp which emulated the dimming characteristics of the tungsten lamps perfectly and the Bristol Hippodrome team of Brendan Gage and Peter Tovey decided that the “Fade to Warm” lamp was the right solution for their venue.

Like so many other Theatre’s in the country, the houselighting installation at the Bristol Hippodrome had areas of the system which were either missing due to falling into disrepair or that had been augmented to in a way which was not in keeping with the venue’s style and period. In the case of the Bristol Hippodrome there were two mirrors on the Grand Circle with decorative light fittings that had fallen into a state of disrepair. These mirrors would have originally had two lamps in the decorative light fittings at the centre of each mirror, which at the point of designing the houselighting system were broken lampholders in a light fitting without it’s shade. PTB worked with a specialist plastic engineering company and the venue team to design a new shade that matched the original style. The PTB team then repaired the fitting and restored it as part of the installation works. Further to this there were light fittings in the staircases behind the hospitality boxes on either side of the Grand Circle that did not match the style and decoration of the venue, PTB sourced new light fittings which were retrofitted in place of the existing light fittings. Finally, to address the dark spots in coverage over the Upper Circle, PTB designed and manufactured two bespoke chandeliers that perfectly matched the others already over the Upper Circle and restored the light coverage it to its former glory.  One of the things that stands PTB apart from our competitors is our attention to the minor details and the team at the Bristol Hippodrome shared our drive to put these minor deficiencies right as part of the works.

The installation was programmed as part of a busy summer closure period which saw the PTB team working alongside other contractors whilst the venue carried out refurbishment works to the seating, pit lift and re-painting works. This meant that the PTB team needed to plan the project perfectly to ensure their works dovetailed in alongside that of the other contractors without affecting the overall programme. In order to do this PTB supplied temporary lighting for the auditorium which allowed the seating contractors to work with adequate working light, whilst PTB worked on the houselighting system. The houselighting system itself required careful planning. PTB carried out one of the first GDS ArcSystem installation at the Birmingham Hippodrome and have worked on many other LED houselighting systems since then, one of the key things that PTB have learnt and apply to their methodology is in thorough testing of the existing installation prior to switching over the technology. Moreover, because the GDS lamps are 24v, have onboard computer chips and are connected to drivers which can only power specific numbers of lamps per channel, there is meticulous planning and testing of field circuits required to get it right. The PTB team disconnected and tested all of the field circuits to make sure that the correct quantity of lamps were on each of the circuits prior to connecting them to the GDS Drivers. The team also changed all of the lampholders in the field to ensure good contacts with the new lamps.

The existing system had two houselighting dimmer locations, one front of house and one in the sub-stage, so PTB installed the GDS Drivers in two locations with control wiring linked between them. For house lighting control, PTB turned to ETC Echo which gave the venue the desired control at the price point required. The ETC Echo system comprised of an ETC Echo DMX Scene Controller, two ETC Echo 6 Button Stations and an ETC EchoAccess Interface for programming. The GDS House Lighting System comprised 212 GDS ArcPro “Fade to Warm” Lamps, four GDS ArcPro 2 Cells and six GDS ArcPro 350 Watt Rackmounted Drivers. A mark of the upgrade’s success is that it has gone unnoticed by the theatre’s patrons. The houselights work just as they ever have, dim just as they ever have and are controlled just as they ever have been, replicating the tungsten lamps they replaced perfectly.

PTB Managing Director, Nick Ewins, commented “The Bristol Hippodrome is very close to my heart as I remember working on upgrading the venue’s gas emergency lighting to a central battery system much earlier in my career. Like all LED retro-fit projects, the upgrade to ArcLamp required careful planning and preparation. As an installer, your preparation is key to the success of the project. In this case, we were working with old infrastructure and cabling, reinstating missing fixtures and working in a Grade II listed building.” Clearly pleased with the new system, Brendan Gage concludes: “Auditorium lighting is required to meet two very demanding and sometimes contradictory ideals. Light the auditorium to express its beauty and to provide the ambience of a ‘theatre environment’, whilst ensuring the audience are safe. The ArcLamp is both bright for safety and gentle for the art!”