With its imposing Gothic-Romanesque style and Neoclassic façade added in 1750, the St. Pierre Cathedral, in the historic centre of Geneva, is one of the symbols of the Protestant Reformation. Begun in 1160 and finished over 150 years later, the cathedral was built on the site of a fourth century Christian sanctuary and has undergone numerous changes over the centuries. The most radical of these occurred in 1536 when the cathedral was stripped of its altars, paintings, statues and furniture and turned into a protestant church. All that was left were the stained-glass windows in the choir and the capitals in the central nave with their splendid carvings of human figures and mythical beasts. The cathedral is also famous for John Calvin, who read and preached the scriptures here for 23 years.
In 2010, the Clefs St. Pierre Foundation entrusted the Ruffieux Chehab Associes studio and Piero Castiglioni with the design of a new indoor and outdoor lighting system for the cathedral. The definitive design was installed in 2017 and its integration with the cathedral’s architecture was conducted in collaboration with the architect, Tiziano Borghini, and his Geneva-based studio, GM Architectes Associés, that was responsible for the cathedral’s restoration.
Having been stripped of all decoration during the Reformation, the cathedral’s interior is bare, austere and distinguished mainly by the bold rhythm of its pillars. During the day, sunlight filters in through high, stained-glass windows that create a soft, even, diffuse light that is naturally dynamic and changes colour and quality according to the time of day and year. The artificial lighting respects the building’s architecture and atmosphere by using low level, high contrast lighting with a colour temperature of 3000 K. The form of the large circular chandeliers that previously hung midway between the ceiling and floor in the central nave and side aisles was also kept. This old-fashioned style of lighting was maintained for its aesthetics, but the materials and lamps were updated and are now operated by a modern control system.
In line with a design by Piero Castiglioni, iGuzzini created a special, wheel-shaped Cestello luminaire in three different diameters: 3 metres for the large version, 2 metres for the medium version and 1.5 metres for the small one. At night, these pendant fixtures generate the same kind of diffuse, homogeneous illumination the building enjoys during the daytime. The direct emission of these special luminaires is also combined with indirect lighting from linear, 15 and 18 mm-width Underscore luminaires, mounted on profiles and tilted by means of a small bracket made specifically by iGuzzini for this project.
This fitting allowed the Underscore light lines to be installed in a slightly set-back position at the same height as the upper string-course that indicates the structure of the vaulting. This meant that the luminaires did not have to be mounted directly on the string-course, which is extremely fragile and could have been damaged during installation. To illuminate certain important areas in the cathedral, like the altar and parts of the apse, accent lighting was created using wall-mounted Cestello luminaires and small version iPro spotlights, sometimes grouped into units of 3, 4 or 6. The mounting brackets for these spotlights were also specially designed, this time to minimize the number of drill holes in the stone.
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