No.10 Downing Street

No.10 Downing Street

International Year of Light

The International Year of Light 2015 was a global initiative, led by UNESCO for the United Nations, to highlight the importance of light and optical technologies in the world. It offered a unique opportunity to inspire, educate, and connect on a global scale. IYL was launched with a trio of illuminated motifs placed on the Christmas tree at 10 Downing Street. Entitled ‘The International Year of Light in a Christmas Setting’, the installation was created and designed by Peter Phillipson and Inessa Demidova and included control devices by Multiload.

The Brief 

As part of the activities planned by the UK National Committee of the International Year of Light (IYL) 2015, a representation of the IYL symbol was to be placed on the Christmas tree at 10 Downing Street to herald the coming year. The Institute of Physics, a founding IYL partner, was coordinating events across the UK. Their steering committee, which included the Home Office, thought that lights on the Downing Street Christmas tree would have great impact for the IYL launch. Lighting on the tree would be easier to achieve than other options requiring more infrastructure opposite Number 10. Peter Phillipson contacted Downing Street and got the go-ahead for the project.

The Solution 

Peter suggested a seasonal interpretation of the IYL 2015 symbol – a parade of reindeer. Inessa Demidova used the same spectrum of colours that appeared on the IYL’s sun logo. The display would be switched on by the Rt Hon David Cameron MP, the Prime Minister, before an assembled crowd and a brass band, but most people would be seeing the lights on camera. It was therefore essential to ensure a quality image which wasn’t subject to flicker, and which could be viewed globally. It was also important that the image should have the same impact by day or by night.

There followed an intensive period, during which a workable solution was agreed and the project designed. It was nursed along by Peter at every stage so that it would be ready for the December installation and launch.

Constant current LEDs were supplied by Architectural Lightworks and these required Multiload LEDrose drivers. David Fitter of Multiload and Peter together designed a unique control gear box using constant current LEDs, which would avoid the flickering image that some controls can produce, ensuring the image would be crystal clear and of good enough quality. Multiload also had to compensate for the flicker that would be created by the other lights on the tree. In order to ensure the lights would have impact whether viewed by day or by night, the design included a photocell that would make the motifs look brighter by day and darker by night. This meant that images of the illuminated tree could be viewed effectively and brilliantly anywhere in the world. David Cameron even chose to send the image as a Vine video.

IYL committees from around the world were extremely excited by the installation. This is the feedback from the UK committee - ‘We couldn’t wish for a better start to the year than to have it celebrated in the lights of the Downing Street Christmas tree. This gives us a great foundation to build on as we work to make an impact, and achieve our goals, throughout 2015. I am very grateful to the team at 10 Downing Street and to the lighting specialists who have made this possible.

Dr Beth Taylor, Chair, UK National Committee for the IYL 2015