Egypt - An LED lighting masterpiece at the Citadel
Commissioned in 1830 by Muhammad Ali Pasha and built during the first half of the 19th century, the Mosque of Muhammad Ali, also known as the Alabaster Mosque owing to the extensive use of the translucent stone in much of its internal and external structure, is one of the most visited in Egypt. The grandeur of its location inside the ancient Citadel walls of Salah al Din, its many domes and towering minarets along with its imposing architectural outline, make it an impressive part of the Cairo skyline.
As with much of Egypt’s cultural heritage, the Citadel comes under the protection of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, headed by the Egyptian Minister for Culture. Two years ago, he commissioned the development of a dedicated lighting scheme for the area. MISR Company for Sound and Light and Cinema, headed by Managing Director Essam Abdel Hady, was drafted in to carry out the installatio following their work illuminating Share’ Al-Muiz Street - the centre of Islamic Cairo. Having used fixtures from GRIVEN on that previous project, they turned to the Italian manufacturer to create a design for the Citadel.
The scheme was developed through a virtual project management system by GRIVEN lighting engineer Raffaele Vincelli and Danilo Bettinazzi, Director of Sales & Marketing of GRIVEN in cooperation with GRIVEN’s Egyptian distributor, Hilights Professional Light and Sound. The GRIVEN team wanted to create an innovative concept both culturally and environmentally, one that used light to celebrate the many architectural features that go largely unnoticed during the day.
The Supreme Council were keen to avoid a bland floodlighting solution, but even so, GRIVEN had to go through an intensive process of approval and testing, showing that every component of the LED fixtures used could cope with an ambient temperature of plus 50 degrees Celsius. After careful evaluation, the Council gave the team the go-ahead.
MISR Company for Sound and Light and Cinema and Hilights Professional Light and Sound, represented by its owners Hamed Arafa and Adham Ismail, handled a number of key roles – lighting system integration, commissioning, and installation supervision – as well as providing local expertise. Danilo Bettinazzi, Raffaele Vincelli and GRIVEN’s Product Engineering Giuseppe Froio were required on location to supervise the final assessment of the whole installation right before the inauguration ceremony, which took place at the end of October 2009.
Vincelli recalls the first steps towards finalising the concept: “The global approach we took was to choose a modern kind of accent lighting, which could bring onlookers a renewed perspective of the mosque, enhancing, in an almost impressionist way, specific architectural features of the mosque itself, like columns, lintels, arches, domes and minarets, and their three-dimensionality with skilled, but at the same time deliberately uneven brushes of soft colours. A uniform light was not what we were looking for, as we thought it could not add anything special to the mosque’s essence.”
The scheme can be divided into five main elements: the domes, the minarets, the cloister, the outer structure of the mosque, and the Citadel walls.
Particular attention was given to the sophisticated configuration of the domes. The mosque’s Ottoman architecture is actually based on a wide (21m diameter) central dome, which is carried on four piers and spherical pendentives, flanked by four half-domes and four smaller domes on each corner. Four more semi-domes, set on top of the divergent façade of the Mosque, complete the sinuous Byzantine rhythm of the roof configuration. The lighting concept was designed to provide the structure with a layered effect created by the alternation of light shots and shadow spots, magnifying the effect of its complex geometry. This was achieved using GRIVEN’s Parade D-RGB-12 LED linear colour changers, – as well as Parade D-RGB-5 where space was limited. The fixtures were strategically located along the edge of the domes, lighting them from the bottom and in doing so stressing their three-dimensionality.
Over eighty metres in height, two Turkish style minarets with balconies and conical caps are situated on the western side of the Alabaster mosque. Their dramatic height combined with the architectural constraints set by the Supreme Council of Antiquities, which dictated that no fixtures be visible by day, was a tough challenge for the experienced GRIVEN engineers. In order to achieve their ambitious lighting scheme while also avoiding the unwanted visual impact of the fixtures themselves, a number of Danube LED projectors were placed on tall poles set 20 meters away from the minarets, directed at their upper peaks. More Danube units were employed to up light the shafts of the minarets in three sections.
Four smaller minarets set on the four cardinal point around the main dome, two medium-sized and two low minarets towering the divergent façade of the Mosque, were also illuminated with batteries of Dawn, Danube and Daisy-On, all extremely compact units fitted with the latest LED technology.
Almost square in shape (measuring 54 by 53 meters), the courtyard of the Alabaster Mosque is an architectural gem. Surrounded by dome-topped arcades - which are in turn supported by large marble columns - it has at its centre is a marble ablution fountain, fitted with a carved wooden roof set on columns that echo the cloister’s rhythmical pattern. As the courtyard is paved in antique marble, drilling into the floor was clearly not an option. In order to add shaded waves of colour and light to the cloister’s 45 columns, Dune in-ground LED luminaires were embedded in blocks of marble that were then placed at the base of each column.
The team took advantage of existing metal supports around the courtyard, using them to conceal approximately a hundred Parade D-RGB-12s and Parade D-RGB-5s at the base of each arch of the courtyard and on the fountain structure. These uplight both the front and the inner sides of the arches. Designed for refined architectural decoration, both Parade D-RGB-12 and Parade D-RGB-5 bars are super flux and high luminance colour changers that provide impressive output with real uniform colour coverage even on close-up installations. Their ability to be installed in any orientation, IP67 weather protection, compact size and light weight made them particularly suitable to the project.
On the west side of the courtyard there is a small tower decorated with an iron clock given to Mohammad Ali by the French King Louis Philippe in exchange for the obelisk that now stands in the Palace de la Concorde in Paris. A well-blended mixture of neo-gothic and oriental elements, this tower has been enlightened on three different levels with a series of Parade D-RGB-12s.
In order to maintain a uniform pattern of light throughout the mosque, the external structure was treated with the same scheme as the internal areas. Dune projectors were embedded in marble cubes to give light and colour to the columns and Parade -D-RGB-12s were skilfully hidden below the arches.
The walls of the Salah Al Din reveal the structural history of a Citadel that has grown throughout different historical periods. Their rough strata of building styles are part of the Citadel’s ancient appeal and the lighting design aimed to emphasize this uneveness. Nearly 400 Danube 10 units were placed along the 1,580 metre perimeter, throwing up alternating stripes of light and shadow. Realising the scheme proved a challenge as the terrain was often difficult to work on and a number of fixtures had to be placed in the ground. From a distance, the scheme acts as an eyecatching support for the mosque within, framing it beautifully against the Egyptian sky.
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