How do you breathe new life into a historical ruin from the 13th century? With an acoustic ceiling made of high-tech materials and modern lighting technology! These are the key elements for the spectacular transformation of Dargun Abbey in the northern German state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania into a modern venue for events such as concerts, private art viewings and congresses.
“The abbey's recipe for success is a comprehensive modernisation plan in which lighting and acoustics renovation go hand in hand,” says lighting control expert Jan Ewald from Lutron. “This has given rise to a state-of-the-art venue with traditional charm which is now being brought to life with a wide range of events.”
An eventful history: modernisation and areas still needing work
The abbey building dates back to a chapel built in 1172 that formed part of the monastery complex. At the end of the Second World War, it fell victim to a devastating fire. Thanks to the efforts of local citizens in Dargun and preservationists, the complex was eventually placed on the former GDR's central register of listed monuments. As part of extensive renovation and redevelopment work, the abbey was given new windows and doors and a modern roof starting from 1991. But there were two areas that still needed work: acoustics and lighting.
Difficult starting point: gloomy atmosphere and problematic hall
One of the biggest challenges was the inadequate acoustics in the restored nave of the hall. For example, due the hall design the audience had a hard time following the speakers during presentations - even when sitting just a few metres away. Moreover, the ageing lighting resulted in a gloomy atmosphere inside the building, even during the daytime. “This uninviting ambience didn’t fit with the impressive building. It was crying out to be presented in a new way,” says architect Martin Beyer, describing his impression when he first saw the premises. The contract to develop a concept for a contemporary event venue was finally awarded after 2011. The major project was financed with subsidies from the state of Mecklenburg- West Pomerania as well as private donations.
The idea: acoustically effective textile ceiling and innovative lighting concept
Following an expert evaluation, the planners decided that instead of a simple flat ceiling their solution would incorporate a ceiling made of acoustically effective textile fabric that reflects the character of the destroyed original Gothic cross vault. “In contrast to a flat ceiling, the high-tech material blends in excellently with the historical building's ambience. The structure of the acoustic ceiling takes up the characteristic style of the vault's original geometry and reduces the reverberation time,” explains Martin Beyer. Similarly, a lighting solution was required that could be integrated in the existing old masonry without too much work and was easy to operate. After a digital 3D analysis, the planners ultimately decided on Lutron's Homeworks QS.
Implementation: unique solution in Germany
After the project had been coordinated with the various responsible parties such as the mayor, the pastor and congregation, the state curator and the Mecklenburgische Seenplatte administrative district, the installation phase began in December 2013 and lasted until February 2014. For the new acoustic ceiling, three self-supporting textile canvasses each measuring ten metres by ten metres were stretched over an aluminium structure. The structure, which is raised in the middle and attached to the walls only, is unique in Germany.
The lighting solution has created an atmosphere that combines tradition and modernity to impressive effect in the interior of the abbey. In addition to three chandeliers, a total of 28 dimmable halogen lamps have been installed. The medieval masonry caused plenty of headaches for the planners and installers. “There are no right angles in the abbey,” says Detlef Jeenicke, who contributed to the project in an advisory capacity as a representative for Lutron and for Spittler Lichttechnik, the manufacturer of the lighting solution. “The challenge was to illuminate irregular surfaces with straight beams.” There were other difficulties, too. The walls, which are roughly one metre thick, proved too robust for drilling. One of the effects of this was that the WLAN router, a key element for controlling the lighting technology, had to be positioned inside the abbey rather than outside. It is now located directly underneath the organ.
Lutron's solution: efficient and flexible lighting
The architect and the building owner chose Lutron's Homeworks QS system for the lighting in the abbey. “Thanks to the variability offered by Homeworks QS, all of the client's wishes could be met,” says Detlef Jeenicke. “For example, it allows different lighting scenarios to be set up very easily without requiring additional programming.” A total of eleven different lighting scenes are pre-installed. They offer ideal lighting conditions for tours, church services, readings, weddings and other events. The system's control unit is located in a side room of the abbey and can be operated conveniently via WLAN using an iPhone or an iPad. Another advantage is the system's efficiency. Lutron's solution ensures that even when the halogen lamps are at maximum brightness only 90% of their power is required. This deliberate reduction results in considerably longer service lives for the lamps without placing any constraints on the users, who can still dim the lamps to between 1% and 100% as usual. The system also offers four DMX circuits. Thanks to these interfaces, external sound and lighting engineers can easily integrate their own equipment in the existing technical infrastructure - allowing them, for example, to call up their individual lighting scenes at events.
Impressive result: light installation breathes new life into building
The echoing ruin has been transformed into a modern multi-purpose venue for up to 200 guests. It now hosts events ranging from church services to official city receptions, chamber concerts and art exhibitions. Thanks to Lutron's innovative lighting control, Dargun Abbey can be illuminated flexibly to suit the occasion. The lighting lends the abbey interior an inviting atmosphere at any time of day. Ideal acoustics - whether for musical performances or speeches - are guaranteed by the ceiling made of canvas elements that emulates the original vault. “The abbey at Dargun is a prime example of what can be achieved when lighting designers and architects work hand in hand,” says Jan Ewald von Lutron. “The combination of the acoustic ceiling and the light installation has breathed new life into the building.”
The facts at a glance
Property: Dargun Abbey
Planning: Since 2011
Renovation period: December 2013 - February 2014
System: Lutron Homeworks QS
Architect: beyer architekten, Martin Beyer, www.beyerarchitekten.com
Consultant: Licht der Architektur, Detlef Jeenicke, www.lichtderarchitektur.de
Information & images by courtesy of Lutron Electronics
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