Context 166 - November 2020

36 C O N T E X T 1 6 6 : N O V E M B E R 2 0 2 0 building gently cleaned. Once the building was shrouded in scaffold, the story took a number of unexpected turns. The prominent flag pole at first floor level on the building’s balcony, for example, was found to be worryingly close to becoming detached from the structure, and a number of the more delicate areas of the statuary around the building required swift con- solidation. However, by far the greatest logistical issue faced by the project was yet to come. The roof of this lovely building is made of slate. Not those nice small slates, easy to carry up and down scaffolds. The slates which make up the roof of the Taylor Institution measure approximately 2 feet by 4 feet, and roughly an inch and a half thick. They are very heavy and when attached to a scaffold winch they tend to act a little like sails. All manageable with a bit of planning, unless in the month and a half that the scaffold is up we experience unseasonably high winds, coupled with high rainfall. Ordinarily we would have extended the scaf- fold hire and waited for the weather to pass. But the St Giles’ Fair was fast approaching. The highways licence for the scaffold expired the day before the fair started and was not extend- able, due to safety concerns associated with the crowds of visitors and the narrow pavements. We thought flexibly. The principal contractor extended its working hours and dodged the worst of the weather to get as many of our replacement slates up on to the roof in the time available, and we managed to secure most of the replacement roof. We had to accept that two of the slates would not be on the roof in time. So localised patch repairs were made to the two least damaged slates, and the new slates which had been intended for the site have been put into storage for the future. In autumn 2017 the Society of Light and Lighting chose Oxford to host its showcase Night of Heritage Light. Six of the university’s most iconic buildings were lit, using a variety of freestanding temporary lights. Working with the university estates electrical team, led by Rob Gregg, each of the chosen lighting design teams had to find suitable and sensitive runs for wiring and power. The tempo- rary wiring had to be hidden from view during the days leading up to the event, with no damage being done to the buildings’ fabric. An interactive display of blue lights at the Radcliffe Observatory winked on and off as people mentioned the event on social media channels, while the Bodleian quad hosted a selection of lighting schemes designed by local school children. External facade lighting to the History of Science Museum, Radcliffe Infirmary and the Ashmolean made use of a range of col- ours and moving images.The son et lumiere show at the university Museum of Natural History was spectacular. From an architectural point of view the crown- ing jewel was the modest soft white lighting of half of the circular Radcliffe Camera library building. The stark contrast between the lit and unlit portions of the building brought into sharp focus the positive impact that high-quality, unobtrusive external lighting can have on the appreciation of an asset’s significance. Architectural details that are lost within the set piece of Radcliffe Square during the day were picked out in the evening when the lights came on. The lighting of the building, designed by Michael Curry of dpa light- ing consultants, revolved around layers of light. All the lights were non-UV emitting, to prevent damage to the historic stonework, and all fixings were non-invasive. Emilia McDonald is head of conservation and buildings at the University of Oxford. Previously she worked as a heritage specialist in local authority planning departments. The Radcliffe Observatory, built to designs by Henry Keene and completed to the designs of James Wyatt (Photo: EugeneStarostin, Wikimedia)