INTERIORS 2014: Ross Nicholson lights up the University of Ottawa

INTERIORS 2014: Ross Nicholson lights up the University of Ottawa


The Faculty of Social Sciences building at the University of Ottawa had to have lighting designed for after dark, which is when many students finally get down to studying (Photo: Doublespace Photography)

Light Fantastic

Next time you’re in the podium of the University of Ottawa’s splendid new Faculty of Social Sciences building, check out the wood panelling beside the six-storey living wall. It’s subtle, but the wood is lit in a mottled fashion that echoes the natural variations in the greenery near it. A gobo — a specialized lighting device — creates the mottling, and Ross Nicholson gets a bang out of the result.

In fact, Nicholson, owner of Ottawa-based Ross Nicholson | Architectural Lighting | Luminaire Design, gets a bang out of nearly everything about the building’s lighting, which he designed. That’s because it not only fulfills such utilitarian functions as helping guide people to where they’re going and illuminating the space once they’re there, it also creates, in many of the building’s public spaces, its own drama in conjunction with the excitement inherent in the architecture.

“It’s the most detailed job I’ve ever done,” says Nicholson, whose other public-space projects have included the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health on Montreal Road, areas of the Queen’s University Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, and award-winning exterior lighting for the Grand Hall and Laurier Street facade of the Canadian Museum of History (then named the Canadian Museum of Civilization).

Nicholson says that he pored over plans for the social sciences building — lighting, an underappreciated mix of science and art, is of necessity designed before a building is erected — and that plotting the lighting was “all about geometry and space. There’s a little bit of [crunching] numbers, but not too much. It’s mostly experience. It’s a balancing act.”

Take a closer look at Nicholson’s work — taken from Ottawa Magazine’s Interiors 2014 issue — to see just how the lighting whiz transformed the University of Ottawa building.