Project team:

Client: Château de Versailles Spectacles (CVS)

Lighting design: Laurent Fachard – Les Éclairagistes Associés

Lighting and electrical engineering: Laurent Fachard & Joseph Frey – Les Éclairagistes Associés

Electrical installation: Citéos

Lighting manufacturers: Eldoled, Mike Stoane Lighting, Crystal Fountains, Bega, Xicato, Cree, Citizen

25. Oct 2017

LEDs instead of Candles in the Versailles Paris: low flames à la cutting-edge for France’s bygone days of pomp and grandeur.

Text: Jo-Eike Vormittag
Photos: LEA, Xavier Boymond

When the most famous and powerful of all French kings had his huge Versailles Palace complex built before the gates of Paris in the middle of the 17th century, the Sun King, as Louis XIV was called, was at the peak of his 72-year reign. He was well-known for throwing parties and illustrious balls and ceremonies in the enormous palace and magnificent gardens with the entire royal household present. Every evening was spent laboriously lighting hundreds of lanterns and candles. This all marks a key chapter in European history and, whether we agree with the goings-on or not, it remains an essential part of our world heritage. Exclusive candlelit parties are a thing of the past. And the modern lighting design currently being realised points to the historic site being used as a museum and gardens for the general public.

France no longer has kings, but presidents. The country now has an elected President, and is not ruled by courtly absolutism, but by modern democracy. The pompous presence of the Sun King and his grand court culture have given way to a more liberal way of thinking and acting. Today the Palace of Versailles is a museum, a tourist attraction, an event venue and much more – as remarkable and impressive as ever. There are still many thousands of lights burning throughout the entire palace complex and, as is befitting for a palace and its typical goingson, not on a small scale.

Not at all. In the meantime, and in comparison to former eras, that is no longer necessary or adequate. Where candles and oil lamps spread over an area of more than eight square kilometres initially had to be lit by hand, only to burn down in next to no time, today we can take advantage of state-of-the-art lighting technology to set the scene. Some years ago, work was begun on an expensive project that involved the comprehensive renovation of the Palace and gardens. This included updating and redesigning the lighting for the entire complex as well as the event lighting.

Under the auspices of the Palace’s cultural association, Château de Versailles Spectacles (CVS), who continue to strive to maintain the staging of the traditional musical show that takes place around the fountains and pools in the gardens every year, Laurent Fachard and his team from Les Éclairagistes Associés were commissioned to design the lighting. The task was to develop a good technical and appropriate design solution, “appropriate” in this context meaning aesthetic and elegant. Even before the master plan was drawn up, the goal was clear: the new lighting scheme was to remind visitors of the glorious time in the 17th century under Louis XIV.

By engaging Laurent Fachard as a lighting aesthete, the Versailles team had gained a designer who made his breakthrough as an architectural lighting designer with landscape lighting. With his background in stage lighting and technology, one of his most well-known projects back in the nineties was Parc de Gerland in Lyon. It is not as if there are any comparisons or parallels between the park in Lyon and the gardens at Versailles. On the contrary. It would not have been “appropriate” to draw parallels when designing the Versailles site. With the Versailles project, Laurent Fachard has proven that lighting design is not something that can be followed like a knitting pattern, but a process linked with the individual quality of the site and its history, and a design task as part of the future.

The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 107 as well as in our PLD magazine app (iPad App Store).


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