The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in central Scotland connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. The dramatic structure opened in 2002 as part of the Millennium Link project. Since then, it has become a popular tourist attraction—encouraged by the addition of a visitor centre and attracts around 500,000 visitors each year.
The wheel had a basic lighting installation, but it had fallen into disrepair over the years and there was a plan to replace it with a modern, energy efficient solution.
Adlib was called upon to support lighting designer Kevin Grant from Light Alliance to design, specify, and install the system in under 6 months—all during Covid and with the unknown of Brexit potentially affecting delivery schedules and costs.
Kevin was putting forward a proposal for the lighting design and having worked with Adlib on various projects in the past, he was looking for support to secure demos of products that would enable him to achieve the design, and an installation team that could ensure that the project would be deliverable. Think of Adlib as the engineers, and Kevin as the architect.
Adlib worked with Kevin to finalise the design and select the most appropriate products for each part of the installation. This is where strong relationships with suppliers and manufacturers add huge value to projects like this—Adlib were able to source demo units and have them delivered to site so that we could test them in the live environment prior to committing them to the final design.
A key part of a project like this is ensuring the design has longevity. This means taking into account all of the stakeholders and ensuring the design is flexible to accommodate changes in the future. Throughout the process, we were mindful of the existing relationship Scottish Canals had with a company that projection maps The Wheel for special events. An external DMX input was included in the design so that any AV company can take over the new system when they need to and incorporate it into their design for these events.
Lighting the wheel
The brief called for more than just colour washing The Wheel. Custom projection mapping projects aren’t affordable for smaller events and permanent installation of a video projection system would be prohibitively expensive.
Instead, two Martin Exterior Image Projector 1000 units were specified to enable textures and animations to be projected onto The Wheel—one covering the front of the wheel, and one covering the sides and supports.
These image projectors were complemented by an even colour wash across the whole structure. The underside and legs are lit by Studio Due ArchiLED 200 and Archibar 300 fixtures with the “hooks” being lit by Studio Due Smart Max units.
Parts of The Wheel were originally lit with Studio Due City 2.5kw output. These were replaced by Studio Due Single 40 and Duo 80 LED fixtures resulting in significant energy savings.
Lighting the tunnel
The second part of the project was to light a 180-metre-long rough cast tunnel. It had almost no lighting in it and the brief called for a design that would illuminate both the canal and the tow path alongside—all while minimising the environmental impact of introducing additional lighting.
Because of the rough cast nature of the tunnel, Unistrut was installed down the length of the tunnel and custom brackets were designed to attach the lighting fixtures in a way that would enable them to produce a perfectly even light (rather than undulating as the roof height changed through the tunnel). The fixtures are installed back-to-back in pairs with 35 facing the tow path and 35 facing the canal.
For this part of the project Studio Due Smart Bar POB Linear RGBW Fixtures were selected and, despite them already being IP rated, extra protection was added with a coating of marine paint.
In response to the challenge of minimising environmental impact, if nobody traverses the tunnel or 5 minutes the lights on the canal side fade out completely, and the lights on the tow path side fade to 20%. This enables the tunnel to still look open as it’s approached, and PIR detectors trigger the lighting to ramp up to pre-set colours and levels as people approach.
There’s a similar approach for barges. If a barge approaches from one side, it triggers a PIR sensor which starts a pre-programmed gentle ripple of light that follows the barge down the tunnel.
Every fixture in the system is individually addressable which offers huge flexibility when it comes to automations (like the ripple of light that follows the barges) or creating custom lighting designs for special events.
The tunnel system is completely autonomous, but provision has been made to connect it to the main wheel control system in the future. To enable easy changes to tunnel system for corporate events, a Pharos lighting control system has been installed in the security cabin enables the lighting to be adjusted with a simple colour wheel and various pre-set programs.
The main wheel system is managed via an ETC EOS control system. This enables users to see a visual representation of the wheel on a screen, select and adjust any fixture, and manage the whole system from anywhere on site over WiFi with a touch screen.
Through the combined efforts of the lighting designer, Adlib and Scottish Waterways, the Falkirk Wheel is getting positive exposure again as a global icon—by day and by night and has won a ‘Build Back Better’ award as well as a ‘Scottish Design Award’.