Australian tunnel awarded for “seriously awesome” lighting design

7 July 2021

Sydney’s NorthConnex motorway tunnel which opened to traffic in October 2020 has won the Award of Excellence from the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) at its 38th annual awards held in June.

The Excellence award recognises lighting design that ‘reaches new heights, moves beyond the ordinary, and represents excellence in aesthetic and technical design achievement’.

Group Executive Michele Huey of tunnel operator Transurban NSW said the award puts the 9km tunnel on the global map. “Since it opened in October, drivers on our city’s newest motorway have loved driving under the lighting displays, and now the experts agree.”

The multi-faceted design which drivers experience as five sudden, short bursts, impressed the judges, who said the team from Lux Populi “have created a gateway to Sydney and an exercise in joy. This is a seriously awesome way to bring a rather dull, monotonous space to life.”

It takes around seven minutes to drive through the 9km tunnel. The Lux Populi design treats drivers to changing scenes lasting 6-9 seconds. Based on psychological timing and stimulation, these are designed to be long enough to let drivers understand the conceit of the design but not how it is achieved, which is said to aid enhanced attention.

Each design stretch has its own particular theme. Stars arranged as speed lines along the tunnel crown create the effect of travelling through space – Star Trek-style. Elsewhere, forest motives hint at the hills district above, with blue lights to blur the sense of depth; Starscapes based on actual star maps range from seven orders of luminance and comprise a mix of LEDs and passive retro reflectors. Graphics are simplified to minimise distraction. The various scenes alternate with sections of normal tunnel.

Much research went into the design. According to Transurban, the partnership was years in the making, involving the Australian and NSW governments, Transurban, Transport for NSW, Austroads and the University of NSW, and involved driving simulators and the largest worldwide survey of tunnel users to examine driver behaviour.”

The award also reflects the contribution of Transurban’s partners, including NorthWestern Roads Group, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Queensland Investment Corporation, designers LuxPopuli, and construction contractor Lendlease Bouygues Joint Venture.

Used by around 37,000 vehicles daily, NorthConnex links the north of Sydney to the orbital network, and forms part of the National Highway route.

The IALD Awards were streamed live from Chicago, US, on 27 June 2021.