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Soho Kids Xmas Lights 2023: intersection of architecture and art in the heart of London

Hear from event supporters and Soho Parish Primary School students who designed the luminescent installations lighting up the streets of Soho, London. Design workshops were delivered by architect Antonio Capelao, assisted by Hannah Peaty and RIBA Learning's Joshua Brooks.

19 December 2023

The Soho Kids Xmas Lights project, now in its third year, presented a strong community-focused theme for 2023: lighting, identity of place and fashion.

Pupils from Soho Parish Primary School have launched their luminescent installation designs across the streets of Soho, London. This year saw over a hundred pupils participate in the Soho Kids Xmas Lights project.

A judging committee was formed by representatives from RIBA, the Lighting Industry Association (LIA), the National Gallery, local business owners, councillors, residents, Hannah Peaty (Assistant Head, Soho Parish Primary School), and architect Antonio Capelao.

Together, the committee selected 14 winners, some of whom received an award from RIBA and the LIA for their outstanding design works.

The winners, under the direction of Antonio Capelao, architect and founder of award-winning Architecture for kids CIC, co-produced 14 new street lighting panels this year. These designs were added to the 35 designs from previous years – a total of 49 luminescent installations now lighting up the streets of Soho.

Children from Soho Parish School who had their designs turned into luminescent lights installed in and around Soho © Tunde Valiszka

Finding design inspiration

Antonio Capelao, assisted by Hannah Peaty and Joshua Brooks (RIBA Learning Manager) delivered a series of design workshops with the children to initiate their journey as lighting designers.

This included a visit to the Andy Warhol: Textiles exhibition at the Fashion + Textile Museum, as well as the research of their local buildings, cultures, communities and traditions.

Vesper Barrett (age 6) and Emberly Macklin (age 6) said it was “amazing and really nice” to see their drawings turned into Christmas lights on the streets of Soho.

Emberly designed a patterned Christmas bauble inspired by the dresses at the Andy Warhol exhibition. Vesper’s design was of Santa’s reindeer with a Christmas hat and sparkle and won the ‘Merry and Bright’ award from RIBA for the most brilliantly illuminated Christmas display, inspired by the festive season (see below).

Vesper’s design was of Santa’s reindeer with a Christmas hat and sparkle © Tunde Valiszka

Architecture and art in the heart of London

RIBA Learning Manager Joshua Brooks says that the partnership between the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and the Soho Christmas Lights project is a testament to the intersection of architecture and art in the heart of London.

RIBA brings its expertise to the table by partnering with local artists, designers and architects to help create an enchanting and visually captivating experience for children and young people.

This collaboration is more than just an annual event; it's a synergy of creativity and architectural sensibilities that transforms Soho's streets into a winter wonderland.

For Joshua, RIBA's involvement helps to ensure that the Christmas lights aren't just random decorations but thoughtfully designed elements that enhance the community’s character.

One of the key strengths of this collaboration lies in its ability to preserve Soho's unique identity while embracing modern design trends. RIBA has worked closely with Antonio on the project aiming to respect the historical significance of Soho's architecture and heritage.

Through this partnership, the Soho Kids Xmas Lights project becomes an embodiment of both tradition and innovation, showcasing the dynamic nature of creativity.

RIBA's contribution goes beyond aesthetics; it instils a sense of pride in the local community and visitors alike, Joshua continues. It reminds everyone that architecture is not confined to buildings alone, but can extend its magic to the streets, creating memorable experiences for all to enjoy during the festive season.

RIBA Learning Manager Joshua Brooks, Antonio Capelao, and Carl Mullaney ready to hand certificates to the winning participants at the Soho Kids Xmas Lights 2023 launch event © Tunde Valiszka

Hear from key community supporters

The Soho Kids Xmas Lights project would not have been possible without the support of key community members.

Cllr Patrick Lilley - Lead Member Soho and LGBTQ+ Champion:

"It is without doubt one of the most wonderful events we ever had in Soho. Soho Kids design the lights, renowned architect Antonio Capelao realises their dreams/designs and the residents, business and Westminster Council fund the hanging of the right across Soho!

The project reminds the world the people live here, children live and go to school here and that we can and do work together for this unique and wonderful area thousands call home! The switch on event is magical."

Andrew Price - Shaftesbury Capital Executive Director:

"We’re delighted to support this key community initiative for the third consecutive year that see the streets of Soho illuminated by the creative lighting designs by the pupils of Soho Parish Primary School."

Hannah Peaty - Assistant Head, Soho Parish C of E Primary School:

"We're really excited to be taking part in this project for a third year running. It's such an inspiring and motivating project for the children to be taking part in - giving them confidence as young artists and makers that can contribute to the local environment and community.

Seeing their artwork lit up around the streets of Soho is such a Christmas gift and something to be proud of for many years to come."

Jamie Poulton - Director, Randall & Aubin:

"As a long-standing local business in the heart of Soho, we are committed to giving back to the community and supporting local initiatives that positively impact the lives of residents, fellow business owners and visitors to Soho. We are extremely proud to be supporting Soho Parish Primary School in its annual Soho Kids Xmas Lights project.

We know the children have worked hard on this project, and their tireless efforts to create a magical atmosphere for our community is truly admirable."

Ayça Donaghy - CEO, The Lighting Industry Association:

"As the CEO of the Lighting Industry Association, I am delighted to support and be a part of the Soho Christmas Lights project. Attracting the younger generation to the lighting industry is of paramount importance, and this project beautifully aligns with our mission at the LIA.

This project empowers these children to explore their local environment and express their unique ideas through the medium of light - it is a wonderful opportunity to harness the boundless creativity and imagination of children through the magic of light. By doing so, we not only cultivate a generation of future lighting experts but also bring a touch of warmth, joy, and brilliance to their community during the festive season."

Antonio Capelao - Founder and co-producer of Soho Kids Xmas Lights:

"I can’t believe this is the third annual edition, and pupils' designs are getting more and more experimental and challenging. The community is very supportive and goes out of their way to make it happen and a special thank you to Cllr Patrick Lilley for all his efforts in bringing the community together to materialise the project – Soho Kids Xmas Lights does indeed bring the community together through a celebration of light during the darkest months of the year!"

Visit the lights

Visitors can download a walking tour of the lights, which will be on display from now until 7 January 2024.

Each lamp post where the light panels are installed features a QR code that links to information about the project. The aim of the project is for more light panels to be added each year, and the RIBA Learning team looks forward to collaborating on this project in the future.

Find out more about RIBA Learning and our work with school children and young people.

Christmas light installation designs light up Brewer Street in Soho, London © Tunde Valiszka

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