Light for the Palace of Radiant Happiness

CHALLENGE: Once an imposing residence of the royal family during the 14th Century, Seoul’s Gyeongbokgung Palace is an architectural pagoda masterpiece. The monumental historical site and tourist attraction needed a lighting system to create a “magical” atmosphere that would enhance its architectural features at night. Lighting needed to be precise and controllable, and free of spill light.

INFLUENCE: The construction of the Palace dates back to as early as 1395. After suffering major destruction as a result of various wars and conflicts, the complex was rebuilt and refurbished in 1868. However, it was not until 1990 that the modern-day palace was reconstructed to its original form. The residences within the Palace are ideal portrayals of the pagoda style, a traditional Korean style of architecture – characterized by striking, multi-story buildings with individual levels separated from one another by projecting cornices. The buildings are adorned with curved roofs, many of which are colorfully and richly detailed. bitzro & partners, a leading practitioner of lighting design in South Korea, envisioned a concept with a core aim to take visitors on a journey through time with light. 

“The idea was to plan the lighting so that people who are visiting the Palace today could experience a similar feeling to those who were visiting and living there half a millennium ago,” says Kiyoung Ko, Founder, CEO and Design Principal of bitzro & partners.  

Historically, traditional Korean lighting usually involved kerosene lamps, which exhibit a warm tone of light that would softly permeate through the hanji windows to shine and create a mystical aura when viewed from the outside. As such, by predominantly relying on indirect illumination consisting of warm white 3000K light, bitzro & partners aims to recreate this atmosphere at the Palace. 

SOLUTION: In order to meet the lighting concept and the level of architectural intricacy of the Palace, bitzro & partners used state of the art LED technology: important was a high color rendering (CRI > 92) and reliable color consistency, in order to illuminate and display the fine decorative details of the structures without distortion. Furthermore, in order to fulfill requirements pertaining to conservation, the designers chose to install low-maintenance ERCO outdoor lighting tools. By replacing the old lighting systems with new LED luminaires, about 80 % energy could be saved. “The textures and the details of the wood and stone surfaces that the Palace had somewhat lost for a long time now once again perfectly come to the fore,” says Kiyoung Ko. “Thanks to the various high-precision beam angles that we utilized for our design at the Gyeongbokgung Palace, we were able to completely realize all of the details that our lighting project had hoped to achieve.”

 At the heart of palace is the Geunjeongjeon Hall. The primarily wooden structure rests on a two-tiered stone platform, has detailed balustrades. The Hall is illuminated from a large distance with ERCO’s  Kona projectors and precise 6° narrow spot distribution, utilizing the high luminous flux of the 42W LED module that makes the Kona ideal to illuminate from a distance. It is illuminated from a distance of about 70m with high precision through a total of ten projectors mounted on two masts.

Similarly, the Gyeonghoeru Pavilion, a single-story stone and timber building, is situated on a small island in an artificially created lake within the Palace. The columns are positioned to represent the ancient dualist philosophy of the yin and yang. To illuminate this structure, bitzro & partners uses square ERCO Tesis ground-recessed luminaires to perform the uniform wallwashing technique, which highlights the colored ornaments on the cornice and traces the upward curving of the roof on the sides of the Pavilion. “An advantage of the luminaires is that they could be installed rather inconspicuously in the ground and on the stones,” says Kiyoung Ko. 

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Photos © ERCO GmbH,, photography: Jackie Chan

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