The newly completed Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria (Javett-UP) will be opening its doors in September of this year and boasts the latest in architectural lighting solutions, with a network-based control system that places lighting entirely in the hands of the user.

Artist impressions courtesy of Pieter Mathews & Associates

AV Integration spoke with Christopher Till, who is currently directing the planning and commissioning of the Javett-UP, about this exciting new space for the promotion of arts and culture in South Africa.


The Javett -UP is the result of a collaboration between the University of Pretoria and the Javett Foundation. The iconic building that will house the Javett-UP straddles Lynnwood Road in Pretoria, creating a new bridge between UP and the surrounding areas and ensuring that the centre has a footprint both within academia and the community. On completion, the space will comprise several galleries, with spaces for exhibitions, multidisciplinary events and performances.

Director, Christopher Till explains that the Javett Foundation is a South African charitable trust established in 2013 by the Javett family interests. The Foundation aims to support philanthropic activities in line with the family’s long-standing interest in, and support for, education and skills development, as well as their ongoing commitment to the arts.

“The Javett family collected works by key twentieth-century South African artists, and by 2012, the collection had become large enough for Michael Javett to explore how it might be put to optimal use. He decided that if these important artworks were housed in an art centre attached to an academic institution, the collection could significantly enhance education in the arts. Most importantly, he wanted to ensure that these seminal pieces would be available to the wider public.” –
Christopher Till

In addition to showcasing the Javett Foundation’s extensive collection of South African artworks, the centre will house the gold treasures of Mapungubwe and works from the university’s collections. The Javett-UP will be a vital resource for the university, helping to strengthen teaching, learning, research and community engagement and outreach.


Artist impressions courtesy of Pieter Mathews & Associates

Pieter Mathews and Associates, a Pretoria-based architecture firm, took the leading role in designing the building that would become the Javett Art Centre at UP. According to Till, the architects took inspiration from the iconic  South African rock formations found at Mapungubwe  –  a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is recognised as the ancient home of the first indigenous kingdom in Southern Africa between 900 and 1,300 AD.

“As you drive down Lynnwood Road it is quite an iconic building, with the bridge gallery that goes across the road serving as a striking linkage between the Departments of Visual Arts and Architecture at the University of Pretoria. The Javett-UP has already become a visual emblem for Pretoria’s urban city landscape,” says Till.

During the planning phase of the project, Till approached renowned architectural lighting designers Paul Pamboukian and Joao Viegas, of Pamboukian Lightdesign, to design a state-of-the-art lighting installation to ensure that art works could be displayed in the best conditions. Till and his team envisioned a highly flexible lighting design that could spotlight artworks positioned anywhere in the various exhibition spaces. “We have elected to keep the palate of the interior design of the gallery neutral and wanted to create temperature and atmosphere with dimmable white LED lighting. In addition, we needed the installation to be power-efficient and easy to operate,” explains Till.

Working in close collaboration with architects, Pamboukian and his team put together an inspiring and highly functional design for the Javett -UP which was deployed with assistance from architectural lighting control experts, Electrosonic SA.


Speaking to AV Integration in a recent interview, company director Bruce Schwartz explains how Electrosonic became involved in the project.

“We have worked with Pamboukian Lightdesign on similar installations in the past, and therefore we have a shared knowledge-base and proven problem-solving track-record,” Schwartz points out. “While installation of this nature may seem very simple on the surface, the skill is in designing the topography of the network and deploying the necessary infrastructure to ensure a lighting design that fulfils the needs of this unique space and is easy for gallery staff to operate. Fortunately, Electrosonic has both the technology and skills at our disposal to achieve optimal results.” Bruce Schwartz, Director of Electronic

Pamboukian Lightdesign and Electronic consulted closely on the best control solution for the Javett-UP and decided to implement a system that would allow gallery staff to operate specified lighting tracks rather than individual fixtures. “After careful deliberation, we decided that the size of the Javett-UP – which spans several floors with various levels, intimate rooms and breakaway spaces – made it impractical to control individual fixtures throughout the building. As a result, we designed a system, using a comprehensive lighting control management system from Helvar, which enabled us to create a distributed dimming and control system throughout the space.” Schwartz explains. “We have dimmers and control points on each floor, which are all connected onto an IP-based network. This design provides a degree of redundancy so that if one ‘brain’ fails, the others can take over and continue operating.”

Once the immense task of establishing an independent IP network, designing the network topography, installing the hardware and cabling and integrating the lighting tracks was achieved, Electrosonic deployed Helvar’s uSee user interface to make the system programmable for the end-user.

The Helvar uSee interface unit connects to a router system and automatically discovers channels and groups, allows scene recall, scene edit and energy monitoring graphing – all in a simple-to-use, intuitive manner. The system includes scheduling and logging functions for emergency lighting and duration tests, and maintenance alarms allow for scheduled lamp replacement.

The uSee user interface allows gallery staff to access, programme and save scenes using the uSee platform on any smart tablet or devise. Schwartz explains that the gallery can move an exhibition into an allocated space and simply clip fixtures along the track as required. Using a tablet, the user is then able to set a lighting scene for the exhibition space and save it. These scenes can be recalled as required, either automatically when the gallery opens or at a specified time. The uSee interface prevents a situation where a programmer would have to programme multiple pre-sets and save them on the system for the end-user to select when needed – which decentralises control over the system and stifles creativity. “Enabling the end-user to design and write their own scenes, without having to consult with a programmer, is one of the most important distinguishing factors of the Helvar system, and is perfectly in line with what Christopher [Till] and his team envisioned at inception,” Schwartz concludes.


After many years of dreaming, planning, designing, building and refining, the Javett-UP will become a reality in the later part of 2019. “The Javett-UP aims to become the default destination for those seeking engagement with the art of Africa, not only in the Pretoria area, but into the continent and internationally.” says Till.

Artist impressions courtesy of Pieter Mathews & Associates

Many of our most ancient creation myths suggest that light is the foundation upon which we are able to distinguish order from chaos. The innovative and highly advanced lighting installation deployed at the Javett -UP creates the opportunity to shed new light on the art of Africa. Due to the depth, diversity and significance of the work that will be exhibited at the Javett-UP, it holds the promise of becoming an epicentre of cultural discourse through the arts not only on the African continent – but on a global scale. 

The Javett Art Centre at the University of Pretoria will hold its inaugural exhibition on 24 September. Please visit for more information or follow the Javett-UP on Instagram @JavettUP and Facebook: The Javett Art Centre at UP.