“I was in Panama working on the design for the lighting of the Bridge of the Americas, the only land route over the Panama Canal,” recalls Miami, FL-based LD Robert Daniels. “Driving through the city with my colleague, Julio Vasquez Pretto of Lamparas Varibe, we drove by the National Sanctuary Church. I remarked how beautiful it was and how its architectural detail impressed me.” Daniels also realized that the church was lit at night with harsh quartz lighting, with a direct horizontal hit on the facade that washed out much of the detail.
“I told Julio that I would love to illuminate the facade and did he know the priest? He said he frequently attended Mass there and would make the connection,” Daniels notes. That was in January 2000. On Daniels' next trip to Panama, he met with the priest and discussed how beautiful the church could look at night. “At first he was hesitant to spend the money for better lighting, but changed his mind when he saw examples of how detailed facade lighting can look. From that point on he became the catalyst for the project to proceed.”
Daniels got the job, but it came with a very small budget. He decided to use PAR-30 short-neck halogen lamps in Stonco medium-base sockets with both rubber gaskets and a special socket lubricant that prevents rust and provides for easy lamp removal. Weep holes were also drilled in the bottom of the lamp holders to permit water to drain. “The throws required more light than MR-16s could deliver, yet we wanted a very small fixture that would not detract from the church's beauty in the daytime,” he says.
Since the church planned to use its new lighting system only on weekends, excessive electric consumption was not a problem, yet Daniels specified 130V long-life lamps from General Electric that would yield over 5,000 hours of life. “We like the smoothness of the light pattern, and the long life is very useful for lower maintenance,” he notes. “In fact, we put a voltage reducer in the circuit to bring the voltage down even lower, so that the lamp life expectation may be high as 10,000 hours. The church will use the lighting system sparingly, no more than 1,000 hours a year, so maintenance may cycle at close to 10 years. That is very important considering the difficulty to reach many of the fixtures with a fire truck.”
Elements of the facade that Daniels wanted to emphasize include symmetrical columns on either side of the entrance that rise majestically and frame the arched doorway, whose carved details produce interesting shadows when illuminated properly. “With exact placement of in-ground PAR-38s we were able to cut the light so as to illuminate the arched door frame and bring out the bowl-shaped pedestal that holds statues of Mary and the Pope,” notes Daniels. He also used Hubbell non-metallic recessed uplights set into a new tile entrance to the church. This dramatic contrast of the arch pointing to the bowl and the figures was one of the main design elements of the facade lighting.
“The lighting of the statues was also very important,” the LD adds. “Since the full name of the church is the National Sanctuary of the Heart of Maria, the lighting of Mary was extra-important. She is more important than the Pope.” Because of this, Daniels lit Mary dramatically with a hot PAR-38 narrow spot that emphasizes her chest and face. The kneeling Pope was then illuminated on the street side with a wide flood that threw a softer wash on his back. “Uplighting the arched cove above and behind the statues required their own dedicated fixtures and soft fill to cut shadows directly overhead,” he adds.
Daniels also employed a strong narrow-beam PAR-38 to illuminate the cross atop the church, so that the cross and the face of Mary are the two brightest objects. Crowds gathered as Daniels and Vasquez Pretto turned on the fixtures and the church facade took on a new look. “The project was completed in January 2001, almost exactly a year from when we first saw the church and thought about creating a new facade lighting system,” says Daniels. “The priest is very happy with his investment.”