Automated Lighting Adds Panache to a Dominican Republic Basilica

One of the outstanding architectural icons of the Dominican Republic is the Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia cathedral in the city of Higuey. Commonly known as Higuey Basilica, it is also one of the most visited buildings in this Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation that occupies two-thirds of the island of Hispaniola (the other third is Haiti). Of the more than eight million people living in the Dominican Republic, 95% are Catholic.

The Higuey Basilica represents the holy place of the spiritual mother of the Dominicans, Our Lady of Altagracia. Local lore has it that on January 21, 1691, Dominican troops won the Sabana Battle (La Batalla de la Sabana) against France. After winning the battle, the Dominican troops took all their weapons to Higuey, offering them to Our Lady of Altagracia. Thousands visit the festivities at this site each year, primarily on Altagracia Day (January 21) and during Holy Week.

In honor of the Sabana Battle, the Higuey Basilica was officially inaugurated on January 21, 1971; it has been named a national monument by the Dominican government, and declared a minor basilica by Pope Paul IV. Designed by the French architects A. Dunoyer de Segonzac and Pierre Dupré, this contemporary concrete structure is dominated by a 75m-high (248') central arch. To highlight the architecture of the Basilica, a lighting scheme was completed in September 2002, bathing the gray concrete in bright colors at night.

“The main motive was to provide the Basilica with an architectural effect lighting system capable of increasing the prominence of this outstanding architectural work,” reports Edgardo Boqué, president of Martin Professional Argentina. “The original idea was for the installation of a lighting system to increase the impact and prominence of the Basilica in the area, as well as highlight the architectural modernism of the temple.”

The lighting design is dramatic, playing against the architectural shapes of the building. “The colors we chose first were amber and light blue, in different intensities with slow transitions,” says Boqué. But when the client first saw the lighting installation at the Basilica, the request came for more colors and more dynamism. So extra colors were added, including the blue, red, and white of the Dominican Republic flag. The lighting is turned on at sunset and off at midnight, except during special events.

Peter Hald, Martin's area sales manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, was also involved with the project installation, start-up, and programming, along with Centrolux, Martin's exclusive distributor in the Dominican Republic. “As Centrolux had previously done some indoor and outdoor conventional lighting of various notable temples, they were contacted to make a proposal for the Basilica,” explains Boqué. “Centrolux's projects division came up with the idea of an architectural effect lighting system.”

The original concepts for the lighting design were developed by the technical staff of Centrolux, together with the technical personnel of the Higuey Archbishopric and the Patronage members of the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de la Altagracia, and the Martin Argentina technical staff.

Four Martin Exterior 600 and 22 Exterior 600 Compact luminaires were used as they are suitable for the specifications required, including a high resistance to extreme climatic conditions. The control system is a Martin LightJockey. “Taking advantage of the characteristics of the structure, some adjustments were made to the original design to get practically all the fixtures installed on the ceiling of the perimeter corridors so as not to affect the outer view of the construction,” says Boqué.

“Once the technical personnel of Centrolux decided to propose architectural effect lighting for this project, we had to sell the idea to the Higuey Archbishopric, the Basilica Patronage, and the Dominican Municipal League,” Boqué adds. “After a half-dozen meetings in which were discussed the details of the project, we got the final approval for the implementation of a technologically advanced lighting system, instead of a conventional one.”

The technical staff at Centrolux, in conjunction with Martin, worked on the specifications of the project, including the definition of quantity, model, and type of luminaires to be used. “The task was a bit complicated due to the lack of detailed plans of the temple,” says Boqué. “This situation forced us to work based on incomplete plans, metrical surveys in situ, pictures, air views, and so on.” Centrolux was also in charge of the acquisition, import, transport, and installation of all fixtures, with the technical supervision of Boqué, Hald, and Claudio Giraldez from Martin Argentina.

“Peter Hald and I participated in the inauguration and had the pleasure of meeting the first lady of the Dominican Republic,” says Boqué. “The Archbishop was also very excited and all the guests were quite impressed with the illumination project.”

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.