For the November 1997 issue of Lighting Dimensions, lighting designer Steven Rosen, principal of Boston-based Available Light Inc., contributed "Jurassic PARs" (page 66), a piece about his firm's work on a traveling exhibit, The Lost World: The Life and Death of Dinosaurs. This was no one-off: The "colorful, kinetic, directional, and highly focused" illumination he wrote about is a key part of Available Light's business, which straddles the corporate theatre/trade show and museum/special space architecture markets.
Its first science center project, the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, VA, opened in 1992 after a two-year build. Others soon followed, and the firm is currently engaged in 14 museum projects around the world. Lighting Dimensions revisited Rosen, IALD, and senior associate Katherine Abernathy, LC, IALD, to look at a couple that have opened in the last two years: the Tech Museum of Innovation, in San Jose, CA (the heart of Silicon Valley), and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum at the Chicago Academy of Sciences, in Lincoln Park.
The former, opened in 1998, was a four-year build that "started as a blank piece of paper, an awesome opportunity," Rosen says. It has four galleries: Life Tech, Innovation, Exploration, and Communication. The Nature Museum, which opened last October, has six different themed galleries: the Water Lab, Environmental Central, Children's Gallery, City Science, Wilderness Walk, and the Butterfly Haven. Available Light was hired by Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership for this project, a two-and-a-half year installation. "That's about an average length of time for one of these," says Rosen.
The two projects encompassed unique lighting challenges. In an interview, Rosen and Abernathy talk about "fighting with architecture," the pros and cons of new technologies, and the horror of windows.
Robert Cashill: For an LD, the Tech Museum breaks the mold for a project like this. Explain how.
Steven Rosen: When an owner decides to build a science center they traditionally hire a museum exhibit design firm. The design firm in turn either hires directly or recommends to the owner a lighting design firm to work with them on the exhibits. Very often there are two lighting designers on a museum project, and so it was with the Tech Museum; New York-based Fisher Marantz Stone was hired by the building architect, Legorreta Arquitectos, to design the lobby and other public spaces.
The difference with the Tech Museum is that they created a museum exhibit design firm in-house, completely focused on one project--not on 50,000 other jobs coming through the office. It was an expensive decision, of course, because now they were paying all these people full-time to work on one project, but they've got money out there. (Laughs.)
The "Tech" hired Wayne LaBar, who was working for an exhibit design firm that was one of our clients. After moving from Boston to San Jose, he was tasked with the creation of this in-house design firm; Wayne and I had worked together on several projects, and he asked us to submit a proposal to join his creative team as lighting consultants. One of the wonderful things about this project, unlike so many that we work on, is that we were hired very early--actually before some of the exhibit designers. Consequently, we could really figure out ways for light to grow organically out of the exhibits, as opposed to situations where the exhibit design firm is relatively far along before we are hired to begin work on the lighting design. We much prefer the theatre production model where the director and designers gather at the first production meeting and the blue-sky ideas electrically zing around the room.
RC: How does this differ from the Nature Museum?
Katherine Abernathy: It, too, is a somewhat different approach in that the lead designer on the project, Miguel Cardenas from Lee H. Skolnick Architecture + Design Partnership, was an architect by training. Exhibit design was relatively new to him, and in many ways our interaction with both LHSA+DP and Kevin Coffee, the director of exhibits for the museum, was quite refreshing.
RC: Both of these were new builds?
SR: Yes. In Chicago, the building, designed by Perkins and Will, was going full steam ahead when the client finally settled on an exhibit design.
KA: Which is pretty typical.
SR: And was typical of the Tech Museum, too. When the architecture gets going much earlier than the exhibit design, you're constantly negotiating with the structure. Very often this is signature architecture, by a world-class designer, intended to focus a figurative spotlight on a city--sometimes the results produce some weirdly shaped interior spaces, which makes it difficult to organize the flow through the structure. We're doing theatre: We want to start with a black box, then carve up the space the way it's appropriate for the visitor experience. But it doesn't always work that way.
RC: What is the biggest challenge lighting these types of installations?
SR: Windows. Architects love windows; they love light streaming in through buildings and the way the architectural form is constantly redefined over the course of a day by the movement of the sun. If you're doing a children's museum, an art museum, or a visitor's center, very often daylight is an important component of the character of the space. But that's brutal to the work we do when we're creating environments that focus on space or deep sea exploration.
KA: The Nature Museum has a Butterfly Haven exhibit that's all glass, so it has both a strong daytime and nighttime aura; at night, it's a glowing jewel box. Wilderness Walk has three dioramas (360-degree oval pod structures that guests enter). The original concept embraced by the designers was that visitors approaching a pod would have a sense of the interior via silhouettes made possible by making the pod walls translucent. But there was a large west-facing window that allowed a significant amount of daylight to penetrate the space. Even with 90% solar veil light-reduction screens covering the window, we had problems creating the internally glowing pod.
SR: It's amazing when we talk to clients about doing some sort of window treatment that enables a 90% reduction of light passing through. They really freak out. But, in practice, when you put your sunglasses on, that's about 90% too: You've got 3,000fc coming through the window, and a 90% reduction means you still have 300fc streaming in.
RC: Does your theatricality lead to tension with a client?
KA: That's why they hire us. They expect our kind of craziness. (Laughs.) What really surprises our clients is when they look at our plans and see a lot of fixtures, many, many more than they're accustomed to. We like to work in layers--first we might treat a surface with a saturated color wash, then maybe cut through the color with a gobo pattern system, next we might add either a form-accentuating beam of light at a three-dimensional object or direct a pinspot at a graphic panel to assure clarity and focus for the visitor. Where clients are accustomed to employing maybe one lighting fixture, we might have three. We also look for track lighting products, like those from LSI, that allow us to employ up to three accessories such as a color filter, a spread lens, and a louver in a single fixture.
SR: Accessorize, accessorize, accessorize. We've had clients who have gone ahead and bought the fixtures, but when they've installed them, they only put up about half of them. They say, "You couldn't possibly need all these." Of course, by the time we're done, we're looking around for one more fixture; there has to be one more lying around somewhere. . . .
RC: Perhaps they're worried about maintaining it.
KA: That depends on the client and where we are in relation to them, geographically. Quite often we leave a manual that explains how to change the lamps and mind the focus, with an artistic eye.
SR: Almost any large institution has an exhibit design and maintenance staff that will take on the responsibility of caring for the lighting system.
KA: When we walk around the exhibits, we talk to staff members while we're aiming, because often a lot of signage and graphics do not make it in before our on-site time is up. It sometimes becomes their task to go back and light that piece of signage. We explain our design idea and, hopefully, they pick it up and run with it.
SR: It's important to us that the people we leave behind feel they have ownership of the design, and that they have something invested in it. If we just show up, do our thing, and leave, the chances of it being maintained are pretty slim.
KA: I'd like to add that while some of the theatrical equipment that we use, like moving lights, is pricey, these fixtures also become exhibits in and of themselves. Right outside the Butterfly Haven in Chicago are three Martin Professional units that flutter butterflies around a hallway in a cued loop sequence. Considering the cost, the client asked, "Do we need this?" Well, yes--it brings people into the space and excites them visually.
SR: At the Tech Museum, in the Innovation gallery, we mounted four automated lights on a steel bar atop the "virtual roller coaster," an exhibit about the design and engineering of roller coasters. It's not a motion simulator, but when the video part of the exhibit starts, the moving lights are triggered by an RS232 command--they whiz breakup patterns along the surrounding walls. You're not really aware of the effect as an exhibit participant, but the lighting helps to build anticipation for the people queueing to get in.
RC: You used Martin gear on both these projects. Why?
SR: Three factors. One, we have had a good relationship with Martin engineering and with Barbizon in New England, which has been very helpful integrating Martin's equipment into architecture. Two, some of Martin's equipment will accept the 150W 6,000-hour Thorn Arc-Stream lamp--a very important factor when considering the long-life success of an exhibit. And, finally, due to low ceiling heights and limited space, we tend to use relatively small fixtures, not the Martin MAC 600 or a High End Systems Cyberlight(R) or Studio Spot(TM). Up until recently, Martin was the only manufacturer providing low-priced, small-size equipment. For a project at Atlanta SciTrek we used a battery of moving lights with halogen sources to simulate a computer's desktop on a scrim wall--moving cursor arrow, drop down menus, menu selection highlights, and so on--and lived to regret it; the lamps were notorious for premature failure.
RC: How else does cost factor into your designs?
KA: Halo has a very strong presence in Chicago, so they became an obvious choice for the Nature Museum because we knew we could get product and accessories quickly. Lithonia Lighting has good-quality and less-expensive product lines than many of their competitors. Ultimately, the choice of light source becomes much more important than the lighting fixture, whether it's going to be fluorescent or metal-halide or halogen, and if it is going to be halogen, is it going to be a 120V source or a 130V source and how long a life is it going to be. The minimum we entertain is 2,000 hours. A favorite halogen lamp of ours is the 120W PAR-38. Philips Lighting donated almost all of the lamps used at the Tech Museum.
SR: Here again is the price issue: Due to good color rendering properties and a 10,000-hour life span, we like to use lamps such as the Philips MasterColor PAR, but the up-front cost can be prohibitive. No matter how blue in the face you are when you say to the client, "Look, if you spend more up-front, the savings realized in energy, lamp cost, and lamp replacement equates with a return on investment in a few years," you do not always win the argument. We know that we are doing our clients a service if we use longer-life and lower-wattage alternatives to halogen. But, very often, we can't get them to make a leap--the money allocated for capital expense is totally unrelated to maintenance of the systems.
KA: And if it comes down to using half as many fixtures and doing a lousy lighting design job, or using the less expensive halogen solution and lighting the space the way we like, we tend to go the second route.
RC: How do you tailor light for different exhibits?
SR: Take the dioramas Kathy was talking about in the Nature Museum. We worked long and hard with both the exhibit designer and the muralist to make sure that the way we were lighting them was in harmony with the light in the painted backdrops, so that they felt as if they were of one environment.
KA: And, of course, whenever we use custom patterns, we need to research artwork such as amoebas and butterflies, as in the Nature Museum.
RC: Blacklight is used in an interesting way in another part of the Nature Museum, City Science.
KA: It's used in a bathroom exhibit in an environmental two-story house exhibit there. Even though you've cleaned your bathroom, you cannot see a lot of the germs and bacteria until you've hit it with blacklight.
SR: At first, it's lit normally. But a motion sensor recognizes that you walked in and the overhead light switches off, and the blacklight turns on. Suddenly, you see all of the mold and grime around your lovely bathroom.
KA: We do a lot of integration with light that way, with motion sensors and dry contact enclosures, so the lighting changes when you actively press a button or involuntarily trip a sensor.
RC: How important is it to conceal the lighting in these exhibit spaces?
SR: Our big concern is trying to control glare. Typically, that is a much bigger issue for us than trying to mask fixtures. We don't want you to look around and have a lightbulb in your eyes.
RC: How do you handle lighting control in these environments?
KA: That's another fight. (Laughs.) Because of money, the control systems that we do are much more specific to an exhibit that requires dynamic light, as opposed to dimming individual circuits across galleries on track. Although we again make the argument that by dimming the track a little bit, we increase the lamp life and save energy, the up-front cost is usually very difficult for our clients to bear. The other problem with system-wide dimming is that we now employ alternative lamp sources like fluorescent and metal-halide which cannot be dimmed by simply lowering the voltage feed to the track.
RC: Address a design challenge and its solution in each of these museums.
SR: The Communication gallery in the Tech Museum was hard. It had to be gritty and real, and you had to get the sense that these new communications technologies like satellites and fiber optics were part of our urban landscape. The light had to be tight and strong.
Initially, we created a bright, daytime cityscape, but it had no visual edge to it. After a considerable amount of thought, we instead lit the scene with a combination of a dusky blue wash and breakup patterns that are very directional, across this plaza-type environment. It's much more theatrical than a daylit setting, with patterning that very sharply ties the light and the colors together.
KA: Which goes to show you that a lot of the design is done on-site. We don't enjoy nearly as much being hired to do strictly a documents-only design contract; we want to be there to aim the light. That time is so critical. On both these projects we were able to go twice, once for a quick run-through, and once to tighten it up.
Environmental Central in the Nature Museum is a classroom-like environment that was a design challenge for us. It's a circular room, the walls are both evenly washed with light as well as grazed with streaks of light across the surface; decorative lighting pendants provide general area illumination. A museum docent who sits in the center of the room has a set of halogen dimmable task lights from Littlite integrated into the table. The docent also has control over a Lutron four-preset dimming and control system so the room's environment can be modified depending on the on the activity of the moment.
SR: The Wilderness Walk diorama pods are in a cavernous space. Rather than light their exteriors with track lighting, we used the Translite LightFrame system, a multilight with four focusable and accessorizable Osram Sylvania AR-111 lamps placed in a square grid pattern.
KA: Don't forget, Translite donated the cable lighting systems at the Tech.
SR: Correct! These pendants, all hung at the same height, provide a visual line that stops your eye from wandering above the line of the pods.
KA: Although we also placed a system of deep blue filtered fluorescent striplights on top of each pod to create a cool blob of colored light up on the gallery ceiling above the pod.
SR: Right, this added touch helps keep the room interesting and unique.
RC: Are you using emerging technologies like fiber optics and LEDs?
KA: There is a collection of artifacts in Wilderness Walk lit by Unison fiber optics (now part of Fiberstars). To get maximum brightness we like to use a metal-halide source in the illuminator, but that choice can lead to a color rendering/temperature problem. And it still is complicated for contractors, who can be put off by the installation process. But I think in the next 10 years it is going to be used more and more.
SR: As for LEDs, we are lighting the new trade show booths for our neighbors in Boston, Color Kinetics. For our museum work the technology can be cost-prohibitive, although we are using Color Kinetics product to highlight a curved wall behind a reception area at HealthWorks, a healthy living center/exhibit for children in South Bend, IN. As far as brightness goes, they're not 575W halogen spotlights, so one has to be careful to think through both design and ambient light condition issues, but with fabulous saturated color, virtually no heat, and a 100,000-hour lamp life rating, LEDs are here to stay. Did I say they were expensive? (Laughs.)
RC: Any final thoughts regarding your science center work?
SR: The way we approach our museum work is the way we approach projects in the theatre, which is via a very strong collaborative experience. You can't just come in at the end and dictate solutions to your client--you have to elicit from them why they've made the choices they've made. We then use this information to create a lighting design that is sensitive, thoughtful, and integrated into the global visual concepts of the entire team. We have a great job!
EXHIBIT AND SPECIAL EFFECTS LIGHTING AND CONTROL SYSTEMS DESIGNERS Available Light Inc. Steven Rosen, principal; Katherine Abernathy, senior associate
PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM
Lighting Equipment Abolite surface-mounted 400W metal-halide high bay downlight in Butterfly Haven; sign lighter in Children's Gallery; pendant-mounted area lights in Environmental Central Alkco Lighting undercabinet fluorescent lighting Altman Stage Lighting C-clamp-mounted pattern projector with Rosco patterns and Devon color glass; track-mounted Micro Ellipses with Devon color filters Architectural Lighting Systems pendant-mounted linear fluorescent downlight (with 5% uplight component) in Wilderness Walk Bega pendant-mounted metal-halide downlight in Water Lab Celestial Lighting T-1 rope light within Children's Gallery exhibits Delray Lighting pendant-mounted area lights in common corridor Elliptipar semi-recessed metal-halide wall washer ETA Systems Fluorostrobe fluorescent linear blacklight Halo Lighting pendant-mounted electrified track; recessed compact fluorescent downlight; recessed PAR-30, PAR-36, PAR-38, and MR-16 adjustable accent lights, some track-mounted; C-clamp-mounted and track-mounted fluorescent wall washers; fluorescent open wall washer in Environmental Central and Butterfly Haven Hydrel ground-mounted incandescent adjustable uplight in Butterfly Haven Justice Design Group pendant-mounted incandescent area light in Environmental Central Leviton pendant-mounted bare lamp fluorescent in Environmental Central; surface-mounted medium-base incandescent lampholder in City Science Lithonia Lighting surface-mounted 1'x1'3" deep cell parabolic louver in Children's Gallery; surface-mounted striplights with Special FX Lighting color sleeves in Children's Gallery and Wilderness Walk Littlite desktop-mounted task lights in Environmental Central Lucifer Lighting Helix field-bend low-voltage track with AR-111 adjustable track heads in Environmental Central Martin Professional Roboscan Pro 518s and 2510 controller in Butterfly Haven Osram Sylvania lamps Philips lamps Progress Lighting porch and area lights, sconces, and thematic pendant-mounted area lights in City Science; surface-mounted luminous bowl in City Science; wall-mounted decorative fluorescent above rest room mirrors Shaper Lighting compact fluorescent pathway light in Butterfly Haven; compact fluorescent sconce in City Science Stonco pendant-mounted fluorescent jelly jar in Environmental Central; floor-mounted PAR lampholder; surface-mounted PAR lamp adjustable accent holder in City Science Translite Systems pendant-mounted LightFrame panels in Wilderness Walk; Basis Beam track system Uni-Par Lighting C-clamp-mounted PAR-38 adjustable accent light with Devon color glass Unison/Fiberstars fiber-optic case lighting Wiremold Chan-L-Wire lighting distribution system in City Science
TECH MUSEUM OF INNOVATION
Lighting Equipment Abolite thematic pendant-mounted area lights Altman Stage Lighting unistrut-mounted 360Q theatrical pattern projectors, with Devon color glass and Apollo Design Technology, GAM Products, and Rosco templates; track-adapted low-voltage Micro Ellipse pattern projector with Rosco dichroic colors and patterns Edison Price Lighting track-mounted PAR-36 and PAR-38 adjustable accent lights Exterieur Vert fixtures for "sunbeam" look in Exploration gallery Focal Point recessed lens wall washer LSI track-mounted PAR-56 adjustable track heads with LSI color glass; track-mounted PAR-30, PAR-36, and PAR-38 adjustable accent lights; track-mounted fluorescent wall washer; Unitrack housing Lithonia Lighting recessed PAR-38 adjustable accent lights with white-painted flange; recessed lens troffer (2x2) with dimming ballast; two-lamp fluorescent striplight with symmetric reflector to employ blacklight blue lamp Lutron dimming system in Innovation gallery Martin Professional Roboscan Pro 518s and 2510 controller Ness Lighting wall-mounted oscillating low-voltage accent lights Osram Sylvania lamps Philips lamps Precision Projection Systems Wavelight water effects projector, unistrut-mountedTranslite Systems low-voltage track system with AR-111 adjustable track heads; low-voltage track system with themed pendant-mounted MR-16s; low-voltage uplight mounted system
PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM AT THE CHICAGO ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, AND TECH MUSEUM OF INNOVATION, SAN JOSE, CA