The Jefferson Memorial Gets a Glamorous Yet Energy-Efficient Lighting Facelift

To commemorate its 100th anniversary in the year 2001, Osram Sylvania president Dean Langford was looking for a project to showcase the company's cutting-edge energy-efficient products. As a co-chair of the Alliance to Save Energy, he heard that the National Park Service was hoping to relight the Jefferson Memorial to celebrate the bicentennial of Jefferson's presidency. Osram sponsored the project, donated the cost of all equipment, design, and installation, and the project was put on a fast track to be completed before September 2001.

Osram Sylvania's manager of commercial engineering, Dwight Kitchen, approached The Mintz Lighting Group for the Jefferson Memorial redesign. David Mintz was project principal and Kenneth Douglas was project designer. Installation was performed by Sylvania Lighting Services Corp., whose branch manager Rick Flynn was site foreman. The Park Service recommended Summer Consultants, who had worked on the Washington Monument, for electrical engineering. They in turn called on Woods-Peacock Consulting Engineers for structural consulting on the exterior lighting poles.

The complete project took 10 months; installation began in mid-July and was finished six weeks later — an amazingly short time given the strict parameters that government agencies impose on work like this.

A major restriction was that the new interior lighting had to use existing positions; drilling any new holes would entail a lengthy approval process. The Mintz Lighting Group began by taking a conditions survey of the Memorial and discovered that the entire lighting system needed to be updated. “At the time it was done, some 30 years ago, it was state-of-the-art, but the art has changed,” Mintz says.

The goal was to not only update the existing lighting system but also to completely re-evaluate it to improve the overall visual impact. A number of architectural features had not been illuminated previously. “Amazingly, the side that faces the White House was never lighted,” Mintz says. “We were able to light the steps, the front facade, and the frieze at the top which shows the signing of the Declaration of Independence.” Inside the Memorial, the elegantly coffered dome ceiling had not been lit and stretched up into darkness. What lighting there had been was a combination of incandescent and high-pressure sodium, which gave everything an orangey cast.

The design firm conducted mockups, “trying different light sources, different mounting positions,” says Mintz. “We were able to use a lift bucket, so that we could clamp, say, a floodlight onto the rail of the cherry picker, move it around in mid-air until we got the angle we wanted, drop a line and measure it, so that we could predetermine exactly the locations we wanted, and know that we were going to be right, so that when we came back the second time we had very few modifications to make.”

Any changes to the Memorial in its existing state had to be approved by the Commission for Fine Arts. “If you want to put up a fence, a light post, change the front of a house, the Commission has to approve that,” Mintz explains. “We had to appear in front of the Commission and not only make a presentation about what we intended to do, but we also had to do a mockup and show them. They made some comments and suggestions and requests, all of which were appropriate and meaningful, and when we complied with those, with a second presentation and mockup, we got approval.”

The Mintz Lighting Group's design illuminated about 30% more of the Memorial while reducing its energy usage by nearly 80%. Newly illuminated elements include the front steps and arched niches behind the colonnade, the coffered dome ceiling, and a text frieze around the base of the dome interior.

Over the past 30 years trees have grown up, blocking the original exterior dome lighting locations, which have been moved inside the tree line. “They are placed in such a way that the columns themselves act as louvers so that no light from the exterior floodlights bleeds into the chamber,” Mintz remarks. The 45'-tall poles are custom, tapered poles by Valmont, with Northstar fixtures and 400W metal-halide lamps.

All lamps used on the project are by Osram Sylvania, mostly Metalarc ceramic metal-halides of various wattages with some Icetron induction lamps for downlighting and 17,000 LED units around the text frieze. The cool color temperature of the metal-halides and Icetrons were selected to accentuate the classical look of the creamy marble and the weathered color of the bronze statue.

Many fixtures and mounts were custom designed for the Memorial. “Indy Lighting manufactured some custom downlights for the Icetron induction lamps,” Douglas says. “The ceilings in the Memorial are a foot and a half to two-feet-thick concrete; there isn't an off-the-shelf fixture to fit in there, so we had some custom fixtures made for that purpose.”

Winona Lighting custom-made the fixtures for the linear LED uplights on the text frieze. This had never been lit before, “and the only place to light it from was a 3" ledge below it,” says Mintz. “Without LEDs it couldn't be done.” The LED strips have both white and yellow units. “They are on transformers to allow us to lower the voltage, which is essentially dimming them,” Douglas explains. “That allowed us to change the intensity and the color temperature so that we could get the mix of color we wanted to flatter the marblework.”

The floodlights on the statue are a custom modification by Northstar so the fixture could be rear-lamped, avoiding the need to refocus. The statue is lit from four sides with 400W metal-halides with Special FX neutral density filters to balance the intensity. “Metal-halides don't come in a whole lot of different wattages,” Mintz explains, “and our mounting positions were predetermined by architecture, so in some cases we used neutral density filters. In other cases we used color filters to shade the tone one way or another.” Special FX also made glass filters in a pale amber.

Four carved text panels on the interior walls are more subtly accented than before, with ETC 150W CDM Source Four 19° ellipsoidals, shuttered to frame the text and then thrown slightly out of focus and dimmed with Wybron Eclipse dousers. “You can read the text panels, but you don't realize they're lighted,” Mintz says. “They're not framed with bright rectangles on the wall.”

For ease of maintenance, the lighting is controlled by a Lutron Digital Microwatt system programmed with an astronomical timeclock. The Icetron and LED units will last an estimated 100,000 hours, and the metal-halides have a life expectancy of up to 20,000 hours, but lamps will eventually burn out. The Microwatt has a nifty feature which will let Park Service staff know when a lamp needs to be changed. It monitors the load on each circuit and if it detects a difference the system will send an e-mail to the maintenance list stating which circuit is affected. Authorized personnel can also dial in to the system via modem to turn the lighting on or off for special events or film shoots.

The new illumination was supposed to be unveiled September 12. It was rescheduled for October 23, but an anthrax scare at the Capitol building cast a shadow over that ceremony as well. Unfortunately, the beautiful new lighting did not get as much press coverage as had been hoped for. All parties involved are extremely proud of the outcome nonetheless. “We enjoyed it tremendously,” Douglas concludes. “We had fantastic input and feedback from the Park Service people.”

“The Park Service is enormously protective of the national memorials,” Mintz comments. “They are ferocious about protecting those national treasures from exploitation, commercialization, physical damage, and disrespect. I can only applaud them, because we wouldn't have those facilities in the condition they're in if it weren't for that kind of attitude. At the end of the day, you've done something and it's going to be preserved for people to enjoy for many years.”

Contact the author at aslingerland@primediabusiness.com.