Casting Light

There is no such thing as a project that contains a single design strategy. It is increasingly common to discover that a given project has to wrestle with various issues of specialization and as architects, we must be aware of them. One design challenge that sometimes necessitates the need for outside assistance is the issue of lighting, and the recently renovated and expanded Max M. Fisher Center in Detroit designed by Diamond and Schmitt Architects of Toronto is an example where various lighting strategies were undertaken to further the architects’ goals. Referred to as “The Max,” the new facility consists of three main components: the restored Orchestra Hall, the new Music Box Performance Hall and the Jacob Bernard Pincus Education Center. The new facility is three times larger than the original hall and represents one of many initiatives to revitalize downtown Detroit. While other aspects relating to the architecture can be discussed, the purpose of this case study is to provide insight into some of the broader issues relating to lighting strategies.

The original 2,200-seat Orchestra Hall was built in 1919 and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Over the years, it became apparent that the original facility was unable to adapt its mechanical systems and limited lobby space. This necessitated a new approach to design. Other contemporary components relating to backstage and practice areas, dressing rooms and instrument storage also had to be reconsidered, redesigned, or simply added to the existing performance centre. The architects responded with the addition of a new central atrium space as an organizing principle. The scope of this project included the renovation of the original 1919 Orchestra Hall and the construction of a new four-storey Max M. Fisher Music Center that consists of a 750-seat Music Box, 200-seat Rehearsal Room, an administration wing and the Jacob Bernard Pincus Education Center.

Indeed, a comprehensive lighting strategy is but one of the many aspects in the formulation of the architecture that should not be taken for granted. By hiring a lighting consultant, the architects recognized the importance of achieving a lighting strategy that showcases the existing heritage components of the project, minimizes energy use and maintenance costs, and improves life safety. Hired by Diamond and Schmitt, Consullux Lighting Consultants are a semi-autonomous consulting arm that evolved out of Crossey Engineering roughly five years ago. Working with various architects across Canada and abroad, Consullux is a small group of six staff. Devoted to planning and implementing lighting strategies, they have worked on such projects as Saucier + Perrotte’s Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, the future National Ballet School by Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects with Goldsmith Borgal and Company as well as the soon-to-be completed Canadian War Museum by Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

The previous renovation of Orchestra Hall in 1989 relied heavily on incandescent lighting for the 65-foot volume within the space but was unsuccessful. Despite following the restoration criteria set by the National Register of Historic Sites at the time, it failed to illuminate the finishes and reduced the visibility of the ceiling murals while the lobbies and corridors suffered from a lack of warmth.

Consullux was then hired to conduct research on the Orchestra Hall involving the restoration and reproduction of historic light fixtures as well as the introduction of new light fixtures. Period photographs and paintings served as guidelines in the restoration process. Inspecting the repaired and disused lighting in major fixtures such as the large chandelier was part of further investigations into understanding the original or intended lighting strategy employed.

Achieving dramatic light levels on the three auditorium floors presented a significant challenge. The restoration of the chandelier involved the use of energy-saving halogen lamps, fixture re-wiring and upgrading, and dimmer integration to prolong the halogen lamp life. High-wattage halogen directional uplights were installed as a means of highlighting and accentuating the details found in the ceiling mural as well as upgrading the overall ambient lighting. None of this was achieved without first constructing a mock-up of the lighting strategy to be used, which is not as simple as it seems, explains Wally Eley of Consullux. One must be careful not to create glare from the fixture itself. And despite the effectiveness of Lightscape and other computer rendering and simulation programs, Consullux still used cardboard mock-ups to ensure a balance in the light distribution emanating from the fixture.

In the new four-storey lobby, the lighting concept focused on emphasizing the transparency of the atrium space as well as the power of the vertical volume. By working closely with Diamond and Schmitt, Consullux was able to explore various opportunities to integrate lighting as part of the building’s overall design. The lobby space was particularly challenging because of the mix of daylight and artificial light.

On each level of the new floors leading off from the atrium, the ceiling design was developed with sufficient room to conceal a complicated array of track lighting. Track luminaires were then positioned into ceiling slots which were designed and laid out to carefully contrast the ratio through the lobby transition zones and into the adjacent spaces. The goal of achieving consistent lighting on each level would serve to strengthen the visual connection through the atrium and strengthen its role as a hub for the new facility.

Meeting spaces, rehearsal areas and other functions that require high levels of lighting surround the atrium. The lighting challenge was to provide a flexible solution that would be able to respond to the demands of the various social functions within the atrium while providing a discreet lighting effect that would not detract from the overall statement of the architecture. Consullux’s strategy was to provide a track light system mounted on the columns at each floor slab level for easy access. The positioning of these luminaires was calculated to optimize lighting angles that would minimize the reflections of lamps from the viewing positions on each floor.

One of the more dramatic installations in the space was the use of four suspended custom glass lanterns varying in length from 20 to 44 feet. Each lantern is internally lit by two light pipes with a single 400-watt metal halide lamp suspended from the roof structure. The generators for the lights are installed in a “doghouse” on the roof for easy maintenance. The light pipes, manufactured by TIR of Vancouver, allow an uninterrupted and even source of light to be emitted from the long light fixtures hanging on the steel structure inside the lobby. A light pipe is essentially a long, hollow tube lined with a reflective inner surface that directs light within the tube. The most common linings are prismatic films, such as the ones used in this atrium. In acrylic prismatic film light pipes, a sawtooth pattern of prisms reflects light down the hollow interior of the tube. Light is emitted along the length of

the tube through the light-extracting outer surface material. The cross-section of these acrylic tubes resembles a closed circular shape resulting in a long, even source of light.

The large lanterns allow many of the lights inside and around the atrium to be turned off at night, as the lanterns provide a minimum level of illumination required for security. Several light pipe mock-ups were constructed which required some structural adjustments in the building.

Using various lighting software programs, in-floor uplighting was installed to highlight the suspended bronze mesh screens and much of the stair detailing. Perhaps not that dissimilar to displacement ventilation, in-floor lighting serves to raise the ambient lighting around the atrium floor.

The Donor’s Lounge is one of the few rooms in the Max M. Fisher Music Center available for various events su
ch as meetings, cocktail parties and small concerts. It contains a lighting system that is fully integrated with a programmable dimming system to respond to the requirements of different types of events, and every function of the light fixture can be separately controlled according to what is required. The illumination of the perimeter wall and the high ceiling inside the Donor’s Lounge used a linear array of T6 fluorescent strips in the ceiling cove to reflect light onto the wall. This then transforms the ceiling into a decorative element that helps reflect light downwards. A long glass wall consisting of layers of transparent and translucent panels were illuminated with a combination of backlit and front-illuminated low-voltage halogen fixtures that were recessed in between panels. A glass sculpture is spotlighted from the ceiling from a recessed wall-mounted track light. The application of a new type of lighting, referred to as the Seamless cove lighting system produced by Mitsubishi, involved some negotiation with the manufacturer. This was the first installation of its kind in North America and necessitated a proposal put forward by Consullux to enable Mitsubishi to release the use of their technology in this project.

Consullux recognizes the fact that not all architects are able to retain a lighting consultant. However, as awareness grows in the area of sophisticated lighting strategies, it is important to begin thinking about lighting as early as possible in the design process. Architects may know what they want, but may be unaware of the complex process behind a good lighting strategy. Lighting is such an intangible aspect to a project that it is often misunderstood or underestimated. Wally Eley remarks that “lighting is something that people can learn only when they make a mistake.”