In Roanoke, Virginia, a luminous river of layered translucent polycarbonate panels runs through the new Taubman Museum’s central circulation space, tipping and turning as it surges among the galleries. It is indirectly lit with pendant indirect fixtures, carefully coordinated for even illumination, and aligned with the panels to provide access from below.
Can translucent polycarbonate panels be transformed to become a glowing, iconographic element in a metaphorical landscape? Certainly, the challenge was there from the start, when the early physical model straddled the architect’s office and the architect’s desire to evoke the rushing rivers of nearby foothills was our mandate. But how does one move forward from concept to execution?
Planned for the Central Gallery circulation zone serving the second floor galleries, the luminous ceiling spans between the Atrium entry and a terminal skylight, with a branch entering the soaring Contemporary Gallery. For the central spaces, pendant uplight fixtures would be used to indirectly backlight the suspended panels, activated in effect by daylight at the Atrium and skylight ends.
A clerestory window above the panels in the Contemporary Gallery was to provide a diffuse ambient glow. Physical daylight model testing was employed to verify that the daylight from above would light the sloping translucent panels in the gallery, while still meeting artwork conservation standards of no direct sunlight on surfaces displaying artwork.
A scale model of the gallery was mounted to a heliodon outside in sunlight, adjusted to correct for latitude and season, and tested for perceived visual brightness of the translucent panels as well as absolute illumination levels within the gallery.
The luminous ceiling system not only provides the ambient lighting for Central Gallery circulation, but supports its use as exhibition space as well. Strategically integrated into the panel layout, sparely used surface-mounted track can light sculptural displays; optimum track placement was coordinated with the accessible panel system’s design. Small-profile tapered T5 pendant indirect fixtures above with symmetrical reflectors are used to minimize shadows and contrast of lit fixture housings.
Before the construction documents were completed, it became apparent that cost-saving strategies would need to be pursued. The panelized ceiling had been planned to temper daylight from clerestories, but budget constraints eliminated all gallery skylights, elevating the importance of the luminous ceiling system as a source of energy-efficient ambient light. A selection of translucent multi-cellular polycarbonate panel products were evaluated for their luminous appearance and their ability to minimize the appearance of supports, light fixtures, pipes and beams from below.
The mock-up clearly underscored the importance of painting out all surfaces above the panels with white paint to improve lighting uniformity.
Four years of thoughtful teamwork and disciplined coordination result in a architectural element and ambient lighting system that transcends materiality and function, to animate a modern museum.
Location: Roanoke, Virginia
Architect: Randall Stout Architect, Inc., with RRMM Architects
Project size: 81,000 square feet
Project cost: $66 million
Photo credits: Timothy Hursley (1), Randall Stout Architects, Inc. (2-3, 5, 7), Lam Partners Inc (4, 6)