A lot of the work we (and all design professionals) do is pretty straightforward. You get plans, discuss the design, produce your layouts, and send it all out for the contractor to build. We walk around the site when it’s all done, but we don’t really get our hands dirty on those jobs, for better or worse. A bit oversimplified perhaps, but that’s the basic process.
Then there are those other jobs – the jobs where we really are rolling up our sleeves, getting up on lifts, and spending hours on end aiming lighting fixtures. These are the museums and galleries that, without that professional touch, can end up looking like train wrecks if the lighting is not properly aimed. These projects are different from your average office building, school, or hospital in that the lighting design changes throughout the life of the building. You can’t plan to light the Mona Lisa and have the same solution work the next month for a Picasso that’s twice its size and occupies the same space. Where static lighting, like pendants and downlights, is great for a classroom, track is the go-to solution for these evolving spaces. It affords the ability to adapt and change, but it also leaves the door open to lighting chaos at the same time. The contractor can power and hang all those track heads, but who’s going to aim them?
For galleries and museums, the work is far from done when the contractor is finished. You may think that anyone can get on a ladder and point a track head at a painting, but there’s so much more to it. Is there enough light, too much, good coverage across the piece, enough accent, any unwanted reflections, good fill light, spill onto the adjacent pieces, etc. And the hardest part is that it’s all highly subjective as well. You can easily spend an hour aiming fixtures at one piece of art, nudging, tweaking, lensing, and dimming, to get it just right. Now, imagine doing that 100 or 1000 times and, on top of that, making sure the space looks just as good as the art. This is where a good lighting designer adds value. We work with the curators and technicians to fine tune these installations and bring order to that chaos, to meet their expectations. Our biggest asset is our experience; we know what works and how to do it as efficiently as possible.
Yes, it means ridiculously long hours spent on ladders and lifts, up near the ceiling where it’s 100+ degrees. We’ve bloodied our knuckles putting lenses on and off and burnt our fingertips grabbing hot lamps because there’s no time to lose. But in the end, it’s all worth it. It just looks so incredibly good when it all comes together and we can actually say, “we did that.”
Photo Credits: Matt Latchford/Lam Partners