Custom House after lighting restoration
In the Fall of 2008, Boston’s oldest skyscraper was showing its age. Originally completed in 1849, the twenty-year-old façade lighting on the 1915 tower addition was in disrepair. The building maintenance budget could not keep up with the required frequency of re-lamping in such precarious locations, and only a few of the lights were still operating, as seen below.
Lighting in disrepair before restoration
Motivated by the lighting festival, IlluminaleBoston 08, and the promise of reduced building maintenance costs, the design team and building ownership endeavored to restore the landmark’s night image to prominence in the Boston skyline – but more than a few obstacles stood in our way, and chief among them were budget and time. Though planning for the event began in February 2008, design for the Custom House site did not begin until May. This left less than five months to complete the site analysis, design documentation, and installation. The majority of project funding would come from donations and sponsorship, so the budget was both modest and unpredictable.
To maximize the impact of the project, the team focused available resources on the top of the tower, which is visible all over the city. The main shaft of the tower, up through the 16th floor, was softly illuminated from below with ceramic metal halide floodlights to keep the tower grounded. Narrow-beam LED spotlights with clear lenses uplight the colonnade above from the sides of each column, spilling light onto the entablature above and revealing the granite dentils that confirm its precedent in classical architecture. Two additional fixtures highlight each corner to complete the tower’s form.
Custom House after completed renovation
Linear LED wall-grazers are concealed to wash the balcony-level façade below the clock, and adjustable LED spotlights extended on rotating outriggers light the sculpted eagles and highlight the corners of the clock tower. The outriggers swing over to the accessible balcony for maintenance.
The clock face retained its original lighting. A low pressure sodium lamp in each number provides an orange glow, and blue compact fluorescent backlights the minute marks. At the observation deck above, the columns are silhouetted with LED spotlights behind the base of each column to add depth to the façade and hide the fixtures from visitors’ view. Additional outriggers are located at the corners to accentuate entablature ornaments.
Lighting at the peak was restricted by FAA requirements, but LED floodlights with frosted lenses were concealed at the base of the crown to graze the towers’ cap and expose the pyramid of dormer windows. These fixtures are accessible from the windows at the base of the pyramid.
The completed project has successfully restored the Custom House Tower to its rightful place as one of the crown jewels of the Boston skyline, while drastically reducing the lighting energy consumption and maintenance costs. The building is expected to save 19,000 kWh annually, and to use only 30% of the energy consumed by the previous design over its expected 20-year lifespan.
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Project size: 496 feet, overall height of tower
Project cost: $75,000 labor and installation / $160,000 donated lighting equipment
Photo Credits: Brad Koerner / Lam Partners Inc (1, 4, 5), Lam Partners (2), Brandon Miller (3)