Lighting Design in Museums

In museums natural lighting isn’t used because it can damage the artifacts and other rare oddities. This is because ultraviolet light can harm artworks and other rare and fragile objects by causing dyes and pigments to fade over time. However in recent years museums have started letting the natural light in.

There was a huge movement for the black box concept in galleries and museums about 30 years ago, Cutting off everything from the outside world. But In recent year museums have started to let in the natural light as it is more effective at showing off the artwork

With the development of lighting technology, there has been a move to create galleries and museums that are brighter and capturing daylight where possible. The lights used are so small and well concealed that they are not always visible to the naked eye.

Many museums now want to use more sunlight as it is more dynamic and is of a better quality. However, use of daylight presents many technical challenges so it has to be done correctly. The

technology is there to just let the right amount of sunlight in without damaging objects within the museum. Despite this the black box concept is still widely used due to the fragility of some objects

There are a few ways museums and galleries stop too much natural light from touching the objects. Some museums place a light reduction mesh onto windows to dramatically reduce daylight .so that not that much ultraviolet radiation touches the artwork or artifacts. An example of this is at the Cumberland art gallery at Hampton court palace. A way to keep out the natural light entirely is by having a black box which is a room with no way of any natural light entering and is only lit by artificial light. This is mainly seen in galleries rather than museums but is used in museums as well.

Daylight is a highly variable and sometimes unpredictable light source which is why museums and galleries that use the glass lantern design have a particularly difficult time controlling light levels into the top floors of these buildings Daylight within these spaces are designed to be highly flexible, allowing the objects to be viewed under the exact daylight conditions required. Complex shading systems are extensively designed over many months so that the lighting will be exactly right.

This daylight solution comprises of two layers of glass and two motorized roller shades. Each shade type and panel is individually controlled. conservators use a touch based graphical controlled system which allows them to control and personalise the daylight conditions in the space by using tablets, phones or laptops. This allows them to work in a shaded or diffused lighting area without affecting anyone else.

Some of the new museums and galleries feature barrel-vaulted ceilings which make the ceiling arched and helps light as it is reflected off the ceiling. For example the Harvard art museum features this style of ceiling and everything mentioned in the previous two paragraphs. The lighting company that worked on the extension of the Harvard art museum worked closely with the lights manufacturer to manufacture a monopoint spotlight that worked with the ceilings structure. The system used a threaded, three inch round mounting hole which can accept spotlight or wall wash up fixtures. when not in use each mounting point is capped by a round plate to match the ceilings finish.

The Wessex gallery in Salisbury museum was a definite smaller project than the Harvard art museum as the only goal it wanted to achieve was the feel that the gallery was outside. To achieve this, the gallery’s designer proposed floor to ceiling blown up photographs of natural landscapes, mostly of sites where the archaeological artifacts on display had been found.

For the ceiling, the lighting designer suggested that the graphics should be well lit to make thee scenes bright and give the impression of being outdoors. This managed to be achieved by lifting the new ceiling up at the perimeter and concealing a continuous strip of 2400 LEDs that wash down the walls and light up the photos. The rest of the ceiling has LED down lights installed, whilst the display cases  are lit by fibre optics which are powered by an LED central light box. All of the electric lighting is individually dimmable to enable the lighting designers to fine tune  the light level on each artifact.