October 20, 2010
Welcome to the Parsons Gallery, a multi-function space in the Parsons building that serves as a gallery, lobby for the School of Constructed Environments, and, after hours, a reception area for lectures and events. Our mission for this project was to design at human-scale, given that our last project was on a much smaller, theoretical scale, by reimagining the lighting design for a small area or corner of the Parsons building. My partner, Kyle, and I chose this space for the challenge of addressing all three situations, focusing on the situation of the after-hours events during which the space relies completely on electric lighting.
We noted that the existing lighting for the space, as demonstrated in the photo below, was not well-maintained or appropriately planned for evening illumination. The existing track fixtures, for example, each had a different type and wattage lamp installed — completely inappropriate for a display space. In addition, the fixtures were cross-focused to the opposite wall, creating glare for anyone viewing the projects from the center of the room.
Also, the kitchen area at the end of the room had been especially neglected by the existing lighting scheme, leaving it in almost complete darkness compared to the rest of the space. Due to the fact that this kitchen is not only a primary gathering spot during receptions but an art piece in its own right (designed and built by an alum, it folds up and rolls away during the day), this deficiency had to be remedied.
In devising a solution for these problems, we also wanted to address a few others along the way. Usually, during after-hours events, a lecture is held in the adjacent classroom (directly behind where the photo is taken from), and afterwards everyone adjourns to the this space for food and drinks. Aside from the food waiting in the kitchen, we wanted to provide another motive for people to move down the long, narrow room as well, to increase circulation through the space and to ease traffic flow at the kitchen — all using light. Our intervention would have to be subtle enough not to detract from the projects in the gallery but still have enough impact to move people through the space, all while enhancing the social atmosphere of the space — hey, it’s a party space, people should look good while they’re in it.
Our design concept was twofold: 1) to evenly illuminate the display walls and eliminate their glare factor (by unifying their lamps and spinning them 180 towards the appropriate walls), and 2) to install a low intensity, graphic line of light down the center of the space to draw people down the length of the room and direct some focus towards the kitchen area. The catch was that this line of light was going to descend in elevation towards the windows, forcing an increased illusion of perspective and depth, pulling people into the space while making it seem more intimate by lowering the perceived ceiling plane. This effect would work double duty, too, as this would draw people down the hallway during the day as well, towards the main SCE offices at the end of the room on the right, or, inversely, propel them towards the entrance studios when entering from the elevator at the end of the room to the left, directly across from the main office. This “division” of the space, I theorized, would also force approaching visitors entering the space to look either left or right towards the projects, the line of light forcing the brain to make a decision. It would be essential, however, to keep the intensity of this graphic as low as possible so not to provide excess illumination in the center of the room where it would pull focus from the walls.
After finalizing our intentions, we began to flesh out our ideas in sketches and preliminary renderings. This is an early rendering of our concept I created in Photoshop using the “before” photo, conveying a general sense of our concept and the sense of focus we wanted to bring to the space:
We then spent a great amount of time taking fixtures and equipment into the actual space, trying out different ideas and observing what worked and what didn’t. Of course, we wouldn’t always have this luxury when working on a real design project, but it was helpful in this case to observe how certain luminaires would behave in our space.
Eventually once we progressed further in our designs, we took our ideas into the 3D realm using the lighting rendering software AGI32, building a 3D model of the space and inserting our ideas into it using actual fixtures. Once we generated a few renders with the software I then took them into Photoshop for a bit more cleaning up:
Finally, then, as it came down to crunch time and our ideas began to be finalized, we began to start constructing our fixtures for the actual installation. We ended up deciding that we would need to build custom fixtures for our design in order to achieve the specific look that we wanted, so I dove in head first, cranking out a total of ten fixtures in two days.
We set a bit of an expedited schedule for ourselves, aiming to have everything installed for one of the evening events the Thursday before the Monday that the project was due. Why? That Thursday’s evening guest lecturer was going to be none other than Jonathan Speirs of the highly-decorated UK lighting firm Speirs and Major (whose visit I wrote about last week) — we really had no choice, we had to get it done by then.
It was a close race, but this was the final product as it appeared a mere half hour before Mr. Speirs’ scheduled lecture:
I learned a lot from the process, especially because it was technically my first “architectural” design — I learned more about how the design and review process works, I learned a bit of software (and its limitations), I experimented with some gear (pardon the theatre term), I implemented some things I learned from my Luminaire Design class, and I learned how to think about designing for a space that wasn’t a theatre! Ironically my partner, Kyle, also had a theatre background, so we had to fight some of those urges, but I will definitely take what I’ve learned here on to our next, and final, project of the semester, which will be on an even larger scale!
As a special treat for all of you who have made it to the end of this lengthy post, here is a brief video tour of the project. Enjoy!