The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are three of the most important documents in U.S. history. Collectively known as the Charters of Freedom, they are housed in the Rotunda of the National Archives Museum in Washington, D.C. Lighting design firm Available Light was tasked with relighting the space to meet four specific requirements: to make sure there were no measurable UV emissions, to improve color rendering, to provide multi-zone dimming controls, and to develop a lighting system that would require little maintenance.

The space, in reality a half rotunda, was lit by a series of fiber optic spotlights powered by metal halide illuminators located along the upper cornice line ledge. Over time, though, the illuminators failed, and the fiber was discoloring and its intensity was diminishing.

How, then, do you light this architecturally complex space while maintaining public access during the renovation process? Rely on drawings and mock-ups. So the lighting team developed their design using scanned, unscaled drawings dating from the 1930s and the 1980s, along with trial and error through the mock-up process.

To provide a soft, even layer of indirect light across the ceiling dome, arches, and vaults, the lighting team developed a series of custom LED fixtures. Three-tiered, 2850K linear LED luminaires with a CRI of 93-plus light the main rotunda, and a single-tiered version, a linear LED strip, lights the archways and vaulted ceilings.

The lighting designers worked closely with their manufacturing partners to develop low-profile luminaires that would meet the desired spectral quality and beam control along with improved energy efficiency. (The new lighting system uses only 1,800W, rather than the previous system’s 11,000W.) The result is a lighting design that artfully celebrates the architectural envelope and the treasures of national import within.

Jury Comments
An impressive technical feat given the scale of the space.
Lovely quality of light.

Credit: Jay Rosenblatt

The documents are exhibited in cases that line the perimeter of the space.

The documents are exhibited in cases that line the perimeter of the space.

Credit: Jay Rosenblatt


Three-tiered, 2850K linear LED fixtures light the rotunda ceiling, while narrow-beam spotlights are aimed to accent the murals and exhibit cases below.

Three-tiered, 2850K linear LED fixtures light the rotunda ceiling, while narrow-beam spotlights are aimed to accent the murals and exhibit cases below.

Credit: Steven Rosen

Luminaires are positioned along the upper cornice line of the dome.

Luminaires are positioned along the upper cornice line of the dome.

Credit: Jay Rosenblatt

Mock-ups were an extremely important part of the design process in determining light source and color temperature selection along with aiming angles.

Mock-ups were an extremely important part of the design process in determining light source and color temperature selection along with aiming angles.

Credit: Steven Rosen

The foyer area leading into the Rotunda.

The foyer area leading into the Rotunda.

Credit: Jay Rosenblatt

The new lighting provides a high spectral quality and beam control and only uses 1,800W, rather than the previous system's 11,000W.

The new lighting provides a high spectral quality and beam control and only uses 1,800W, rather than the previous system's 11,000W.

Credit: Jay Rosenblatt

To provide a soft, even wash of indirect light across the ceiling dome, arches, and vaults, the lighting team developed a series of custom LED luminaires.

To provide a soft, even wash of indirect light across the ceiling dome, arches, and vaults, the lighting team developed a series of custom LED luminaires.

Credit: Jay Rosenblatt


Details
Project  Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom, National Archives Museum, Washington, D.C.
Entrant  Available Light
Owner  National Archives & Records Administration, Washington, D.C.
Client  Luxam, Coral Gables, Fla.
Lighting Designer  Available Light, Salem, Mass.
Team Members  Steven Rosen, Cynthia Gernetzke, Rachel Miner
Photographers  Jay Rosenblatt Photography; Steven Rosen
Project Size  11,000 square feet
Project Cost  Withheld
Lighting Costs  $135,000 (hardware)
Watts per Square Foot  0.19
Code Compliance  Exhibition lighting was exempt
Manufacturers  Lumenpulse, Lutron, Prolume

To see all of the other winners of the 2014 AL Light & Architecture Design Awards, click here.