The Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House contains many treasures, but visitors need not enter what is now the Smithsonian's New York branch of the National Museum of the American Indian to appreciate its 1907 Beaux-Arts grandeur. The façade is an architectural wonder adorned with Corinthian columns, cartouches, and Daniel Chester French's regal sculptures the “Four Continents.” For years this impressive composition fell relatively silent at night, the casualty of an illumination scheme riddled with excessive shadows and hot spots. When Randy Sabedra, principal of RS Lighting Design, was asked to relight the façade in 2007, the remedy seemed straightforward—recreate the light condition that would occur naturally on a clear evening, and use the illumination of interior surfaces to extend outward to the façade.

The new lighting scheme adds definition to the building's architectural features. The mansard's window frames each have a dedicated surface-mounted 39W PAR metal halide spotlight. The rest of the windows have ledge-hidden 45W angled grazer fixtures with high-output light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The “moon glow” effect radiates from 1000W ceramic metal halide floodlights, some mounted on surrounding buildings, and provides a color rendering index of 85. High-output LED fixtures tucked inside ledges appear integral to the building, tuned to 3000K and aimed with a grazer distribution. LED puck lights accent the building entry, while the “Four Continents” are highlighted with metal halide PAR30 spotlights concealed behind each statue and cross aimed. With a deft hand, the new lighting design maintains the historic and architectural integrity of the Custom House, using current technology to reconnect the building to the requirements of the modern city.

Jury Comments
Kathy Abernathy: The layering of lighting on this exterior project made it special for me. The integration of newer technologies I am sure allowed this to happen.

Laura Briggs: An exquisitely detailed project that saves energy and makes the stone so much more beautiful.

Randy Burkett: Exquisite layering of lighting elements to create a respectful presentation of the building's architecture. Creative problem solving with the statuary lighting.

Jean Sundin: The designer made the technical challenges look effortless.

Location: New York
Clients: Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, U.S. General Services Administration, New York
Lighting Designer: RS Lighting Design, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Photographer: Tom LaBarbera, New York
Project Size: 2,000 square feet
Watts per Square Foot: 4
Manufacturers: Hydrel, IO Lighting, Osram Sylvania, Selux