From its inception to its realization, light permeates every aspect of the Bloch Building, the new addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo. The design by Steven Holl Architects is composed of five “lenses,” glass pavilions that embed themselves along the eastern edge of the museum site. Working with the architects, lighting designer Richard Renfro and his team played a technical role on the project because, as Renfro explains, “The concept of light was already there.”

The walls of the lenses are composed of 16-inch-wide planks of structural self-spanning channel glass. An intricate system of stippling the center glass surface along with a sandblasted translucent insulation gives the glass either a satin reflection or a moiré effect, depending on the viewing angle. Inside the cavity wall, two layers of low-iron laminated sheet glass are applied to maintain the clearest color rendering of daylight as possible.

Through the center of the lenses are a series of T-walls, which form a structural spine and allow a mix of north and south light into the galleries. Renfro and his team devised a passive three-layer shading system that would let natural light in without risking damage to the artwork. Daylight levels range from 7 footcandles to 27 footcandles. The other main gallery lighting element is the “stitch track”—short runs of track that create a zipper-like effect on the ceiling plane, and tie all the galleries together.

At night the building becomes an otherworldly series of glowing blocks, tumbling gently down the sloped landscape. Low-mercury 54W T5HL fluorescent lamps, chosen for their color rendering, are located in the cavity walls to achieve the luminous effect. The Bloch Building offers a new paradigm for the museum visitor, where ever-present but ever-changing light creates a dynamic expression that sculpts architecture through light.

Jury Comments
Laura Briggs: This building would not have the same meaning without the light. While it is clear that light as a subject is important for the architect, without the lighting designer, the project would not be fully realized.

Randy Burkett: Technically creative solutions to daylight harvesting and brightness “management” within interior galleries. Powerful, yet ethereal presence at night.

David Ziolkowski: Light becomes a structural element. The glowing façades radiate brilliance across the rolling landscape.

Location: Kansas City, Mo.
Client: Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Mo.
Architect: Steven Holl Architects, New York
Lighting Designer: Renfro Design Group, New York
Photographer: Rolande Halbe, Stuttgart, Germany
Project Size: 165,000 square feet (addition); 234,000 square feet (renovation); 450 square feet (parking garage)
Manufacturers (Bloch Building Expansion): Alera Lighting, Alexandra Lighting Systems, Bartco Lighting, Bega, Cathode Lighting Systems, C.J. Lighting, Columbia Lighting, C.W. Cole and Co., Edison Price, Elliptipar, Finelite, Focal Point, H.E. Williams, Kirlin Co., Lightcontrol Corp., Nulux, Paramount Industries, Prudential Lighting, Winona Lighting