Built in 1942 on the campus of Eliel Saarinen's Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Cranbrook Art Museum houses a permanent collection and plays host to traveling exhibitions. In the mid-2000s, however, outdated mechanical systems threatened both the museum's accreditation status and the art. SmithGroupJJR was hired to renovate the structure and add a new building for storage of the museum's growing collection.

When lighting designer Jeff Gerwing, principal of the firm's in-house lighting group, visited the museum, the lights were turned off and the coffers were compromised by secondary tracklighting. After a visit to Cranbrook's archives to look at the original documents, Gerwing discovered that Saarinen had installed the newest lighting technology for the time—fluorescent tubing—into a custom-designed luminous ceiling.

Like Saarinen, Gerwing and his team used the latest technology available when they started the project in 2008. They wanted the coffer system to be dimmable. LEDs were the solution, both for their lumen output and efficacy, as well as from a conservation standpoint. At the time, though, an off-the-shelf linear white-light LED solution didn't exist. They worked with Color Kinetics to design a new fixture that provided a diffuse light. In selecting a secondary layer of light, the designers channeled the legendary architect, choosing a cylindrical trackhead with a simple stem and no yoke—a minimalist look that the modernist would have liked.

Jury Comments: The luminous ceiling is beautiful and the restoration of the coffers is well done. • Nice job of balancing the amount of illumination in the space so that the lighting doesn't compete with the art.


Project: Cranbrook Art Museum and Library Renovation/Collections Building Addition, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.
Architect, Lighting Designer, and Structural, Mechanical, and Electrical Engineers: SmithGroupJJR, Detroit
Photographer: James Haefner
Project Size: 97,000 square feet (museum and library renovation: 60,000 square feet; Collections Addition: 37,000 square feet)
Project and Lighting Costs: Withheld
Watts per Square Foot: National Historic Landmark Exempt
Manufacturers: Bega, Lighting Services Inc, Philips Color Kinetics