2016 AL Design Awards: Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute annual spring exhibition has become one of the museum’s most highly anticipated shows. For 2016, the Met debuted “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” which features 170 garments from the early 1900s to present day and “explores how designers are reconciling the handmade and the machine-made in the creation of haute couture and avant-garde ready-to-wear.”

The architecture office of OMA New York and lighting design firm Dot Dash were challenged to meet an eight-week schedule to realize the project. To accomplish this, the designers were teamed with a local manufacturer to prototype, fabricate, and install more than 250 fixtures. After testing a number of market-available halogen and LED luminaires, Dot Dash determined that a custom fixture would be the best solution to provide the optimal color temperature (3000K), output (5W), and adjustability necessary to illuminate the garments. To this last point, the custom accent light “includes a zoom lens for beam spread adjustment and an integral rotary dimmer to set the output based on the throw distance.” This met the conservationist’s requirement of no more than 5 footcandles, while minimizing spill light and shadowing on the scrims behind each exhibit item. Dot Dash also developed a custom mounting system from Unistrut components instead of using an electrified track, to further reduce project costs.

Albert Vecerka/Esto The exhibit entry.
Albert Vecerka/Esto A view of the main rotunda space called the Cocoon.

A drawing illustrates the features of the project's custom-designed luminaire.
Courtesy Dot Dash A drawing illustrates the features of the project's custom-designed luminaire.
Brett Bayer The rotunda space called the Cocoon.

The exhibit begins as visitors enter the Cocoon, a 52-foot-tall translucent white volume that dramatically transforms the interior of the museum’s Lehman Wing into a cathedral-like space. Here, museum-goers are greeted by a Chanel wedding dress made out of scuba diving suit material with an embellished 20-foot-long train designed by Karl Lagerfeld in 2014. The Cocoon’s domed ceiling is used as a projection surface to reveal the intricate detail of the train. The gown is illuminated by 24 individually controlled DMX fixtures. Along the perimeter of the space are cases outfitted with a custom LED light bar that house eight of French philosopher Diderot’s Encyclopédies that detail “the processes involved in the creation of fashion.”

Brett Beyers The upper-level perimeter gallery with a view to the Cocoon.
Brett Beyers The upper-level perimeter galleries.

The exhibition continues downstairs in a series of lower-level galleries. Theatrical-style LED luminaires using the custom Unistrut mounting system cross light the angled walls of each niche to create a shadow-free, gradient of light (above). Throughout the exhibit the lighting provides a neutral white light that complements the garment accent lighting and creates an overall balanced effect to showcase the spectacular garments on view.

Albert Vecerka/Esto The upper-level perimeter galleries.

Project: “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute • Client: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York • Architect: OMA New York, New York • Lighting Designer: Dash Dot, New York • Team Members: Christopher Cheap, Isa Sanchez Sevilliano, Jelisa Blumberg, Brian Cheap • Photographer: Albert Vecerka/Esto • Project Size: 20,000 square feet • Project Cost: $6 million • Lighting Cost: $150,000 • Watts per Square Foot: 0.45 • Code Compliance: Compliance was not required but the lighting power density was well below ASHRAE requirements • Manufacturers: 1212 Studio, A&L Lighting, Diode LED, ETC Lighting

Jury Comments
Lighting solution is well executed. • Impressive, given the eight-week time frame. • Balanced color temperature.

One of the display niches.
Courtesy Dot Dash One of the display niches in the lower-level galleries.
Albert Vecerka/Esto The lower-level galleries.