In the rapidly developing community of Avondale, Arizona, a white abstract form stands as a strong, but simultaneously subtle, beacon in a sea of suburban beige stucco. The St. Thomas Aquinas Church, with its simplicity of form and detailing, is a fusion of traditional Catholic themes and a Southwestern vernacular.

Lighting firm Lam Partners, along with CCBG Architects, created a mission-style Catholic Church with clean lines, simple forms, and minimal ornamentation to reflect the messages inspired by the church's patron, Saint Thomas-those of simplicity, humility, and economy. With its humble exterior approach and predominantly concealed fixtures throughout, the lighting was no exception; it is fully integrated to enhance the architecture and form. The team respected traditional religious typology and achieved a dynamic and controlled focus to the space, as well as an order to the bright volume, by placing the altar in the center under a light-filled dome. Lined with bare fluorescent strips concealed within a stepped cove that rings its perimeter, the dome glows as if illuminated by sunlight . Lam Partners designer Jamie Perry says, 'The entire lighted environment becomes part of the experience of the space, rather than low light levels with accent lighting on one focal point.
Because of the project's scope and the size of the congregation, lighting the 30,000-square-foot space and allowing for a possible mass of up to 2,000 participants posed a challenge: To retain a humble and subdued environment, yet have the option to create a grand space with increased ambient lighting and sparkle. A master pre-programmed control system was installed to set a variety of scenes that Father Kieran Kleczewski, priest of St. Thomas Aquinas, says, 'give us the ability to highlight what we want, and to capture the ethereal sense of old mission lighting.'

Providing more of a connection to the outdoors than a useful means of illumination, punched openings transform the side aisles with subtly changing daylight conditions. Enhanced by indirect fluorescent sources and clerestory windows, daylight is reflected into the sanctuary. 'Many architectural decisions were made with respect to lighting,' Paul Ladensack, principal at CCBG Architects, says. 'The building's orientation utilizes the strong local sunlight for effect.'

With features including murals backlit to appear as if they float from the wall in a halo of light, to lighting that transforms the reredos wall (the ornamented backdrop for the altar) into a three-dimensional feature, Ladensack says, 'there was not an opportunity lost in effectively lighting the space.'

Jury Comments
There is a nice precision about this lighting. Look at the darkened shadow, the framing of the side walls of the church, and the frontal scenographic initiative; it's pretty cool.

architect CCBG Architects, Phoenix
lighting designer Lam Partners, Cambridge, MA
photographer John Denker/CAPS
total square footage 30,000
watts per square foot 2.4

JULIEN J. STUDLEY, submitted by VOA Associates

The interplay of light and primary colors, with simple geometric architectural forms, defines the 15,000-square-foot office of Julien J. Studley, a commercial real estate firm in Chicago.

Conceived by architecture firm VOA Associates, this dynamic is most apparent in the reception area, where two rectangular elements are highlighted with light: Behind the reception desk, a vertical block of white acrylic glows, backlit with a fluorescent source. On another wall in the waiting room, a blue acrylic-block wall section that separates the waiting area from the adjacent conference room is illuminated with cold cathode, a long-life source chosen to minimize maintenance in the hard-to-access space. This featured element, notes the design firm in its project description, is intended to create 'a sense of well-being through color that is empowered by light. It is non-threatening, soothing, and soft.' The highlighted backdrop of blue also allows the various red elements-furniture and the wall behind the reception desk-to pop, 'energizing the space with warmth and passion.'

In the workstation area, cubes and planes interact with light and color to visually enliven what, in many offices, is a dull view of standard cubicles. Much of the lighting is adeptly incorporated into architectural details, revealing very little of the lighting equipment, a fact that impressed the A|L Design Awards judges. Here, it is not about the fixtures, notes Nicholas Luzietti, the design principal on the project. 'It's really about the output and quality of the light.' Simple and efficient T5 fluorescents hidden in the base of the cubicles signal a clear path down the corridor. Above, T5s tucked in coves over the work area provide ambient light, while recessed downlights provide additional illumination without cluttering the ceiling plane.

More prominent decorative fixtures add punch in meeting areas, like the break and conference rooms. In the breakout space, the blue glass pendants are 'fun and casual, fostering a sense of relaxation and escape from the work environment,' stated the design firm, whereas the conference room features a direct/indirect T5HO pendant that mimics the sleek geometric architectural forms throughout the office.

The importance lighting plays in the character of the space is clear, a function of the way the firm approaches the medium: 'There is an energy to light unlike that of any other element that can be incorporated into the space,' notes the design firm, a concept that dates back to the earliest buildings. In designing the Studley office, the firm's intention was to celebrate the 'unique power of light.'

Jury Comments
The lighting not only accommodates the typical expectations of an office, but also reinforces-either through backlighting, through shadow, through other kinds of subtle manipulations-the actual design.

architect VOA Associates, Chicago
photographer Nick Merrick/Hedrich Blessing Photography
total square footage 15,300
watts per square foot 1.48

McCLENDON ATHLETIC FACILITY, submitted by Elliott & Associates

Capturing 'the excitement of sport' was a critical part of the architectural concept for the Oklahoma City-located McClendon Athletic Facility, which serves grades 5 to 12. A 'memorable building and experience with the use of timeless forms' was yet another criteria for architecture firm Elliott & Associates. An adaptation and expansion of an existing gym, the new space creatively employs light-in a cost- and energy-efficient way, at $3.71 and 1.2 watts per square foot-to achieve both goals.

To generate excitement and school pride, the designers installed a blue xenon searchlight at the building's entrance, which on game nights, can be seen as far as five miles away. Intended as a celebratory feature, the 10,000W searchlight also assists visitors in locating the facility. The new canopied entrance leading from the parking lot into 'the Mac,' as students have nicknamed their facility, initiates the lighting approach applied throughout the project. By day, sunlight filters through the perforated metal that forms the canopy walls and ceiling, casting a dot-matrix pattern on the ground. By night, simple T8 fluorescent tubes wrapped in a blue tube guard and attached to the corridor ceiling beckon to game-goers. Previously, visitors arrived and entered the facility 'somewhat helter-skelter,' notes Rand Elliott, principal in charge on the project. Delineating this corridor with light has helped organize the traffic entering the building, in addition to providing an exciting architectural detail.

A similar treatment continues inside and down the main interior corridor. Here, alternate lines of blue and 3500K white fluorescent strips span the ceiling approximately every 7 feet on center. The two colors enable three lighting scenarios in the main corridor: For evening events, all blue creates a 'very rich, festive atmosphere,' says Elliott During the day, the facility is illuminated with either a combination of blue and white light, or white light only. A surprising and welcome effect of the design, McClendon's corridor has become a 'truly social space.'

This decidedly simple approach also illuminates the gymnasium. White T8 fluorescents are arranged vertically around the room, simultaneously providing ambient light and an interesting visual detail. Standard high-bay fixtures with metal halide sources direct lighting onto the court. In the gym, lighting combines with white bleachers and walls to create a 'high-energy space,' says Elliott. 'The room becomes electric because of all the light bouncing around.'

Jury Comments
This is a project where the lighting and architectural decisions were made hand in hand. You see that in the way the entrance was set up, by the striations of the light-the way they run across the ceiling and across the hallway. That banding then also iterates the banding in the basketball court. There is an incredible congruency between the program, the architecture, and the lighting design.

architect Elliott & Associates, Oklahoma City
contractor Smith & Pickel Construction, Oklahoma City
civil engineer Grossman & Keith Engineering, Oklahoma City
photographer Robert Shimer/Hedrich Blessing Photography
total square footage 46,000
watts per square foot 1.2