challenge How does one create and maintain a lighting scheme that showcases luxury automobiles, while educating the client about the importance of quality lighting? This was both the challenge and inspiration for Seattle-based lighting firm Studio Lux in its design for Barrier Motors' Mercedes Benz dealership. 'What we wanted to achieve was not just a great lighting design for this showroom,' explains founder and firm principal Christopher Thompson. 'We also wanted to raise the consciousness of the client and people within that organization about the importance of good lighting.'

Architectural and Lighting Solution The existing 4,000-square-foot building required extensive renovation to convert it to its new use as a showroom. There was no room to recess the lighting elements in the ceiling, so everything had to be surface mounted. This design solution creates a floating ceiling layer below the wood beams, ducting and exterior building envelope. 'We didn't look at it as an automobile dealership, but rather as a large room with sculptures in it,' says Christopher Thompson. The lighting scheme employs three types of sources that act as different layers and can provide any number of lighting combinations. The system includes low perimeter fluorescent tubes along the exterior wall, exposed track lights with PAR30 heads, and an uplight with a built-in reflector. 'We wanted there to be an ambient light layer, a point source to create sparkle on the automobiles, and a linear light source down low to really emphasize the lines of the automobile, which in the case of a Mercedes, has a lot of energy in it,' describes Thompson. When the linear and track sources are turned on and the ambient light is turned off, the temperature of the lighting in the room becomes warmer and the automobiles appear more dramatic.

Positioning of the automobiles was discussed with the showroom manager before spacing of the fixtures was finalized. Given the frequency with which the cars are moved in and out of the showroom, a highly flexible system was implemented so that the lighting remains uniform and eliminates angles that can lead to harsh glare. To assist the staff, Studio Lux provided a poster with text instructions that point out parts of the automobile that should be highlighted and the corresponding lights that need to be adjusted. This poster, in conjunction with staff training sessions, provided a comprehensive approach to assuring the consistency of the lighting solution.

The lighting scheme was also designed to meet the criteria of the Washington State Energy Code, one of the most stringent in the nation at 1.5 watts per square foot. 'Our design effort is greatly challenged by that because we can't just use whatever source and quantity we want. It's always a balancing act,' says Thompson. There were, however, a few exemptions: the designers used an integrated track with an indirect system within four feet of the display windows, and the low fluorescent lamps were categorized as 'aesthetic' and, therefore, not considered part of the indirect system. The end result celebrates the beauty and motion of these luxury automobiles and the collaborative process between lighting designer and client in understanding quality lighting. elizabeth donoff