Saving Saarinen

A view of the newly renovated galleries at the Cranbrook Art Museum.

The signature coffered ceilings in the Cranbrook Art Museum have been restored to their former illuminated elegance, as originally envisioned by architect Eliel Saarinen in his 1942 design. The difference today is the light source; LEDs replace the original fluorescent system.

Saarinen used the attic space above the ceiling to house the lighting components, including the ballasts, but in the 1980s they started to smoke. Fearing they would start a fire, the fluorescent lighting system was turned off and a makeshift tracklighting system installed in its place.

The newly renovated lighting system uses the coffer track for a series of spotlights, which accent the artworks.

In the museum addition, which houses storage and conservation facilities, lighting designer Jeff Gerwing and his team at SmithGroupJJR wanted to create a contrast to the lighting approach in the galleries. A metal-grate system hangs below the ceiling so that the downlights, which have fluorescent fill, create texture on the walls.

Plaza Level, Floor Plan

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