designed by architect cass gilbert, the essex county courthouse was built in 1907 of solid stone and its interiors adorned with Tiffany glass, murals painted by artist Edwin H. Blashfield, and furniture pieces also designed by Gilbert. The building underwent significant changes in the 1920s, when meeting rooms were converted to courtrooms, but after temporary revampings through several decades, it was closed in the mid-1900s, its historic beauty diminished and dormant.
'By the end of the twentieth century, the Essex County Courthouse did not have the technological systems needed to support a modern courthouse,' says Michael Mills, partner and project manager of Princeton-based Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects (FMGA). 'The lighting systems were completely inadequate, and the historic fixtures were in poor condition and lamped inappropriately.' In 2000, a team assembled to rescue this sleeping beauty that included FMGA, lighting design firm Ann Kale Associates, and mechanical/electrical engineering firm Joseph R. Loring & Associates. The goal of the renovation, completed in April 2005, was not only to bring the functionality of the building into the twenty-first century, but also to restore its landmark architecture and interiors.
'With a historic landmark, you are already starting with a rich lighting vocabulary,' says Ann Kale. Although the original decorative fixtures were to be reused, they did not provide enough illumination. The design team devised a plan to bring in more light and to work with the wiring limitations in the solid stone building. 'Restoration and reuse of historic fixtures was an assumption from the start,' says Anne Weber, senior associate with FMGA. Because the building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and has received funding from the New Jersey Historic Trust, had the project not included fixture renovation, it would not have been approved upon its review by the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office.
During the design phase, the county specifically waived its energy-efficiency requirements to allow the use of appropriate lamps to preserve the original design intent, rather than convert all fixtures to fluorescent sources. McNicholas Lighting Restoration was called upon for the enormous undertaking, restoring and replicating a total of 155 fixtures. In some cases, low-voltage lighting systems were incorporated into the fixture without disturbing the original design.
The central atrium with masonry walls-where stairways connect to courtrooms on three levels-was previously illuminated by natural light via three round Tiffany-glass skylights, as well as decorative pendants and sconces. To increase the amount of light, a series of 40W incandescent A lamps uplight each skylight from cornices located under the dome's base.
The largest center skylight is also the source for the atrium's evening illumination. A 6-inch lip was added to the molding at its base, where a necklace of 56 fiber optic adjustable accent lights are concealed. 'We chose fiber optics because the light source could be remotely located in the attic,' explains Kale; the sources are six 150W metal halide lamps. Additional lighting for the space is provided by four fiber optic accent points that highlight the painted pendentives of Wisdom, Power, Mercury, and Knowledge, as well as by four supplementary accents, cross-aimed on the stairs below.
Because fixtures were previously overlamped with exposed bulbs of up to 100 watts, creating glare and making the rest of the space seem dark, long-life historic-style lamps were installed in the original ring of the 10 stairway chandeliers. Five uplights concealed in the 2-inch lip at the top of each luminaire illuminate the painted ceilings and artwork for the first time in the building's history.
With more leeway to utilize different types of illumination, the interior of each courtroom incorporates individual lighting systems to suit the respective space. Of the major courtrooms, the Codey has the most diversity, with the internal laylight backlit using dimmable fluorescent channels mounted above the glass, and chandeliers and sconces lamped with historic filament sources. Word panels on each side of the room, in addition to painted decorative murals, are illuminated with 20W MR16 dimmable striplights resting in a 6-inch-deep ledge.
In another courtroom, ornamented with an elaborate Venetian-style ceiling, the main illumination is provided by chandeliers and wall sconces. Because the ceiling could not be breached to add downlights, the lighting team opted to modify the original pendants by including a central glass bowl to house additional lamps on dimmers. In addition, a series of miniature MR16 track fixtures, concealed behind a wooden beam, highlight the mural at the end of the room.
A single chandelier adorns the Supreme Courtroom, suspended beneath an expansive skylight. Unable to access the back of the skylight, the team bolstered the amount of available illumination with recessed 250W PAR35 flood downlights integrated into the skylight's gridwork and additional recessed MR16 accent luminaires to highlight the judge's desk and head wall.
The efforts of the team garnered the project a 2005 New Jersey Historic Preservation Award. Vincent Farese, vice president of Joseph R. Loring & Associates, attributes the project's success in large part to teamwork. 'Coordinating which items needed to be refinished and redone, as opposed to which ones to maintain, and where new shafts had to be made, was an enormous task,' he says, 'but the goal was always to keep it as close as possible to the original.' The Essex County Courthouse is ready to serve its citizens for another 99 years. wanda jankowski