Located in Washington, D.C.'s business corridor along K Street Northwest, a 12-story structure designed by architect Helmut Jahn sits luminous and sophisticated. Completed in September 2009 and designed to attain LEED Silver certification, the single-tenant building is a fresh, contemporary addition to the city's skyline with floor-to-ceiling glazing and a green roof.

To highlight the building's entrance on the northeast corner of 20th and K streets, the client (developer Vornado/Charles E. Smith) and the architect enlisted French artist Yann Kersalé to create an original lighting concept for the entrance lobby. Conceived as full-height art-glass panels illuminating the walls and ceiling of the double-height atrium, the team brought on St. Louis–based Randy Burkett Lighting Design to devise the lighting solution to back-light the panels.

Since the luminous wall and ceiling are the principal sources of light in the lobby (in addition to the vast amount of daylight), the designers wanted the solution for the electric lighting both to backlight the glass panels uniformly and animate the surfaces with subtle shifts of light. Two mock-ups were constructed in order to test this strategy. The first employed a single 5-foot-by-5-foot panel to test the effects of different light sources, color temperatures, and the position, from the structural support frame, of the low-E glass panels laminated with diffusion and art film. This resulted in a lighting solution that was less uniform than expected, so the team built a full-scale mock-up to “fully study and explore the nuances of the final result,” Burkett says.

The second mock-up consisted of six full-scale laminated glass panels on the wall and another six panels to create the ceiling. Since the proposed solution included both linear fluorescent lamps and dynamic RGB LED strips, this mock-up helped to determine the spacing required for both lighting systems. The fluorescents are used for even illumination, while the LED strips are laid out in a more random pattern to create moments of visual interest.

The larger mock-up also helped the designers assess the pattern of art film and its interaction with the electric light. The lighting, programmed to reveal multiple artistic scenes throughout the day, causes the film to appear to shift from green to blue. The final effect is a dynamic entrance that reveals an organic emergence of color and pattern. “The life of the lobby is reflected in the art and light behind,” says Randy Burkett. “It is a living lobby.” Through the collaborative efforts of the design team this new building, including its illuminated lobby, creates a distinctive presence on K Street.

Project 1999 K St. NW, Washington, D.C.
Architect Murphy/Jahn, Chicago
Lighting Designer Randy Burkett Lighting Design, St. Louis
Lighting Art AIK Expeditions Lumiere, Paris
Project Size 318,057 square feet (gross area); 3,150 square feet (lobby)
Project Cost $54.6 million
Manufacturers Bartco; iLight; Lighting Science Group; Lutron; and Philips Color Kinetics