Boston Symphony Hall, home to one of the most highly regarded symphony orchestras in the world, was designed by the architecture firm McKim, Mead and White, and completed in October 1900 exclusively for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. For more than 100 years, the hall has been the setting for magnificent musical performances; in 1999, the building was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Aiding the symphony in achieving this distinction—as well as assessing master-plan, renovation, and restoration strategies since 1997—has been Boston-based Ann Beha Architects (ABA). The latest step in the building's evolution includes the reintroduction of daylight in the main performance hall along with statuary illumination at the perimeter.
Daylight originally entered the hall through 14 semicircular clerestory windows along the sidewalls. Exterior photos from the 1920s show a system of wooden panels on pulleys that were most likely used to dim the space when required. But in the early 1940s, due to bomb scares during World War II, these windows were covered over permanently. In 2008, as part of their ongoing work at the hall, architect Pamela Hawkes of ABA proposed reopening the clerestories and replacing the glass so that natural light would once again illuminate the hall during the day. The architects installed a new exterior shutter system for light control and completed a series of daylight studies to be sure that people sitting in the upper balcony would not be subject to excessive glare during afternoon performances.
Reopening the clerestories also provided an opportunity to add an aesthetic lighting element to the space, and ABA called upon Carrie Hawley at Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design's Boston office for assistance. Hawley suggested uplighting inside the windows to highlight the detailed trim of the arches. Since these spaces are difficult to reach, LED strips were chosen for their long life, low profile, and ability to dim. Four-foot-long, 2800K LED lightstrips were mounted at the base of each window, away from the glass to conceal it from view. A 2-inch-high wood fascia, painted to match the surrounding trim, was added along the sill to mask any fixture brightness from audience sightlines.
Flanking each clerestory window are display niches that house 16 Greek and Roman plaster statue replicas. Installed at the time of the building's completion in 1900, the statues are a reference to William Tudor's 1819 letter in which he deemed Boston the “Athens of America.” (Tudor was a prominent Bostonian who founded the North American Review and the Boston Athenaeum.) The client also was interested in relighting the statues. “No one was satisfied with how that was [previously] done,” Hawkes says.
Three layers of light were needed to provide ideal figure modeling of the statues: key light, fill light, and back light. The key light is oriented to the audience side, to maintain a consistent direction of light from the audience's perspective when looking toward the stage, and uses an 8-degree spot AR111 lamp. The fill light hits the stage side of the statues, using a PAR36 lamp with a 13-degree beam spread. And striplights of 2700K LEDs are hidden behind the plinth of each statue, uplighting the niches and successfully backlighting the forms. Each key and fill light was placed at a steep 25-degree angle from horizontal and a 34-degree angle from vertical on either side of each statue, and each was individually focused. Lighting scenes were established to balance the visual presence of the newly illuminated statuary in the hall. Custom collars were developed to achieve the necessary angle adjustability without cutting off the beam of light, and bronze-colored reflectors were chosen to blend in with the ceiling and minimize fixture visibility. Adjustable accent fixtures were located in the ceiling coffers and can be relamped from the attic above.
Boston Symphony Hall is one of the finest acoustical concert spaces in the world. For that reason Hawkes and Hawley worked closely with the acoustical consultant and the Boston Symphony Hall staff to ensure that the renovations did not alter the Hall's sound. “It was nice that the client took a risk to add something special to such a revered space,” Hawley says, adding that the most challenging aspect of the project was blending the different fixtures and light sources together to create the desired result. And it's worth it, as the century-old architecture of a treasured venue is revealed.
Project Boston Symphony Hall Clerestory and Statuary Lighting, Boston Architect Ann Beha Architects, Boston Lighting Designer Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, Boston Acoustician Acentech, Cambridge, Mass. Photographer Peter Vanderwarker, West Newton, Mass. Manufacturers Altman Lighting, Kurt Versen, Philips Color Kinetics