» The architectural considerations for a historic preservation project can be complex, and the same holds true for its lighting. There are numerous variables to consider for both existing and replicated luminaires, from materials and technique to lamp technology, the quality and type of light in a space, and required cost. Most importantly, before any actual design or fabrication can begin, a series of key criteria must be discussed, reviewed, and agreed upon by members of the project. This starts with identifying the scope of preservation; establishing the goals of the client, architect, and lighting designer; and understanding the available budget. The expertise of fabricators and manufacturers, such as Rambusch, Winona, New Metal Crafts, and Crenshaw, who specialize in custom historic decorative fixtures, can provide architects and lighting designers with valuable assistance and insight.
SCOPE OF WORK
Establishing these criteria may seem like a straightforward process, but it is not. 'The first and hardest part is to really identify the true goal, which results in a word definition or visual impression of what the project is,' explains Edwin Rambusch, whose family business, Rambusch Lighting, a design and crafts workshop, located in Hoboken, New Jersey, has been constructing decorative stained-glass elements and custom historic luminaires for over 100 years. 'Historic preservation in its true definition is to maintain that which is there,' he says. In Rambusch's opinion, 'duplication' of a luminaire should mean an exact replication, but because cost often comes into play, designers are willing to broaden the definition.
The scope of work is partially defined by whether it is a historic register project, explains Ron Schimmelpfenning of Dallas-based Winona Lighting. These projects require a detailed record of the restoration process: Specifically, the luminaire must be photographed from three different views in its exact location and its current condition before it is removed from the site. The register also requires a tagging system be attached to identify each luminaire before it can be packed and sent to the factory. If something should break at the shop, the piece must be engraved on the back with the date and the name of the manufacturer to note the amended part. On completion, it is re-photographed in the workshop and again when it is installed on site. Three copies of the documentation for each luminaire are usually made, and one binder is turned over to the owner, another to the historical register, and the third kept by the fabricator.
Although the team might agree on preservation vocabulary, part of the difficulty comes in assessing the condition to which the luminaire should be restored, explains Schimmelpfenning. This is often complicated by the fact that people mistakenly think that the patina they have been looking at for the last 20 years is the original finish. 'Original' can only really be detected once the luminaire is removed and taken apart. At that point, says Schimmelpfenning, if the fabricator discovers something-for example, a bright polished finish-it has to be reviewed with the designer, since the discovery can present a bit of a quandary: restoring the fixture to its original state (a polished finish, for example) may actually make it seem 'new,' not historic.
Beyond the challenge of aesthetic interpretation, one area that is under-addressed according to Schimmelpfenning is lamp mechanics. Many old fixtures were originally illuminated with gas jets. The trick then is to provide an updated light source that replicates the color temperature and meets the right light-level requirements.
Woody Crenshaw of Crenshaw Lighting in Floyd, Virginia, acknowledges that there are different 'gradients' of restoration that can be achieved: 'museum quality,' meaning that the luminaire is indistinguishable from the original at close range; '95 percent restoration/replication,' meaning the luminaire is indistinguishable from a few paces away after it is installed; and '90 percent restoration,' meaning that it has similar proportions, dimensions, and form that are close to the original. According to Crenshaw, the final option is usually budget-driven.
CRAFT AND FABRICATION
'Educating' the architect and lighting designer is one part of the fabrication process; training the craftspeople that build the luminaire is another. 'We prefer to think of ourselves as craftsmen who participate in the development of the fixture,' says Rambusch. 'I'm being careful not to say designer, because there should be a designer-whether it's a lighting designer or an architect-on the project, who gives direction on the image, but it's our job to craft the luminaire and make it manageable to fabricate.' Depending on the complexity of the job and the number of luminaires involved, anywhere from two to thirty people can work on a project.
Each company has its own internal training methodologies. Winona uses a rotation system, in which its employees work under a lead craftsman. The idea is that junior members of the team will be able to step into a lead role on future projects, which Winona structures to ensure that the work is geared toward the strengths of individual craftspeople. Crenshaw Lighting also uses a team model to see a luminaire through from start to finish. This allows the members a certain level of 'ownership' in the fixtures they are producing. The company has also developed a formal apprenticeship program with the local high school, in which one apprentice per semester works with the company, while studying welding theory and metallurgy. Chicago-based New Metal Crafts relies on one designer or engineer to coordinate the overall fabrication and production process.
Cost is undeniably a factor in the design and manufacturing of historic luminaires. Meeting a budget is difficult when an architect or a lighting designer has an expectation about what he or she would like to see accomplished on the project, but is not sure how to synchronize the desired result with an achievable one. The challenge, explains Rambusch, is to assure a level of continuity through each of the steps involved in the overall process-from budget and schedule, all the way through to installation. For example, a designer may initially think he wants to delve into an elaborate historic preservation process, while in actuality all he really wants to do is strip and refinish the fixture. Other times a designer might want to put in new optics, but she does not have the budget to see it through properly, so the team finds the best solution that comes as close to the original goal as possible. Ultimately though, to achieve the greatest accuracy and level of craftsmanship, the manufacturer selection needs to be based on workmanship and quality, not on a low-bid process. In today's competitive marketplace, this is difficult, but if the decision has been made to spend the time, energy, and money to invest in a project that requires this kind of attention to detail at every step, then the result can prove rewarding.
As with any endeavor, the success of a historic preservation project is based on establishing relationships. From the manufacturer's point of view, the earlier they can participate in the discussion, the more accurate the project cost and the more successful the job. In the end, it is about understanding real definitions and terms so that scope and budget align. 'Ultimately, it's about how much range, how much latitude you are given,' says Rambusch. 'I think the most successful projects are those in which everyone is respected for what they bring to the table, and there is an active conversation between all to accomplish it.' Elizabeth Donoff