The Custom House Tower, built in 1849, is a prominent feature of Boston's skyline. At 496 feet tall, the slim, granite-clad, pyramid-topped building stands out from its contemporary neighbors in the city's financial district. But for years, the neoclassical landmark barely was illuminated. In 1986, Lam Partners joined with Boston Edison to devise a new lighting scheme. That lighting design for the façade and crown—state of the art for the time—used 90W PAR38 lamps throughout with some compact fluorescents and low-pressure sodium fixtures to back light the tower's clock face, and metal halide sources to highlight the colonnaded base. But the building's small floor plates made modern use nearly impossible, and it remained unoccupied from 1986 to 2000, when the Marriott hotel company retrofitted the building to become a high-end timeshare. Meanwhile, bulbs burned out and few were replaced. By 2007, only the clock face still glowed proudly.

Fast-forward to 2008. Passing the Custom House Tower on his daily commute, lighting designer Brad Koerner, who at the time was with Philips Color Kinetics, thought the landmark deserved some attention. Asked to identify a monument to light for illuminaleBoston, the city's first lighting festival, he suggested the tower. Koerner had been looking for an opportunity to showcase the company's newest white LED products: a 50W 2700K floodlight with 10- to 20-degree optics, and a 4-foot-long linear fixture. “This is brand-new technology,” says Koerner, who joined Lam Partners in May 2008. “It could not have been accomplished even six months before.” LEDs replace the 124 incandescent fixtures above the base colonnade, and new ceramic metal halides were installed below. Koerner calculates that Marriott will save 19,000 kW/year by replacing the incandescent sources. “It's the Empire State Building of Boston,” Koerner says, “especially now that it's glowing again.”

Project Custom House Tower, Boston
Design Team Lam Partners, Cambridge, Mass. (lighting designer); Edward G. Sawyer Co., Weymouth, Mass. (electrical contractor)
Photographer Brad Koerner, Boston
Project Size 496 feet tall
Manufacturers Philips Color Kinetics, Philips, WideLite