In 1928, architect James Gamble Rogers described his aesthetic intent for a new library at Yale University. Sited on the university’s central quadrangle, the building was not only meant to house the school’s extensive manuscript collection but to make a grand statement, and Rogers, a graduate of the class of 1889, endeavored to achieve that by designing “as near to modern Gothic as we dared.” In doing so, he hoped to give the library “an enduring style” that would stand the test of time.
The Sterling Memorial Library, completed in 1930, has indeed endured. Eighty-three years after its opening, Jerry Kugler, principal of New York–based Kugler Ning Lighting Design, stood in the entry hall marveling at its construction and artistry. Rogers had made the entry a nave, mimicking the traditional architecture of a church. Built of load-bearing limestone and sandstone blocks, and with 45-foot-high ceilings, the 150-foot-long space contains hundreds of panes of stained glass created by artist G. Owen Bonawit, ornate metal lighting fixtures by master blacksmith Samuel Yellin, and an elaborately gilded coffered oak ceiling. At the Western terminus, a chancel became home not to clergy, but to the circulation desk. A striking, two-story fresco of a saintly woman surrounded by books and beatific figures, titled Alma Mater, graces the west wall.
But time has not been kind to the library’s interior. “It hadn’t been cleaned in 80 years and the ceiling was barely visible,” Kugler says of the pre-renovation space. “It was so cavernous, so dark, that this grand space felt a bit eerie.”
Today, the 16,000-square-foot nave again shines, after an $18 million renovation led by the New York firm Helpern Architects. Helpern was tasked with cleaning all of the architectural surfaces, repairing architectural details, and overhauling the lighting and building systems. The renovation also reconfigured circulation and services to bring the library into the 21st century. And yet, most of the interventions by Helpern and the lighting design team from Kugler Ning remain hidden from the naked eye. The mantra for restoring this cathedral of learning, both in terms of the architecture and the lighting, was “WWRD”—What Would Rogers Do? “We always said to ourselves, if James Gamble Rogers had been brought back, how would he have done this?” says Helpern Architects founder David Helpern. “Lighting was critical. You don’t readily see the new lighting. Rather you see the old lighting renewed. And that old lighting is supplemented to make a space that now quite literally glows.”
Achieving that luminescence required an incredible mix of interventions, all of which needed to remain unobtrusive. The aim was to give the space the sense that it was radiating with daylight. “One of the things that we always wanted to do was to make sure that natural light from the windows and skylights, the new LED uplighting and fixtures, and all of the existing lights blended together to supplement the notion of daylight,” Kugler says.
To achieve this, Kugler Ning gave the fixtures a dual purpose. For example, in the nave, new custom picture lights illuminate four paintings using 10W-per-linear-foot 2700K LED lamps while also concealing MR16 2700K LED uplights that brighten the ribbed ceiling. Two original Yellin-designed wrought-iron chandeliers with natural mica shades were not only restored, but they were also outfitted to hold—in a concealed fashion—an additional eight MR16 uplights, and one chandelier was added. “It looks like the chandeliers are doing all of the work, but it’s really those uplights,” Kugler says.
The restoration to the original Yellin fixtures, including the chandeliers and a series of sconces, also succeeded in emphasizing the material beauty of the mica shades. Some were damaged, and great pains were made to find comparable mica. Retrofitting the shades with LED A-lamps made them glow too hot and lose their lustrous beauty, so Kugler Ning added diffusion gel behind the mica to create a diaphanous quality. And because they had achieved enough electric light through new, hidden fixtures, they were able to significantly reduce the lumen output of the light inside the mica shade. “We made them glow like a lantern again, and now you see the materiality that had been previously lost,” says Burr Rutledge, a senior associate with Kugler Ning.
The university’s programmatic requirements for the nave were extensive and that included being able to use it as an event space in the evenings. “There are new lighting controls and presets so at night it becomes a softly lit space,” says Kugler Ning principal Jackson Ning.
Adding supplemental light also required a clever appropriation of previously unused spaces. Running power sources and concealing fixtures in the nave proved a particular challenge, since the structure was built as a 16th century church would have been—with load-bearing masonry walls. Kugler Ning tucked 17W 2700K PAR38 LED uplights in two vacant upper balconies. They cross-aimed the lamps to illuminate the coffered ceiling for the first time. The balconies also house other new infrastructure such as HVAC, so it was a tight squeeze. “We had to modify the track heads to make them fit,” Rutledge says.
To further reveal the details and the different textures of Alma Mater, the existing fluorescent fixtures, which raked the mural from below in a greenish hue, were removed and replaced with integrated 17W 2700K PAR38 LEDs positioned behind columns and screen walls to highlight the art from three different positions. “There’s a lot of layers of light going on, but they are hidden from view and not intended to be part of the public realm,” Rutledge says.
In the north aisle, which is now used as a study area, the lighting team removed metal pendant fixtures, which had been added to the space over time but that were not original, and in their place designed a series of new custom pendants. These luminaires were hand-fabricated using the same materials and methods as Yellin’s original fixtures. “Those take their cue from the Yellin chandeliers,” Kugler says. “And we also have uplighting in those to make the glass and the ceiling both glow.”
They also designed task lamps in a bronze finish with opaque shades that house 9.5W 2700K A19 LED lamps. “It’s a modification to a classic library design with diffusion on the top, so it disperses light softly,” Kugler says.
Across the way, in the south aisle, now also a study area, original pendant fixtures were restored, and additional task lamps were added. The card catalogs that once were the space’s main feature were removed—except for one, a built-in furniture-like piece that was left for ambiance and as a nod to tradition. “It’s evocative of the past generations that used it and it talks about the history of the library while creating a wonderful warm texture,” Helpern says. That warmth is amplified by a subtle wash from the 10W-per-linear-foot 2700K LED picture lights. Taken as a whole, the vaulted nave shines with a seemingly singular hue. “A great deal of effort went into color matching the LED light so that it blends well and looks incandescent,” Kugler says.
The effect is a bit of a trompe-l’œil in that the nave appears to be flooded with natural light. “You get a great reaction when you turn things on and off,” Kugler says. “Right before the opening, we did a walk through with folks and when we turned the electric lights off there was a big ‘Oh!’ because they didn’t realize all of that light was coming from electric light.”
Helpern believes the result is one the original architect would appreciate. “The combination of electric and natural light reveals the beauty that you would not see otherwise,” he says. “It gives you an experience of the space that James Gamble Rogers would truly have welcomed.”
Project: Restoration of the nave of the Sterling Memorial Library, Yale University, New Haven, Conn. • Client: Yale University Office of Facilities, Planning, and Project Management, New Haven • Architect for the Restoration: Helpern Architects, New York • Original Architect: James Gamble Rogers • Lighting Designer: Kugler Ning Lighting Design, New York • Structural Engineer: Robert Silman Associates, New York • M/E/P, FP, IT, and Security Controls Engineer: AKF Group, Stamford, Conn. • Acoustics and A/V Consultant: Jaffe Holden, Norwalk, Conn. • Materials Conservator: Jablonski Building Conservation, New York • Project Size: 16,000 square feet (gross) • Project Cost: $18 million • Lighting Costs: Withheld (per client’s request) • Code Compliance: The connected lighting load is 64 percent below ASHRAE • Watts per Square Foot: 0.58 (combined ambient and decorative lighting)
Acuity Brands/Winona Lighting: 17W 2700K LED PAR38 adjustable floodlights to illuminate Alma Mater • Aurora Lampworks: All custom fixtures—restorations and re-creations—throughout project • Axis Lighting: 21W/28W 3000K T5 recessed-mounted linear slot fixtures at offices • B-K Lighting: Custom canopy-mounted 8W 2700K LED adjustable accent light for dedication plaque • Cree: 9.5W 2700K A19 lamps for historic pendants and sconces with mica shades • Eaton: LED exit signs • Edison Price Lighting: 17W 2700K PAR38 LED track for uplighting hidden in nave balconies • Electrix: 10W-per-linear-foot 2700K LED accent light for card catalog luminaires restored by Aurora Lampworks • Kenall Manufacturing: 28W 3000K T5 surface-mounted lensed strip for back of house areas • Manning Lighting: LED exit signs • Philips Color Kinetics: 6W-per-linear-foot 2700K cove fixtures installed in south aisle skylight cavity • Philips Day-Brite: 32W 3000K sliding, hanger-mounted two-lamp T8 fixtures at back of house spaces • Philips: 10W 2700K MR16 LED lamps • Starfire Lighting: 10W 2700K MR16 LED surface-mounted adjustable socket strip at cross-aisle wood screen walls to highlight Alma Mater and uplight ceiling • TCP: 5W 2700K G16 LED lamps for smaller historic fixtures with mica shades • USAI Lighting: 20W 2700K recessed-mounted downlights at security office