CHALLENGE Left unfinished when its doors opened in the late 1930s in the midst of the Great Depression with the looming threat of war, the interior of the Madonna della Strada Chapel on the Loyola University Chicago campus is now complete. The Art Deco building, with its main entrance overlooking Lake Michigan, needed a lighting design that would enhance and reinforce the architecture while also accentuating the artwork and providing illumination for various events. But illuminating elaborate arches above the altar proved difficult in regard to finding a light source that easily would mount within the ceiling slot. While Chicago-based lighting design firm Schuler Shook knew light-emitting diode (LED) technology would offer the best lighting solution for the project, the client needed convincing because it was a relatively new technology and more costly than other lighting options.

SOLUTION While the designers explored many light sources, project manager Giulio Pedota says the longer they looked at the chapel, the more they realized LEDs were the right choice to illuminate the ambry (where sacred oils are stored) and the altar arches. “We knew the advantages [of LEDs] would be great,” Pedota notes. The client “kept shying away from it, mainly because it was a new technology. They knew it was going to be more expensive, but we were able to sell them on the idea.” Aside from the white LEDs used at the arches and ambry, 150W asymmetrical fixtures and 100W PAR38/HIR spots hidden above the column capitals highlight the ceiling and accentuate the ribs, respectively. Also, PAR38/HIR lamps in concealed track-mounted fixtures illuminate the mural from behind the colonnade, while 50W and 71W MR16 lamps accent murals on the ambulatory walls and uplight columns in the altar area. The tabernacle is accentuated by 100W AR111 spot lamps in hidden track-mounted fixtures along the top and sides of the transverse arch, and 500W PAR56 lamps illuminate the chapel and altar area. All fixtures are dimmable to provide various settings while increasing lamp life and minimizing energy costs.

The high arches above the altar originally were designed to allow daylight in through continuous glass blocks inserted into a slot. However, water leakage led to the university abandoning the daylight effect by capping the blocks with copper flashing. Striving to mimic the look of natural light, continuous white LED fixtures with a color temperature of 3000K are used along the arches, Pedota explains. For the ambry, he says the source flickered when dimmed below 20 percent, so the contractor rewired with a larger diameter wire gauge. Also, the client wanted the ambry's LED source on 24 hours a day and requested a lighting effect that would make it look as if the cabinet was illuminated by candlelight. The design uses a color gel to warm up the LED source, resulting in a color temperature of about 2700K. A user-friendly control system with about 22 preset lighting schemes, programmed for events such as Sunday Mass or weddings, is accessed by an LCD screen.

Several mock-ups helped the client realize LEDs were worth the additional cost. In the end, the firm was successful in reproducing the daylight effect along the altar arches and creating a candlelit glow around the ambry through the use of LED technology, which Pedota says worked because of its small scale, ease of installation, long lifespan, warm color temperature, and fixture durability.

PROJECT Loyola University Madonna della Strada Chapel, Chicago

DESIGN TEAM | Marvin Herman and Associates, Chicago (architect); Schuler Shook, Chicago (lighting designer)

PHOTOGRAPHER | Ballogg Photography, Chicago

PROJECT SIZE | 11,117 square feet


MANUFACTURERS | Ametrix, B-K Lighting, Boyd Lighting, Canlet, Elliptipar, io Lighting, Iris, Lighting Services Inc, Lightolier, Lucifer, Rambusch, Tokistar