Gabriel Dawe’s installation Plexus A1 (2015), part of the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder” exhibit, uses colored thread and looks like rays of light.
Ron Blunt Gabriel Dawe’s installation Plexus A1 (2015), part of the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder” exhibit, uses colored thread and looks like rays of light.

The $30 million renovation of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, which began in July 2012 and was completed this past November, represents a multidisciplinary effort that touched on every part of the building and its systems in a comprehensive effort to modernize the museum with state-of-the-art and energy-efficient technologies. The galleries and public spaces use all LED lighting and the back-of-house spaces use higher-efficiency fluorescent sources with daylight and occupancy controls. Originally built in 1859 by architect James Renwick Jr., the building is a National Historic Landmark and had not been renovated since the 1970s.


The Renwick Gallery after its multi-year renovation.
Ron Blunt The Renwick Gallery after its multi-year renovation.

One of the key areas of focus was the lighting. A detailed investigation into finding the right luminaires led to an intensive study and analysis on the part of architect and lighting designer Tom Gallagher from Westlake Reed Leskosky, the principal firm overseeing the project, and the Smithsonian’s resident lighting designer Scott Rosenfeld. Their collaboration reflects a new level of investigation that designers need to incorporate into their work to meet project needs and to keep up with the constant and rapid rate of change in LED technology. The research necessary for this project resulted in the design of a custom system and specific lamp and luminaire selections to create a 21st-century LED lighting solution for museum applications.

Well before the Renwick renovation got underway, Rosenfeld had already been testing new LED lamps at the Smithsonian as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Gateway demonstration projects. In 2012, he had experimented with the market-available LED PAR30, PAR38, and MR16 lamps in a few of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum galleries to replace existing halogen and incandescent sources. While some of the LED replacement lamps were acceptable and worked with the museum’s existing track system, one of the main issues that had to be resolved was color shift. Still, these early tests gave Rosenfeld the confidence that, as LED lamp technology continued to improve, the new technology could be used in museums to meet curatorial needs without compromising either the art or the visitor experience. And this was on top of the obvious significant energy savings.


Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig (2015), part of the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder” exhibit, is a series of structures made from woven willow saplings. The tracklighting in the gallery aims to mimic sunlight.
Ron Blunt Patrick Dougherty’s Shindig (2015), part of the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder” exhibit, is a series of structures made from woven willow saplings. The tracklighting in the gallery aims to mimic sunlight.

As the renovation of the Renwick commenced, the Smithsonian wanted to use all LEDs but the project team wasn’t sure the budget would support that. “This is where the integrated design model really paid dividends,” Gallagher says. Also, because the mechanical equipment had to be kept under the roof line in the attic space because of the building’s landmark status, an LED lighting system would not put as high of a demand on the overall building’s energy loads as a traditional halogen system would have. This correlated to both a lighting savings and overall operating savings for the renovated building.

Also significant was the development of the tracklighting system for the galleries. Using Rosenfeld’s research into LED retrofit technologies as a baseline, the designers “pursued the development of a set of fixtures that utilized LED retrofit lamps with the benefit being that we have much more beam control,” Gallagher says. This allowed the designers to have a lamp and fixture that could produce very narrow beam spreads—4, 6, 10, and 15 degrees. By going with LED retrofit lamps instead of a fixture that had an integral LED light engine was a significant and critical decision, because integral LED modules can only offer wide beam spreads—such as 20, 40, or 60 degrees. “An internal reflector defines the beam spread,” Rosenfeld says. But the lighting designers were looking for a fixture that could provide a really tight narrow spot to meet the needs of the curators. And this part was particularly important for the Renwick, which often has small objects on display.


Cove Reflected Ceiling Plan (top) and Cove Section (bottom)
Courtesy Westlake Reed Leskosky Cove Reflected Ceiling Plan (top) and Cove Section (bottom)

Working with Solais, the team developed a 4-degree very narrow spot—one that came with a decent warranty. “It’s not easy to get a manufacturer to offer a lengthy warranty,” Rosenfeld says, but “for the lamp we designed for the galleries, we were able to get the manufacturer to honor a 6,000-hour lamp.”

John Grade’s Middle Fork (Cascades) (2015), part of the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder” exhibit, was formed using the case of a 150-year-old hemlock tree to commemorate the gallery’s reopening.
Ron Blunt John Grade’s Middle Fork (Cascades) (2015), part of the Renwick Gallery’s “Wonder” exhibit, was formed using the case of a 150-year-old hemlock tree to commemorate the gallery’s reopening.

Another crucial aspect of the lamp and luminaire development meant that the housing had to be modified—both elongated and made wider to accommodate the LED retrofit lamp. The housing is 8.25 inches long and 5.75 inches in diameter. The changes in size also accommodated a passive cooling system which allows air to circulate and cool the lamp.

Gallagher and Rosenfeld’s ability to keep an open mind throughout the process and to adapt to solid-state lighting advances that occurred during the course of the multi-year project served them well. All the wallwashing and object lighting is done via the track fixtures and able to work in the galleries that have extremely tall ceiling heights: 26 feet. “The magic of the solution at the Renwick,” Gallagher says “is that we have an LED lamp with low power consumption but also the full range of beam spreads that lighting designers enjoy with halogen lamps.”

Leo Villareal’s LED light sculpture in the stair foyer of the Renwick Gallery. It is one of the installations that was part of the museum’s reopening exhibit, “Wonder.”
Ron Blunt Leo Villareal’s LED light sculpture in the stair foyer of the Renwick Gallery. It is one of the installations that was part of the museum’s reopening exhibit, “Wonder.”

And it’s not just the electric lighting in which the collaborative effort between the architect and lighting designer excelled. The windows in the building were replaced with insulated glazing, and an inner layer was introduced that eliminated more than 99 percent of the ultraviolet light within the glazing composition, which in turn eliminates ultraviolet light coming into the galleries. This means visitors are still allowed a connection to the outside while in the galleries, rather than having to create a fully dark black box gallery.

The design team also settled on 3000K for the lamp color temperature. Normally, 4000K is used, but because a majority of the galleries have windows, Rosenfeld raised an important issue: Should they match the electric light to the daylight? Or still, why not filter the daylight to match the electric light? For one thing, there isn’t necessarily one right color temperature and for another, daylight fluctuates. “So long as you can mentally understand and see where the different sources are coming from, it’s not strange to have a slightly different color temperature between daylight and electric light,” Gallagher says.

The intense commitment to collaboration between team members and manufacturing partners has amounted to a state-of-the-art lighting solution that sets a new standard for museum applications. •

Details
Project: The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum Major Renovation, Washington. D.C. • Client/Owner: Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. • Architect, Engineer, and Lighting Designer: Westlake Reed Leskosky, New York • Additional Consultants/Lighting Designer: Scott Rosenfeld, Smithsonian Institution • General Contractor: Consigli Construction, Washington, D.C. • Structural Engineer: Wood Peacock, Alexandria, Va. • Civil Engineer: Wiles Mensch, Reston, Va. • Project Size: 34,000 square feet (net); 46,598 square feet (gross) • Project Cost: $30 million • Lighting Cost: $605,493 without gallery lighting (not part of construction contract) • Code Compliance: International Energy Conservation Code 2012

Lighting Manufacturers
Acuity Brands/Lithonia: Emergency lighting • Columbia Lighting: Direct/indirect industrial fluorescent luminaire for back-of-house stair areas • California Accent Lighting: Exterior walkway lighting • Litecontrol: Fluorescent covelights at rest rooms • Litelab: Track-mounted PAR38 cylindrical fixtures outfitted for multiple functions—wallwash and object light, as well as to hold various lenses, filters, and accessories—depending on gallery needs for installations and artworks; track-mounted object lights with integral driver; track-mounted MR16 object fixture with spill shield and snoot • Eutrac: Surface-mounted two-circuit track for galleries • Kim Lighting: LED bollards on roof • Metalux: Direct/indirect fluorescent luminaire with wire guard for mechanical and electrical rooms
Philips Selecon: Track-mounted beam shaper projector with Eutrac connector in galleries • Selux: Linear fluorescent fixture in basement areas • Solais: Very narrow spot lamp with a 4-degree beam for use with gallery tracklighting • SPJ Lighting: Exterior steplight • Zumtobel: Compact fluorescent downlights for offices