Think of some essential innovations in the evolution of mankind, and a few things immediately come to mind. Harnessing fire. Fabricating tools. Inventing the wheel. Lebanon-based architect Jacques Fayad, lead designer with Engineered Systems International, would add one more to the list: Money. In 2010, the Banque du Liban (BDL), Lebanon’s central bank, asked Fayad to design a museum in Beirut dedicated to the history of currency. “BDL wanted to establish a Money Museum in order to increase public awareness of the role of the Central Bank,” Fayad says. “They also wanted to tell the story of money as being one of the most influential developments in the history of human civilization.”
This is a particularly important story within Lebanese history. The BDL was established in 1963 after many years of political and fiscal instability in the country. Starting in 1919, Lebanon had three different banknotes. After its establishment, the BDL created the nation’s fourth in just 40-plus years. The BDL also had to help safeguard the economy and its financial system. And with the Money Museum, the BDL hoped to showcase the long history of money in the country—through exhibitions displaying banknotes and coins dating as far back as the Phoenician era—while also highlighting the current Lebanese pound as a stable monetary currency.
Fayad had to fit this history into an 800-square-meter (8,611-square-foot) space. “Although relatively small in size, the Money Museum project was technically challenging,” Fayad says. It was located inside an existing 50-year-old building on Hamra Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares in the capital city. The project required major coordination among specialists in lighting, acoustics, security, and engineering. A big concern was preserving the paper banknotes from light exposure. It was decided that the exhibition space for the currency should be a secluded opaque box within the museum in order to shield the exhibit items from the abundant natural light 200 lux from the lobby. “Stringent light levels inside the exhibition space were set to a maximum of 50 lux for the permanent collection,” Fayad says.
Fayad turned to lighting designer Chérine Saroufim Sacy , assistant managing director and partner at Beirut’s Idepconsult. [See AL's Nov/Dec 2014 issue for a profile of lighting designer Chérine Saroufim Sacy. Read More. ] “Cherine had to meet these requirements while at the same time providing enough light to distinguish the banknotes’ colors,” Fayad says.
Sacy says that one of the greatest challenges in that regard was eye adaptation. “Lebanon has very sunny days, like California,” she says. “It’s bright even during the winter. Since we had to use 50 lux on the paper and light the currency so as not to damage it, we had to take the visitors from the door and the bright lobby and gradually lower [the] light levels so that once they got to the paper, they could see all the small details.”
Added to the complexity of the lighting strategy was the fact that Sacy had to work within a very tight budget. The museum didn't have the resources to design lighting within the actual exhibition cases. Instead, Sacy had to get creative with how she approached lighting the galleries. A wash of low light safeguards the banknotes, but can be turned to a higher wattage by the cleaning staff once the museum is closed and the displays have been covered. Using ceiling-mounted projectors, Sacy varied the lamp wattages and directional aim to focus on the money, while being careful not to blind the visitor from an errant beam of light. Additional ambient light comes from clever, custom-made linear LED strips integrated into aluminum casings.
Originally, the lighting plan called for halogens, a decision that had been determined by the budget. “The financial cost in Lebanon is still high when it comes to LEDs,” Sacy says. “Everything is imported and suppliers can’t often bargain with the manufacturers.”
But Sacy managed to get suppliers to bid competitively and she convinced the client to switch to using all LEDs, a first for a museum in Lebanon. “Halfway through the implementation phase, she pushed for an upgrade to LED, an option which was not commercially viable at [the] time of design,” Fayad says. “It is through her efforts that we were able to obtain this option at a price within the project budget.”
The client, Sacy says, wasn’t fully aware of what LED lighting could do for the project, in terms of both aesthetic issues as well as maintenance costs and energy savings. “I had to educate our client a bit,” she says. “They weren’t against LEDs, exactly, they were just mostly interested in cost.”
Bringing that kind of educational advocacy to the job was part of what made the museum a success, according to Fayad. “Working with Cherine is a constant learning process in an extremely friendly and cooperative environment,” he says. “She does not only contend with meeting a criterion , she always looks for the best solution possible through relentless research and inquiry.”
The Money Museum opened in January 2014 and Fayad says the lighting greatly helped the project achieve its goals, including how it ingratiates visitors into the history of currency. “This project was a success in providing a welcoming, pleasant space not only to collectors and professionals, but also, and most importantly, to people in general,” he says.
Project Banque du Liban Money Museum, Beirut
Client Banque du Liban, Beirut
Architect Engineered Systems International, Jounieh, Lebanon
Lighting Designer Idepconsult—Mounir Saroufim and Partners, Beirut
Photographer Ralph Mrad
Project Size 800 square meters (8,611 square feet)
Project Cost $2 million
Lighting Cost $130,000
Code Compliance and Watts per Square Foot Not applicable
Erco Dimmable recessed MR16 35W 24-degree spotlights and track-mounted flood and spot lights at auditorium; 12W Optec spotlights with Spherolit lenses and various bean angles including flood and oval flood in the exhibition areas.
Luceferos Direct/indirect fixtures at entrance with 3000K T5 seamless lamps with a CRI of 80