Focus Lighting updated the massive, immersive Mapparium, in Boston, with a new LED lighting and controls system.
Ryan Fischer Focus Lighting updated the massive, immersive Mapparium, in Boston, with a new LED lighting and controls system.

The world today looks very different from the one depicted by the Mapparium, a three-story, luminous stained-glass globe at the Mary Baker Eddy Library, in Boston, which reflects the international landscape of the year it was commissioned: 1935. A recent LED overhaul and controls upgrade, however, now affords visitors a uniquely dynamic, immersive experience.

The library tasked Focus Lighting, in New York, with re-lighting the historic globe and implementing an advanced lighting controls system that allows staff to more readily create and deliver interactive tours. This is the latest renovation for the installation, which was first updated with LEDs in 1998. The massive, 26-foot-diameter globe is housed in a 30-foot-by-30-foot room. The existing 1998 luminaires were installed on the six horizontal, exterior rings comprising metal strut bolted to conduit clamped to the globe’s steel structure, and they reflected light off of the room’s white walls, backlighting the stained glass.

New lighting controls and improved LED technology together allow the Mapparium's docents to improve the way in which they call out countries and regions during tours.
Ryan Fischer New lighting controls and improved LED technology together allow the Mapparium's docents to improve the way in which they call out countries and regions during tours.

The library’s request for better controls, however, necessitated a more precise lighting system. The team selected ColorBlast TRX luminaires with RGBW and amber LEDs to replace the existing ColorBlast RGB fixtures. The older fixtures were about one-third the brightness of current technology, says Focus Lighting principal Brett Andersen, while the newer luminaires include white and amber LEDs as well as a proprietary blue LED designed to bring out the blues and purples on the map, giving the team better control over what elements of the colorful globe were highlighted at a given time and which ones could be made to fade into the background.

“We had to be able to give the [library] the ability to have [the Soviet Union], for example, pop out from the background and be individually recognized by [visitors],” Andersen says. The designers limited their use of white light, instead focusing on the saturated red, blue, green, and amber LEDs to visually separate the map’s graphical elements. Additionally, an accessory holder on the front of the new luminaires allowed the team to experiment with diffusion and lens-shaping films when aiming the fixtures. The installation process was a team effort, Andersen says, requiring aiming adjustments to be viewed from the Mapparium’s interior as they were being made. In all, the lighting retrofit cut the number of fixtures used to light the globe from 206 to 177.

Focus Lighting Diagrammatic section-elevation through Mapparium room (left) and lighting detail.

Before the retrofit, the installation used 206 fixtures at 33W each. The upgrade reduced the fixture count to 177 at 50W each. The new fixtures use only two or three colors at a time, however, cutting the overall wattage by up to 60 percent.

Today, docents control the system using a tablet, choosing among themed and color presets as the building blocks for shows and to run existing programs that combine lighting, audio, and video—an integrated system that brings the historical globe into the present. •

The Mapparium interior prior to Focus Lighting's retrofit of the lighting and controls systems.
Mary Baker Eddy Library The Mapparium interior prior to Focus Lighting's retrofit of the lighting and controls systems.

DETAILS
Project: The Mapparium Relighting, Boston • Client and Owner: The Mary Baker Eddy Library at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Boston • Architect: Chester Lindsay Churchill (architect for the original structure, completed in 1935) • Lighting Designer: Focus Lighting, New York • Photographer: Ryan Fischer, Focus Lighting • Total Square Footage: 600 square feet • Lighting Costs: Approximately $176,000 • Code Compliance: Not Applicable • Watts per Square Foot: 1.1 watts

MANUFACTURERS
Philips Color Kinetics: ColorBlast TRX luminaires with RGBW and amber LEDs for backlighting the globe • Pharos Architectural Controls: Control system for operating the LED lighting

Correction: This article has been updated to correct the spelling of Brett Andersen's name. Architectural Lighting regrets the error.