On a Tuesday in November 2014, Gabe Guilliams, a lighting designer with BuroHappold, found himself in a dark warehouse in Marshfield, Mo. The building’s halogen lamps were turned off, and the only illumination came from a 38-foot-long wood ceiling section suspended from the steel rafters. Below a white ceiling panel ran a series of large ducts and a grid of curved wood members, all of it glowing from integrated LEDs.
The assembly was a portion of a ceiling being designed for Hillman Hall, the new home of the George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. The building overlooks a pedestrian thoroughfare and is sited diagonally across from Brookings Hall, the university’s main administrative building on the main (Danforth) campus, and is designed by Santa Monica, Calif.’s Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners with local firm Mackey Mitchell Architects in the university’s Collegiate Gothic–style vernacular. Its centerpiece is a round, glass-enclosed event space known as the Maxine Clark and Bob Fox Forum that includes a small stage, a balcony, and a café, as well as seating for informal gatherings.
Extending from the building’s curved glass façade, the forum was designed to act like a porch light that says “Guests welcome.” But as the design progressed and the necessary electrical and mechanical systems were added, the architects saw the need for a decorative dropped ceiling that would obscure the unsightly infrastructure. The result was an ornate ceiling made of densely spaced, radial wood slats, which curve and taper as they approach a center oculus. It was an elegant solution but, from a lighting perspective, it created a novel set of illumination challenges. Guilliams and his team initially planned to uplight the ceiling, but they were constrained by the presence of a balcony, which wraps the inner perimeter of the space. Instead, they illuminated the ceiling from above, choosing to run linear LED arrays inside channels routed into the top of the wood slats.
“The wood [members taper] as they move toward the center,” Guilliams says. “At the perimeter, there’s much more obstruction, so you see more of the wood glowing. Toward the middle, you see more of the ceiling behind the wood.” That meant that the ductwork, the speakers, and everything else that the architects were trying to hide were suddenly visible.
Guilliams’ solution was to design a circular aluminum pendant that would be suspended from the dropped ceiling. The uplight would illuminate the face of the wood structure and screen the elements behind it. Because the use of the LEDs in this custom application was untested, Guilliams wanted a trial run to understand how it would perform photometrically.
Fortunately, a full-scale mock-up was already being constructed by the project’s millworker at its facility in Marshfield, south of St. Louis. The architects had wanted to study the various densities of the wood elements and their finishes, and after talking with Guilliams, the university agreed to cover the costs of a mock-up of the lighting design as well.
So in November 2014, Guilliams traveled to Missouri to see the mock-up in person. Suspended by a series of metal chains, the 300-square-foot wedge—just one-thirtieth of the total ceiling—could be raised and lowered, allowing Guilliams and the client to see what it would look like.
The initial design did not look great, Guilliams recalls. The pendant was too large, spreading the light too far from the center of the ceiling. Instead, Guilliams wanted the oculus to feel as if it were radiating light. He also saw that they needed to dim the linear LEDs that ran immediately below the ductwork and speakers. They had increased the density of the luminaires in these areas to provide uniform illumination, but the increased lumens now created the opposite effect. To create a completely consistent wash of light, the LEDs would have to be dimmed according to their location. Guilliams would eventually need 17 different lighting layers just for the forum’s ceiling, with eight more layers for the rest of the space.
On site, however, the lighting scheme faced a final challenge. As much as the wood ceiling was intended as a focal point, Guilliams also wanted to maintain a visual connection with the historic Goldfarb and Brown halls (the school’s previous home) at night. Lighting glass façades is one of the most complex lighting assignments, and yet windows “give people context,” Guilliams says. “During the day, you look out of the window and you see the neighborhood, or the campus, or the city that you’re in. But at night, you lose that connectivity.” Guilliams spent “two nights solid” adjusting the dimming to limit reflectiveness, so that the neighboring buildings—newly floodlit as a part of the Hillman Hall project—remained visible.
In the 18 months since it has opened, Hillman Hall has succeeded in attracting the WashU community. The school had wanted its new home to be a welcoming public space, and during the fall 2015 semester, 80 percent of people who visited the forum’s café were not affiliated with the School of Social Work. For Guilliams, the statistic is validation that the lighting design team’s instincts were right, and that the extreme level of detail involved was worth it. •
Project: Hillman Hall, George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis • Client: Washington University in St. Louis • Architects: Moore Ruble Yudell Architects & Planners, Santa Monica, Calif., and Mackey Mitchell Architects, St. Louis • Lighting Designer: BuroHappold, New York • Structural Engineers: KPFF, St. Louis • M/E Engineers: BuroHappold, New York • Project Size: 105,000 square feet • Project Costs: $42 million • Lighting Costs: Not Available • Watts per Square Foot: 0.6 • Code Compliance: ASHRAE 90.1-2007
Architectural Lighting Works: 30W 3000K LED customized surface-mounted double-gimbal fixture recessed in wood-slat ceiling of pedestrian street to either side of the forum • Feelux: Low-voltage, linear, surface-mounted, 4W-per-foot, 3000K LED fixture recessed in routed channels in top of wood ceiling in forum • Lighting Services Inc: 12W 3000K LED pendant wallwash fixtures for art accent wall along back of balcony overlooking forum • 1212 Studio: Custom 19-foot-diameter aluminum 500W 3000K pendant suspended below wood ceiling in forum • V2: 36W 3000K LED pendant downlight in wood ceiling in forum