Light and color are very closely related: we wouldn't see color without light, and yet light is composed of color. Breaking down the visible spectrum reveals the colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Colored light is found naturally when sunlight passes through the many layers of the atmosphere and becomes scattered. There is a beauty and attraction in colored light that cannot be found in pigment or dyes. Colored light has a celestial quality, as it seems pure, luminous and radiant. As lighting designers, we can harness this power of color. Using color in light, we can direct the viewer's attention and we can enhance an element of a building, room, or object. Mood can be suggested and changed through light, and can enhance or destroy the visual appeal of a space.

Not sure when to use color? Lighting designer Leni Schwendinger of New York City–based Light Projects has created a check list for evaluating potential design opportunities when it comes to employing colored light. The list includes reinforcing identity, enhancing an architectural element, or creating an artistic interpretation. For Schwendinger, a successful lighting design strengthens the existing color, texture, or shape of the object and/or surface. This approach, she feels, renders the object as “more of what it already is.” However designers choose to use color and light, and in making the decision to employ this element, architects and lighting designers need to ensure that their design and method support the project objectives. Implementing color into a lighting design requires a responsible hand, and, as most lighting designers would agree, should not be introduced just for the sake of color itself.

A CASE IN POINT Completed in November 2006, one project that explores the use and role of colored lighting as an integral part of the design approach is the Adopt A Room program at the University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview, in Minneapolis. It is a pilot program focused on creating comfortable surroundings for severely ill children and their families, whereby private and corporate donors can adopt and sponsor the renovation of hospital rooms. A typical pediatric hospital room environment was evaluated by children and their families, as well as by nurses and doctors, and these participants conceptualized design ideas for the ultimate dream room. Qualities deemed most important were a sense of comfort, control of the room, and a connection to the outside world.

In a charrette held by the architectural and interior design teams of Perkins+Will's Minneapolis office, the designers behind the project, a group of children who had been patients were asked how they envisioned light in their dream room. Responses included lava lamps, a sky on the ceiling, and the ability to paint the room with color. Taking these ideas into consideration, lighting designer Greg Lecker of Minneapolis–based lighting firm LightSpaces, a division of Michaud Cooley Erickson Consulting Engineers, and his team set out to design a space that met the desires of the children while simultaneously addressing the needs of medical professionals.

CONTROLLING COLOR The resulting design is a space where pediatric patients can control the color of their room through cove lighting and something the design team refers to as the “magic ceiling.” The lighting design is accomplished with 56 preset color options, 19 tints of white, and 70 effects that may be selected via a touch screen located next to the bed for easy access. Choosing colors for the room was not a simple task. The designers had to select colors that were bright enough to illuminate the space yet still be noticeably different from one another. Some of the color selections also match the room's furnishing palette. The final color selection is arranged on the touch screen in a color wheel pattern, making it simple for a child to choose his or her desired hue. Lighting effects on the ceiling are mimicked with the cove, giving the impression that the architectural ceiling is floating and that the sky is just beyond. Most of the effects emulate nature, with titles such as “Snow,” “Moving Clouds,” and “Sunset.”

The development of the magic ceiling was particularly challenging to design. A nod to the children's desire to feel more connected to the outside world, the magic ceiling has an oval shape to take the form of a porthole to the sky. Above the opening sits an array of 15 2-by-2-foot iColor tiles. Each RGB panel contains 144 tri-colored light-emitting diode (LED) on 2-inch centers that are individually addressable. The colors and effects are created by a control system, which allow up to 200 different effects, static or moving. Using a virtual map of LED pixels and nature photography, programmers compiled the still and animated “shows” projected on the oval above the bed. The diffusing material stretched across the opening is a translucent plastic and allows for visibility of the video-like effects. A ceiling mock-up helped the design team figure out the optimum distance between the diffuser and the LED panels; too close and the plastic was not evenly lit, too far and the pixilated effects became distorted. Based on the mock-up, a distance of 2 inches was agreed upon. Each color selected a specified quantity of red, green, and blue within the tri-colored LED. For example, pure red was coded as 255-0-0, while chocolate was 210-105-30, meaning 210 parts red, 105 parts green, and 30 parts blue. All of the 75 chosen colors (the 56 presets and the 19 hues of white) had to be individually programmed into the system so a child could recall a favorite color at any time. Many children find a specific color, such as blue, particularly soothing.

Cove lighting around the perimeter of the room utilized the iColor Cove MX Powercore fixture. This lighting element was programmed to match the color or effect chosen for the ceiling. For example, if a child chooses the “Moving Clouds” effect, the cove lighting transitions from blue to white to synchronize with the ceiling. By harmonizing the cove lighting with the magic ceiling, the child has the opportunity to craft his or her own individual environment to custom-tailor the space. It is like a full-scale, real-time coloring book children can create from their patient bed.

The Adopt A Room project was conceived as a way to create a space for pediatric patients, their families, and their caregivers that is dynamic yet creative and comforting. Light and color go well beyond utilitarian purposes as they provide children who are dealing with serious illnesses a way to control and change their surroundings, allowing them an escape, however brief, from the hospital world to one of their imagination.


PROJECT | Adopt A Room, University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview, Minneapolis CLIENT | University of Minnesota Children's Hospital, Fairview, Minneapolis DESIGN TEAM | Perkins+Will, Minneapolis (architect and interior designer); LightSpaces, a division of Michaud Cooley Erickson Consulting Engineers, Minneapolis (lighting designer); Michaud Cooley Erickson Consulting Engineers (engineers); Graybow Communications, Minneapolis (audiovisual designer) PHOTOGRAPHER | Joel Koyama, Joel Koyama Photography, Minneapolis, except where noted PROJECT SIZE | 1,110 square feet PROJECT COST | $1.8 million (two prototypical showcase suites) INSTALLED LIGHTING COST | Estimated at $325,000, not including lighting control panels, lighting controls, or integration with AMX control touch screen WATTS | 2 watts per square foot (not including theatrical colored lighting, which adds approximately 5 watts per square foot when all white, although rarely set at this scene) MANUFACTURERS | AMX, Boyd Lighting, DeltaLight, Louis Poulsen, Lucifer Lighting, Newmat, Royal Mosa, Philips Solid-State Lighting Solutions/Color Kinetics