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Natural Light at the Museum of Anthropology

This month, IES featured a great article about the cutting edge lighting design and technology in the new Northwest Coast Masterworks gallery at Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology. As part of the museum’s recent $3.5 million renovation, MOA exhibition designer, Skooker Broome, was able to bring to life his vision of emulating the real-time dynamics of natural daylight indoors. The challenge was that the gallery displays more than 110 historical indigenous objects that are vulnerable to the damaging effects of natural light. Broome needed to create artifact-friendly indoor lighting that would reflect the ever-changing intensity and colour temperature of the world outside.

Natural Light at the Museum of Anthropology
Photo by AES Engineering

With a new lighting design by AES Engineering and a custom light sensor and control system by Eos Lightmedia, the gallery is now illuminated by light that follows the natural rhythms of the outdoors. The lighting design includes ceiling mounted softbox lighting and a 4 feet wide section of illuminated white fabric that runs around the perimeter of the space. Tunable white cove luminaires backlight the fabric at 45 degree angles to provide the most even illumination possible. These LEDs are controlled by an outdoor, roof-mounted sensor that measures the colour temperature and intensity of the daylight outside every three minutes. The sensor is connected to a DMX controller that calibrates the LEDs in the gallery to match the real-time changes in the outdoor light. In other words, it is the actual daylight of the outdoors that activates and controls the colour temperature and intensity of the light indoors.

Museum of Anthropology museum lighting
Photo by UBC Musuem of Anthropology

Doug McMillan, of AES Engineers, explains that in the Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks it is important for the public to be able to explore the art as they would in the wild. “Since most of the objects were created from nature, we wanted the viewer to experience them the way the artist intended.” The new lighting design makes this possible without risking UV damage to the delicate artifacts.

Natural Light at the Museum of Anthropology
Photo by AES Engineering

Broome’s desire to bring natural light patterns indoors is an idea that is also being explored by hospitals and schools. Experiencing these natural fluctuations in light help may help to regulate circadian rhythm, which can affect sleep and health in general. Lighting projects, such as the one at the Museum of Anthropology, will help to pave the way for successful lighting designs and technology to make these effects possible.

To read the article by IES, click here.