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Feature> Spotlight: Claremont University
LTL Architects uses light to transform a maintenance building into vibrant offices.
On the exterior, solar tubes are responsive to light levels.
Luke Gibson

This project is one section of AN's five-part feature on architectural lighting, "Sharing the Spotlight." Click here to view additional projects.

Claremont University Consortium,
Claremont, CA

Lewis Tsurumaki Lewis Architects (LTL)

Reinventing a shed to create a vibrant, functioning office is no mean feat. In East LA, the New York firm LTL Architects has transformed a former maintenance building through a series of dynamic light installations that help to define office and communal spaces for staff at Claremont University Consortium. “Lighting design has an integral role within architecture,” said Paul Lewis of LTL, a practice whose buildings often stand out for their feature lighting and theatrical signage—including its recent Arthouse in Texas and the fluorescent-tube displays, Light Structures. On larger projects, Lewis’ practice often works closely with the lighting experts Lumen. For the Claremont building, the challenge was to get balanced light across the whole 42,000 square feet. “We wanted to achieve a distribution of light that was equivalent to the natural light,” said Lewis. “We knew we wanted to keep the natural light, the LA sunshine. It was a matter of figuring out ways to damper it and have dimmable meeting rooms.”

The inherited building, with its poured floors and non-flexible services core left only the ceiling and walls for a canvas. LTL’s solution was to pierce the the roof with solar tubes rigged up to a sensor system, EcoTech, which detects light levels and responds by phasing light in and out from three-foot circular discs of fluorescents installed at intervals between the tubes. In the center of the office, the light is diffused through baffles, hung to form a lowered ceiling, or “cloud” as Lewis and Nelson Jenkins of Lumen call it. To avoid designing through addition, Lewis brought Lumen on at an early stage in the project. “Some of the initial ideas behind the LED screen came from conversations with the lighting designer about how to activate a space,” said Lewis. Taking on a consultants role, Lumen’s expertise in lighting technology as well as its creative input took LTL’s ideas and made them into realities. “They had an idea that the lighting would look random,” said Jenkins, “and we’d tell them what equipment to use and how to integrate it.”

Left to right: Overhead lights are hidden above sculptural ribs; The inside core is wrapped in a prickly skin of interactive LED bristles; detail of the LED lights.

The Claremont block isn’t just a harmonious environment of subtle tones and hidden light sources, there is also an aspect of drama, too. Jason Krugman Studio’s LED wall wraps porcupine-like bristles of blue lights around the central core of the otherwise column-free space. “We wanted to animate it through interactive technology,” said Lewis. Weaving this playful feature into the space was a collaborative effort in which Krugman took LTL’s design and made it his own, developing LED pieces, the wiring, and logistics of the piece. “Lighting was a way to perform a certain function,” said Lewis, “But it is also provides a psychological impact based on its aesthetic; LEDS, for example, are seen as spatialized artwork, as well as bringing light in a pragmatic sense.” The client’s most important motivation was the desire to erase the associations of the building as a disused maintenance block. It’s unlikely employees will mistake it for a maintenance building, however. Even the entrance draws office workers in with its slatted wooden wall threaded with lights.

Gwen Webber