Andy Sedgwick is a director of Arup’s building engineering team with a specialty in designing natural lighting schemes for art spaces. He spoke to AN about recent trends in daylighting galleries, the technologies that are enabling this movement, and how his team works with architects.
Return to the full feature article, The Art of Daylight.
AN: It seems that there is a trend in contemporary museum design to bring more and more daylight into gallery spaces. Do you think this is true and, if so, why do you think it is a growing tendency?
Andy Sedgwick: In the mid 20th century there were two contrasting approaches. To be overly black and white about it, there was a Northern European approach that used daylight to create a well-lit room, a place where light fell more or less evenly on all the walls, creating a setting to show art in a neutral way. On the other end of the spectrum was the North American approach, where, in the 1940s and 50s, following the great Beaux Arts Museums that included natural light, there was a tendency to go black box for museum space, partly to allow the curators to create much more mediated viewing experiences. When you just have electric light you can create a story, you can emphasize things or deemphasize others using light. There was also a feeling that using electric light was safer and would expose the works of art to less damage, or the threat of damage, from natural light. I think we’ve seen things swing the other way for a number of reasons. One is a lot of European architects who have found favor for large cultural projects in North America—Piano, Chipperfield, Herzog & de Meuron, and others—they have brought that Northern European approach to gallery design. Another part of it is that when you’re investing in a major new cultural building, you want to see it, not just from outside, but on the inside too. Using daylight in an ambient way means you can see the rooms and see the architecture. It’s a more enriching experience for those visiting as well as those funding the spaces. You get more bang for your buck. I’d like to think that some of it has to do with understanding daylight better, how to handle UV radiation and quantify exposure of art to light. Daylight is a complex science and such a variable phenomenon—the sun moves in sky, clouds move under sun, it varies where in the world you are. We can be very responsible with daylight now. Finally, there is an imperative on many projects now to work toward more sustainable design solutions. Historically, tungsten halogen or incandescent light sources have been used every operating hour of the day to light gallery spaces. They’re energy intensive and bring a lot of heat that has to be taken out with AC. A museum with a good daylighting design can run without electric light for much of the year.
Do you find that clients and architects are more receptive to daylighting galleries these days?
Generally I find that to be the case. Sometimes the role of daylight is still an open question. There are still some institutions who, perhaps because they require complete flexibility, may need designs that are very safe in terms of light. Sometimes that may be designed as a daylit gallery with ways of blacking out the light. I find it’s helpful to take clients on a tour of recent and contemporary projects to get informed about the value and the risks of natural light. My experience is that, after those tours, everyone had fallen in love with the daylit space.
Have there been recent technical innovations that have made it easier to use daylight in gallery spaces?
There are now a lot of laminates that can go into a glazing system that do a very effective job of filtering out UV radiation without coloring the light. Twenty years ago it was a real battle to find something that met the sweet spot. Now there’s a range of products that have a high light transmission while reflecting heat back out. Natural light can be very energy efficient if it doesn’t bring heat with it.
When does your team typically get involved in a project?
We’re normally in right at the beginning because there are discussions to be had around things like whether the gallery spaces need special flexibility, whether they have partition walls, or a fixed lot of rooms that are there forever. It changes very much the approach to designing the roof, and there are many modern systems that need integrating into the roof. The AC needs to work in a compatible way with the lighting, as do the sprinklers and so on. These things need to be worked on together.
What other daylit art spaces does Arup have in the pipeline?
There are three or four in North America. The Broad Museum in Los Angeles with DS+R, which is well on in construction. It has a very extensive top lit third floor gallery space, which is fully flexible. There’s the Harvard Art Museum with Piano that is close to completion. It has a lot of daylit galleries, but also a major conservation space on the top floor that is the pièce de résistance. We’re also working on the Whitney with Piano in New York. Here in Europe we have the second phase of the Tate Modern with Herzog & de Meuron, which is half way through construction now. We have a private museum in Holland, The Caldic Museum, for a very fine collection of late 20th century modern and contemporary art.