Corning Museum of Glass Expansion

On sunny days, the museumms glazed, translucent roof will allow as many as 425 footcandles of natural light into the gallery spaces, eliminating the need for electric lighting.
Courtesy Thomas Phifer and Partners

Corning Museum of Glass Expansion
Corning, New York

Architect: Thomas Phifer and Partners
Lighting Designer: Arup

Return to the full feature article, The Art of Daylight.

Unlike paintings, drawings, or photography, glass can take a lot of natural light. So for the planned addition to the Corning Museum of Glass, Thomas Phifer and Partners decided to make natural light a central idea of their design. An enclosed “porch,” offering views out to the museum campus, rings the glass-walled pavilion. The galleries are set within entirely opaque, load bearing concrete walls, focusing visitors’ attention on the works inside.

Phifer worked closely with Arup’s lighting design studio to study the particular qualities that daylight brings to the medium. “Glass loves light, it throws it and becomes luminous,” said Phifer. Because most of the works will be displayed on pedestals or on the floor, rather than hung from the wall, the architects wanted the light to come directly from above, rather than through pointed spots. This helps to diminish shadows and silhouettes.


An entirely glazed ceiling of 4-by-6-foot glass panels, roughly 10 percent transparent, 80 percent translucent, and 10 percent opaque, will flood the space with daylight, while also creating a “dappled light effect,” according to Phifer. On sunny days light levels could reach up to 425 footcandles, and most days the galleries will require no artificial light at all.

Massive 4-foot-tall, 60-foot-long concrete beams support the glass ceiling. At only three and a half inches thick, the beams act like fins or diffusers, and rest on top of the gallery walls, which curve and bend to create highly irregular, sculptural spaces. The ventilation and climate control systems, embedded within the concrete, circulate air through the top of the walls, eliminating visible vents. The height of the beams also allows the electric lighting—necessary at night on the occasional dark day—to be similarly concealed. Placed at the top of the beams, LSI halogen track lights will only be visible when looking directly up at the ceiling.


The designers considered LEDs, but did not feel that the technology at this point was capable of producing an even distribution of light across the roughly 24-foot distance from tops of the beams to the floor. “It needs to be as seamless as possible, and we aren’t sure the technology is there yet,” said Phifer.

On working with Arup, and Andy Sedgwick in particular, Phifer said: “Andy is the premiere daylight designer in the world.” And on the importance of bringing natural light into museums: “It brings a full spectrum of color into viewing art and it grounds the architecture and the art in the place where you are.”

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