Museums Association

Experts offer tips for museum lighting

The lower the ceiling the more luminaires you will need, according to experts at a recent conference organised by the Museums Association and jointly sponsored by Precision Lighting and sister company Remote Controlled Lighting: ‘Bright ideas - New developments in museum lighting’, a one-day event at the Royal College of Surgeons in London.

‘Lower ceilings need more luminaires’

‘In order to light museum objects from the ceiling, you generally need angles of incidence of 30 to 45 degrees on vertical surfaces or objects,’ advised George Sexton of George Sexton Associates. ‘It is counterintuitive, but with a low ceiling you need more infrastructure and more possibilities for locating lights to maintain those angles.’

‘In practical, lay terms, you need more lighting track for a 3m ceiling and less for a 5m ceiling. If you are closer to the object, you need less light but you also need more possibilities of placement of light,’ he added.

‘The smaller the gallery the harder it is to get the lighting right,’ agreed DHA Designs director Jonathan Howard. ‘When you get close to the object you are better off with a larger number of smaller sources and track is a lot cheaper than the lighting that goes on it.’

‘Vary lux levels to create heroes in display cases’

Howard also recommended varying lighting within displays to ensure visual interest and to highlight key artefacts. ‘You don’t want to light everything to 50 lux if you can get a range of illumination in a case,’ he said. If the lighting in a display case is all at the same level, ‘it’s a bit like a chorus: there’s no lead singer and you can’t tell what you’re looking at. We want heroes in a case to create interest.’

Speakers included lighting designer Kevan Shaw of KSLD who has been assessing museum visitors’ colour temperature preferences and David Saunders, keeper of the British Museum’s department of conservation and scientific research.

‘Negotiate lighting designs with curators’

Giving an introductory overview, Stephen Cannon-Brookes said that museum lighting design has to balance conservation, access and display needs: choices that often involve curators and conservators in the lighting design process. ‘Finding an optimal solution may well involve negotiation,’ he said.

‘Use spotlights for accent lighting’

Arup day lighting expert Arfon Davies advised that ‘the simplest approach for a space where the art is displayed using spotlighting, is to just accept different conditions by day and by night. Use ambient daylight in the space by day and just have accent lighting when it is dark outside.’

‘All exhibitions are temporary’

Among other observations, Sexton also highlighted the need for versatile lighting solutions. ‘I have come to discover that there is no such things a permanent exhibition, there are just slow moving temporary exhibitions because things change over time,’ he said. ‘They sit there for a few years but a new curator comes along, a new view or interpretation comes along and those spaces have to transform themselves. A lot of times you don’t have the freedom to rip things out and start afresh.’

Both Precision Lighting and Remote Controlled Lighting’s luminaires are widely specified for museums and galleries. Recent installations in the UK include The Science Museum, The Museum of Manchester, The Museum of Liverpool, the Imperial War Museum and Tate Britain.

‘Accurate focusing needed in display cases’

Precision Lighting’s luminaires include the Pico range of LED track, monopoint and stem spotlights. They are designed for smooth, accurate focusing and are lockable in pan and tilt. The range, which has featured as Lighting Directory Product of the Month, includes the Pico Zoom, which provides variable beam widths, which are particularly useful in highlighting individual objects within cases.

RCL’s family of remote controlled luminaires enables museums and galleries to reconfigure spaces or relight them as displays change, without the need for scaffolding or ladders.

In 2013, Precision Lighting also hosted a breakfast briefing for leading lighting designers and architects on Lighting Guide 8: Lighting for Museums and Art Galleries, which is expected to be published in mid-2014, and the MA’s Museums 2020 initiative on the future of institutions.



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