Light and shadow have long intrigued artists, architects, and scientists throughout history. We witness their impact in art and architecture, influencing how we perceive reality and our emotions. In philosophy, this duality symbolizes the contrast between those who grasp life’s true nature and those who remain oblivious with closed “eyes.”
In museums and galleries, for example, art is displayed for public consumption and appreciation, which is where lighting makes a true difference. The right light shapes the viewer’s experience and interaction with the artwork, making lighting design more than just a basic element – it is a form of art in itself as it is able to elevate a piece’s aesthetic appeal.
The right lighting also sets the tone of a room and creates the perfect atmosphere for a viewer to get immersed into a whole new world. Light can guide the visitor’s focus and movement throughout an exhibition, creating a kind of fluidity between the person and the art, plus with the building itself.
On another note, illumination is also crucial in the preservation of art. Many materials are sensitive to light, so a thoughtful lighting design can prevent degradation by adapting a piece’s exposure to excessive or improper lighting.
Great Examples of Award-Winning Museum Lighting Designs
Let’s explore a selection of exceptional award-winning museum lighting designs that enhance the overall visitor experience.
The Deutsches Romantikmuseum in Frankfurt is the world’s first museum dedicated to the Romantic era. It presents unique originals with innovative forms of exhibition, allowing visitors to experience the Romantic period fully. The architectural and object lighting were meticulously designed to enhance the romantic impression of the exhibits, putting Goethe himself in a new light. The museum offers a multimedia, synesthetic implementation of ideas, works, and personal constellations from the Romantic era, completed in 2021 by Atelier Deluxe.
DPA Lighting Consultants, led by Director Lee Sweetman, crafted the lighting design for Al Maktoum Residence, the Perfume House, and Story of the Creek at the Al Shindagha Museum. The lighting concept is pragmatic and flexible, highlighting architectural features to reveal colour, contrast, form, and texture, thereby reinforcing the sense of heritage within the building. Traditional exhibits like maps and vessels and contemporary ones like interactive screens and models are illuminated to enhance their tactile and material qualities. Conservation and precision in illumination played a crucial role, especially for sensitive exhibits, ensuring maximum function with minimal impact.
Hangar C, located in Athens, Greece, is a former aircraft hangar of the Hellenic Air Force that was transformed into one of the world’s most visually impressive visitor centers. Led by Eleftheria Deko, Eleftheria Deko & Associates Lighting Design revitalized the hangar by creating five thematic zones across the 4800m² area. The lighting scheme accentuates the structure while being discreetly integrated into the building. The exterior lighting scheme reveals the architectural volume of the hangar, highlighting the materiality and texture of the building. All lighting is controlled by a sophisticated architectural lighting control system, ensuring maximum flexibility for special events and functions.
Frick Madison is a place where history and modernity are blended together. While Henry Clay Frick’s private home is being upgraded, the Old Masters art collection is being kept at the iconic Marcel Breuer-designed building on Madison Avenue. Led by Anita Jorgensen Lighting Design, the project adopts a stark, contemporary appearance, contrasting with the mansion’s Gilded Age setting. The lighting approach consists of three layers: a soft wash of light brushing the walls, highlighting the paintings without creating harsh blobs of light, and ambient light evenly illuminating the floor. Per the Financial Times, “…the perfect way to see the masterpieces for the first time. Perfectly lit, generously spaced, and hung at eye level against gunmetal grey walls, they seem to glow from within.”
Sala Matta, located in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile, is a space dedicated to temporary art exhibitions that was redesigned by Limari Lighting Design, led by Carolina Roese. The team aimed to improve the volume of the room by changing the color of the ceilings from black, allowing them to act as secondary reflectors. A metallic grid holds energized tracks for the installation of mobile museography lighting equipment and indirect service lighting towards the ceiling. The lighting of the exhibited objects is carried out with fixtures installed on the tracks with adjustable photometry, a CRI of 92, and a 3000K color temperature. The service and ambient indirect lighting equipment are DALI controlled and operated by a control system from a tablet, completed in November 2021.
The museums above serve as perfect examples that light and shadow, when infused with vision and creativity, have the ability to transform spaces into profound and immersive experiences that leave a mark on our minds and hearts.