The Art of Lighting

The Barnes Foundation at dusk.

A series of gardens and hard- and soft-scaped areas surround the museum. Visitors cross a reflecting pool as they enter the museum.

A sensor on the roof—built as a miniature scale-model of the building—reads the galleries’ light levels so that shades can be raised and lowered as needed.

A view from the terrace looking back at the Light Court.

Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien wanted to make sure that the new Barnes was infused with natural light. To that end, one of the main architectural features of the project is the Light Court. Here, museum guests make the transition from the public areas to the galleries. The angled ceiling—the light canopy—captures southern light entering through a huge light box that runs the length of the building and casts it down into the space. The natural light combines with 28W T5 fluorescents and washes the perimeter walls, helping to give the space a sense of scale—and visitors a reference to the time of day.

One of the new exhibition galleries at the Barnes Foundation designed for travelling exhibits.

Lighting remains true in spirit to the layouts of the original Merion site, but a concerted effort was made to light the galleries, not the art. The first gallery that visitors enter is the Main Room. Highlights here include Paul Cezanne’s The Card Players and Georges Seurat’s Models. To address southern light entering the space during winter, when the sun is low, the windows are treated with a UV coating, and outfitted with an automated shading system.

The balcony area on the second floor.

In the galleries on the second floor, T5s concealed in the coves of the clerestories provide additional indirect light to each space.

One of the alcove galleries on the second floor.

Lighting design firm Fisher Marantz Stone devised a scheme that combines natural and electric light in order to create an optimal condition in which to view the art without causing it to fade. “We decided early on that we were not going to light pictures, we were going to light rooms,” says lighting designer Paul Marantz. “The pictures would be lighted because the room is lighted, so no tracks with lots of spotlights.”

In the lower level lobby area, the theme of natural light working in concert with electric light continues. Track-mounted PAR wallwashers illuminate the art on the walls, while a linear fluorescent covelight uplights the concrete-exposed ceiling. Daylight, from the gallery garden seen beyond, makes up the balance of illumination.

A detail of the building's façade.

Site Plan

North–South section through the building.

Ground-Floor Plan

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