Near the base of St. Louis’s Gateway Arch lies another, lesser-known, Eero Saarinen creation: a museum and visitor center submerged below grade. A subtle but impactful lighting scheme by Tillotson Design Associates (TDA) has helped transform the recently rebuilt destination, which features exhibitions on westward expansion in America and the arch’s construction.
To entice visitors to the underground museum from the vast daylit park and plaza, a brilliant, indirectly lit ceiling creates the impression of a lobby flooded with daylight, providing a visual connection between the subterranean space and outside environment. Despite its expanse, the ceiling reveals no visible light sources. Each run of indirect, linear LEDs is zoned separately, allowing the ground floor and lower levels to be dimmed gradually with 11 preset scenes programmed to respond to ambient conditions. The range of color temperatures, from 2700K to 5500K, creates a gradient of cool white light at the daylit glazed entrance to warmer white light at the lower, centralized floors of the main exhibition space.
At dusk, TDA helps guide visitors to the museum via a softly uplit, curved tri-wire wall that rings the exterior plaza and continues to the interior canopy entrance, with LED grazers tucked inside a recessed trough. Small, louvered linear LED downlights integrated into the canopy mullions illuminate the main entrance and adjacent exterior planting.
In the interstitial area between the primary exhibition space and low-lit underground tram entrances, perimeter light coves positioned inside each of the existing ceiling coffers enhances this previously overlooked architectural feature.
Close collaboration among the architects, manufacturers, and lighting designers helped inform material choices, finishes, and specialty mounting details. TDA created full-scale mock-ups to ensure that foot-candle levels were achieved while meeting energy code requirements.
A vibrant extension to St. Louis’s premier tourist attraction, the reimagined museum has given community members of all ages an enjoyable and exciting gathering space.
“Conditions vary throughout the project, yet the lighting integrates perfectly into the architecture.” —Rebecca Ho-Dion, lighting design director, ALULA Lighting Design
Project Name: Gateway Arch Museum and Visitor Center, St. Louis, Mo.
Client/Owner: Gateway Arch Park Foundation
Architect: Cooper Robertson, New York • Scott Newman, FAIA, Andrew Barwick, Erin Flynn
Entry Architect: James Carpenter Design Associates, New York • James Carpenter, Joseph Welker, Kate Wyberg McClellan
Associate Architect: Trivers, St. Louis • Joel Fuoss, AIA, David Lott, AIA, Shaun Dodson, AIA
Lighting Designer: Tillotson Design Associates, New York • Suzan Tillotson, Ellen Sears, Katherine Lindsay
Landscape Architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates
Landscape Lighting Designer: Randy Burkett Lighting Design
Structural Engineer: Alper Audi
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: IMEG Corp.
General Contractor: McCarthy Building Cos., Guarantee Electric Co.
Electrical Contractor: Guarantee Electric Co.
Exhibit Designer: Haley Sharpe Design
Rod Ceiling Manufacturer: Durlum
Photographers: Sam Fentress, Nic Lehoux
Project Size: 90,000 square feet
Project Cost: $176 million
Watts per Square Foot: 1.03 watt per square foot (20% below ASHRAE required)
Code Compliance: ASHRAE 90.1-2007, Denver Science Center Code (National Park Service), LEED Gold certification
Manufacturers: Nanometer Lighting, Electrix, Zumtobel Lighting, USAI Lighting, Lighting Services Inc., ETC