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Museum Lighting understanding how lighting brings exhibits to life

By David Neale, Marketing Manager at Concord by Sylvania UK  

In any museum, lighting plays an essential role in the visitor’s experience. From a functional perspective, lighting plays a vital role in guiding visitors through their museum or gallery experience. The lighting of museums and gallery spaces needs to highlight and accentuate the texture, colour and shape of exhibits, whether they are historic artefacts, modern art, 2D paintings or 3D sculptures. So achieving excellence in aesthetic quality for this space is paramount.

Light influences human behaviour, affects mood, and changes perceptions. Through careful lighting choices, you can evoke all sorts of sensations and feelings in visitors. From creating anticipation on arrival to communicating drama or contemplation within the exhibition space, lighting has a key role to play in creating an emotional experience.

Lighting has a huge part to play in guiding visitors through your space, physically and emotionally. There are a number of key challenges that you will encounter when choosing the right lighting for your collections.

So, how do you ensure the lighting choices you make are the right ones?

Firstly, lighting choices should be tailored to each and every space. Whether the space is large or small, all museums are unique and the lighting should be treated in on a case by case basis. It is often not the size of the space that is the main issue as a choice can be made of high or lower output fittings to meet the ceiling heights of the space – but more the atmosphere is being created with the lighting. For example in areas of high contrast between dark and light spaces, fewer light fittings are requirement but each must have tight beam angle control and the ability to adjust the colour of the light and the light levels to the exact requirements of the space. Conversely areas of low contrast need more light fittings, but will wider beam angle control to allow the light to fill the whole space as required.

When you are creating a lighting design for a museum you need to carefully consider the displays and whether you are installing spotlights to highlight particular exhibits or artwork, washing a wall with light or illuminating a wide-open space such as an atrium. There are also a number of different areas within museums. There will be the galleries, corridors, restaurants, bookshops, even meeting rooms and auditoriums. Each space will require different lighting solutions offering different benefits to the occupant and building.

You want the lighting to be as unobtrusive to the design of the space as possible but also provide the right lit effect. That requires careful thought and planning. In the renovation of new build process, museum curators may not know exactly what exhibits will be displayed and how they will look. The lighting should be able to adapt, whether that’s in terms of positioning or beam angle, according to the needs of the exhibition or events.

As the exhibitions can change regularly, an important requirement unique to this sector is flexibility to completely change the position and style of lighting from one collection to another, requiring an adjustable and flexible system to accommodate the changing moods within a museum.

A museum cannot have a space closed off to visitors for long periods because the lighting is not working effectively. As such, it is important that the museum has the ability to completely change the position and style of lighting from one collection to another. It needs to be easy and simple and work with any display that the museum is going to introduce.

New technology can help as we now have the ability to introduce smart, intelligent, sophisticated but easy to use and install control systems. By utilising controls, museums and galleries can ensure the lighting is turned off when spaces are unoccupied and even set unique scenes to create the right ambience. The latest controls can also be integrated into the luminaire meaning no extra cabling or installation is required thus saving time, money and more importantly energy throughout the lighting system’s lifespan. The control systems are very easy to use from a tablet-based App, wall switches for scene setting or automatic sensor technology, providing light only where and when it is required. For example, the Beacon Muse Tune’s combination of tuneable colour temperature and adjustable beam angle can create numerous effects. Colour tuning can be done in either of two ways; manual operation or wirelessly via a smartphone when using the SylSmart smart phone application.

it is an essential component for museums to represent exhibits in the right way, in a way that reflects their history and provides visitors with an accurate representation of the object which is being viewed. A major task for any light source chosen for a museum or gallery is to represent colours accurately. This is essential if artefacts are to be displayed in as close to their original state as possible allowing texture, colour and shape – whether of historic artefacts, paintings, fabrics or sculptures – to be fully appreciated. For instance with a CRI of 98, the Beacon Muse Xicato spotlight ensures that all 99 TM-30 colour samples can be showcased in their full vibrancy

In some cases, light can cause negative effects on the very objects visitors come to see. Valuables such as paintings, textiles, leather, photographs, books and paper, or mounted specimens can actually be damaged by light itself, so museums must take special care to avoid unnecessary light damage by carefully managing the light levels within the exhibition space.

When it was introduced, LED technology revolutionised the lighting world and continues to do so. The initial benefits of LED compared to Halogen for example were around energy efficiency, reducing power consumption from 50w to 13w for the same light output. However additionally previous traditional light sources required filters to help protect objects which are sensitive to light, whereas modern LED technology does not create the same levels of IR & UV light and is therefore better suited for sensitive light environments such as galleries and museums.