Lighting the way to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture

WE-EF LIGHTING’s sleek high-performance RFL540 LED street and area lighting luminaires are a key contributor to the after-dark experience of the newest Smithsonian Museum, now recorded on a commemorative USPS stamp.

Following decades of effort, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, which is devoted to the documentation of African American life, history, and culture, opened its doors on 24 September 2016. Designed by Freelon Adjaye Bond and SmithGroupJJR, it is a glorious five-storey 400,000 square-foot building that is home to more than 36,000 artifacts. On 13 October 2017, the U.S. Postal Service released a ‘Forever’ stamp commemorating the building.

The concept for the museum is based on a crown or ‘corona’ form, clad in intricately detailed bronze that expresses ideas of faith, hope and resilience. At night, the corona glows from the inside, creating stunning vistas within the context of the building’s National Mall setting. Indeed, the architectural and landscape design is deliberately crafted to include ‘framed perspectives’ – unique views incorporating other important buildings such as The White House and the Washington Monument that provide, “a view of America through the lens of the African American experience”.

Lighting and landscape
According to SmithGroupJJR, the landscape is very much “an integral part of the threshold experience” of the museum. One of the major features of the landscape design is the intersecting stone pathway that follows a curvilinear route through the lawn-covered areas surrounding the building. This pathway plays a crucial role in positioning visitors to experience the full impact of the perspectives on offer.

The design of the lighting for this pathway addresses several key aspects. First, it was essential to precisely control the light. This ensures that while there is enough light for the safety and security of pedestrians, it does not cause glare in the various viewing directions, or infringe on the beauty of the architecture. From an aesthetic point of view, both the design and finish of the luminaire and column needed to be in harmony with the architecture. Finally, the lighting was required to meet modern energy efficiency targets, in line with the target of achieving LEED Gold Certification.

WE-EF’s RFL540 LED luminaire supplied with the [S70] lens was the solution selected by lighting design studio Fisher Marantz Stone to meet these exacting requirements. While the ‘70’ refers to the nominal angle of peak intensity from nadir (downward vertical), it is the tight control of ‘candela’ intensifies in the critical zone above 80° that ensures superior glare control and dark skies compliance. Light is directed only where it is needed, delivering the best possible illumination levels and uniformity.

An additional consideration for the designers was the colour quality of the light source. The LEDs are supplied in an inviting warm 3000 K, complementary to the bronze glow of the architecture and the warm tones in the stone paving.

Juergen Boenisch, President/CEO of WE-EF LIGHTING USA commented: “The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is an important institution that we are honored to be a part of. Our RFL540 LED combines form and function, enabling visitors to focus on the surrounding views without glare. Knowing that the Museum will be memorialized on a US Postage Stamp, we are thrilled that, in this way, our products, too, will live on ‘forever’.”

Photography: Alexis Nollet

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