Concord by Sylvania UK

Optimising museum lighting for flexibility and functionality: Q&A with Concord by Sylvania UK

Image: Lighting from Concord by Sylvania UK at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum

To better grasp how museums can improve their spaces and exhibitions through the thoughtful application of lighting solutions, we spoke with David Neale, marketing manager at Concord by Sylvania UK.

What difference can optimised lighting make to a museum or gallery space?

Lighting can have a huge impact on visitor experience. 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.

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. Another important consideration is that in some cases light can cause negative effects on the very objects visitors come to see.

At what stage of a new or renovated exhibition space’s design process should lighting decisions be made?

Decisions about the lighting should be considered early on in the project. 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.

A lighting scheme must be adaptable and flexible. 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.

The Concord by Sylvania UK lighting scheme at London's Design Museum

How important is flexible lighting to museum clients and how do Concord solutions deliver this?

Flexibility is key when it comes to a museum space. Exhibits change regularly and events or specific features need to be adapted quickly. Museum can’t 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.

Concord by Sylvania has a number of spotlight solutions that are designed to deliver customizability and flexibility including the Beacon Muse Tune and Beacon Muse Xicato:

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. The luminaire’s manual focusing ring allows the user to customise the beam angle from a tight 10º spot to a 40º flood, providing complete flexibility in how the light is emitted and making it perfect for highlighting displays and exhibits. Some of the Beacon Muse Tune models feature two adjustable potentiometers located at the base of the spotlight, which lets users manually control the colour temperature and dimming of the spotlight.

The Beacon Muse Xicato utilises the Xicato Artist LED module and boasts improved optical control, ultra-high colour rendering. It provides an exciting accent and display lighting tool that uses cutting-edge LED technology and ancient lens principles to create a fully adjustable spotlight. With its impressive CRI of 98, the Beacon Muse Xicato spotlight ensures that all 99 TM-30 colour samples can be showcased in their full vibrancy. It is the ideal spotlight for museum, gallery and retail applications where a high quality of light is required.

New technology can also 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.

Should lighting choices differ substantially between large and small exhibition spaces? If so, how?

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.

How do lighting options differ between varying museum areas and spaces?

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.

Additionally, when you are lighting museum and gallery spaces it is often a refurbishment project. That means there are time constraints on how long the space can be closed, as well as working with existing lighting schemes that need to be updated or completely changed.

The Beacon Muse Xicato

How vital is the correct lighting to ensure the safety and longevity of artworks?

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.