Design & Construction

Inside the Realm of Architectural Lighting

First Congregational Church (FCC) of Los Angeles

Architectural lighting tranforms First Congregational Church (FCC) of Los Angeles.

Martin Sinderman  ·  January 23, 2015

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Your sanctuary can have the most ornate artwork and furnishings in the world.  But without the right type of lighting in place, it’s going to be difficult for you to show off these features to their best advantage.

Welcome to the realm of architectural lighting.  Part art and part science, this is a combination of the fields of architectural and electrical engineering that focuses on effectively using lighting to bring out the best in buildings and their interiors.

And because of the importance of visual displays and productions in many aspects of today’s houses of worship, getting the light right can make a big difference in how effectively you get your message across – or not.

First Congregational Church (FCC) of Los Angeles
The main sanctuary was spectacular.  Its stained glass windows were beautiful. The carved-oak pews, doors, organ cases, and chancel furniture were stunning. The 20,000-plus pipes comprising the world’s largest church pipe organ were magnificent in both sound and appearance.

But it was so dark inside the sanctuary of First Congregational Church (FCC) of Los Angeles that was extremely hard to visually appreciate all the spectacle, beauty, and majesty of the main sanctuary’s furnishings and architectural detail – not to mention that it was hard for church attendees in the pews to see the preacher, or read from hymnals and sing during services.

The problem was that the chandeliers lighting the sanctuary of FCC’s Gothic Revival cathedral, home to the oldest Protestant church in continuous service in Los Angeles, dated back to the building’s completion in 1932.  And they just weren’t up to the job. 

“The sanctuary was dark, and we needed to find a way to increase the lighting inside as much as possible, while keeping the original chandeliers, which we did not want to take down,” recounts Susan Leary, FCC’s chief administrative officer.

It took a pair of lighting professionals hired by FCC to come up with a cost-effective solution.

“The church knew it had a spectacular environment that was, at the same time,  archaic when it came to illumination,” said Matt Levesque, founding principal of First Circle Design LLC, the Newport Beach, California lighting design consultant that supplied the equipment and supervised its installation for this project. 

“It was almost shameful that they had this wonderful pipe organ, furnishings, and the architecture itself – but none of it was properly illuminated because the lighting technology of today was not available when the church was built,” he says.

FCC had a couple of routes it could follow to address its lighting deficit, according to
Mitchell Payton of ShowPro Inc., a Los Angeles-based sound, lighting, video, projection and staging products and services provider who served

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Design & Construction · Technology · Lighting · Case Study · Architectural Design · Architectural Lighting · Cathedral · Design · Gothic · LED · All Topics


Martin Sinderman
Martin Sinderman is an Atlanta-based freelance writer.
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