Architectural lighting works hand-in-hand with building design to create an atmosphere of worship
Carolyn Heinze · February 20, 2009
Everyone’s had a similar experience: feeling relaxed and at ease in a cozy bookstore; being impatient to get out of a stark, noisy restaurant where comfortable dining seems to have been omitted from the menu; or, enjoying that warm sense of welcome when invited into someone’s home. They may be inanimate objects, but buildings have their own personalities—and while much of this depends on their occupants, a lot is related to not only their design, but also how they are lit.
In churches, architectural lighting encompasses everything other than the theatrical lighting, such as house lighting within the worship center and the general lighting within the facility: the corridor, hallways, classrooms, offices and bathrooms, and accents on walls. Because the ultimate goal is to prepare people to share in worship, architectural lighting plays a crucial role in setting the tone.
“You want to create mood and prepare the occupant for something—either something that is going to happen there, or something that will take place in another room,” says K. Paul Luntsford, president of PLA Designs Inc., a theater planning and lighting consultancy based in Aloha, Ore., and a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America’s Recommended Practices Committee for Lighting Houses of Worship. “It not only provides general illumination; it provides an opportunity to experience the environment you’re in—in the way that the church wanted you to.”
For example, a lobby serves as an assembly space for before and after the worship service, but it also acts as transition space: it’s the place that people travel through on their way from the congested drive to church and into the worship sanctuary. “The lighting not only provides way-finding and the ability to see, it should also support the nature of the space,” Luntsford said.
Craig Krawczyk, AIA, LEED Accredited Professional and project architect at Garrison Barrett Group in Birmingham, Ala., notes that good lighting can also alter the occupant’s perception of the size of a space. He uses a church sanctuary as an example: “In larger churches, architectural lighting helps to make a large room feel a lot more intimate when you set the mood with the lighting,” he explains. “It also helps a small room to feel larger.”
Construction vs. Retrofits
As is the case with any construction project, retrofits present more of a challenge because you’re not starting with a clean slate. One of the biggest factors in retrofit projects is electrical wiring: getting it around the building is not as easy as it is in new construction, because there is an existing infrastructure to deal with. “You have to ask: if I put a light there, what is it going to [impact], and what is it going to cost to get the electricity there?” Luntsford illustrates. In a remodel, he adds, the cost of the fixtures themselves isn’t the major component. “The major component may be what it takes to get your electrical infrastructure properly situated.”
In a new construction, however, Luntsford cautions against installing too much infrastructure. “A lighting system, when well designed, should only feature as much conduit and wire as it absolutely needs to in order to do its job,” he underlines. Every piece of wire and conduit that is installed—and not used to its optimum potential—is, after all, an added cost.
Size Matters … Sort Of
The size and scope of a building has an impact on the architectural lighting design, however every building is different, and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. There are, however, some commonalities: a 300-seat church probably won’t feature an 80-foot ceiling—unless, of course, it’s got a high ridge in the middle and slopes down the sides. In this case, Luntsford notes, a small church may be faced with the same issues as a 2,000-seat facility. “To a certain degree, the size of the church isn’t a good predictor for your options,” he says.
In general, however, the bigger you are, the higher your ceiling is, and the issue becomes: how are you going to change the lamps when they burn out? “It may seem really great when you design it and when you first open the building, but a year down the road, how are you going to change those bulbs?” Luntsford pointed out. “The church needs to consider that as a priority, because it [can] be a problem once all of the contractors are gone.”
Donnie Haulk, principal at Audio Ethics in Charlotte, N.C., notes that maintenance is a key issue in determining what lighting design is right for your facility. Some churches opt to hang their lights so high that they require a lift to change the bulbs—which is fine if the facility has access to a lift. However, if you’re going to invest in a lift, it’s necessary to ensure that you can get it into the space in the first place. “If you have to use a lift, make the building so that you have a door big enough to put a lift through,” he emphasizes.
Some churches opt to invest in catwalks for maintenance purposes, while others opt to use ladders. “You can do an architectural downlight design and use a catwalk so that you never have to use a ladder to change lights,” Haulk says, however, sometimes this plan backfires. “A lot of churches don’t install catwalks because of the initial budget, but when you think that you are going to have to pay $40,000 or $60,000 for a lift, the catwalk is not so expensive anymore.”
In smaller sanctuaries, lighting can often be configured into one zone, Krawczyk notes, while multiple zones in larger spaces can be used, again, to create a sense of intimacy for smaller events. “In medium-sized and large rooms, you can zone the architectural lighting so that you can turn sections of seating on and off,” he explains. For example, during weddings and funerals—when attendance may not be as abundant as during regular services—the lights can be turned off in the sections where no one is seated. “The zoning of the lighting helps a lot in controlling the feel of the space,” he adds.
Saving Energy Saves Dollars
Ned Ruykhaver, AIA, project manager at Garrison Barrett Group notes that in worship centers, the main architectural lighting is often made up of incandescent fixtures. “This is often balanced with a combination of fluorescent fixtures for non-service times, when cleaning the facility or working in the actual space,” he says. “These are turned off during services, and incandescent fixtures are used for house lighting.”
In other areas—such as classrooms, offices and restrooms—fluorescent fixtures are controlled with occupancy sensors. “That helps to balance out wattage usage standards by making sure that these fixtures aren’t being used all the time,” Ruykhaver says.
Luntsford warns, however, that a balance must be struck between energy efficiency and setting that all-important tone. “Some sources are very efficient, but they are terrible for color,” he notes. “Or, some sources are very efficient, but you can’t dim them or step their intensity level down with a stepping system.”
Control Helps Efficiency
Not only do many control systems—especially those that can be programmed remotely—save time in managing what areas of the facility need to be lit and when, but they also prevent spaces from being illuminated when they don’t need to be. Luntsford advises churches to invest in a control system that doesn’t allow the casual user to come in and turn everything on (forgetting, as is often the case, to turn everything off again when they leave). “To go beyond that during the week, you need to be the right person with the right authorization code and the keys to the room where the main brain lives,” he says. “That extra investment will leverage mammoth savings opportunity over the life of the building, in terms of not replacing lamps prematurely and not burning more lamps than you have to.”
Striking the Balance
While churches have a responsibility to promote energy efficiency as much as they can, it’s equally necessary to remain true to the goal of the facility. “We are doing a highly subjective, aesthetically driven space where there will be all different levels of emotion that are played out at the conscious and the subconscious level,” Luntsford says. The lighting, he notes, must support this. “If we go completely towards green while forgetting the unique nature of the space, we will have failed. On the other hand, if we approach it with only the aesthetic in mind without designing with reasonable respect for the cost of those resources, we are being irresponsible as well. There is a balance that exists that is relatively unique to the worship setting, and we have to make sure that we remember that.”
SIDEBAR: Spotlight on Church-Relevant Products
Barco: Lighting Meets Video for Production Barco, which now counts High End Systems under its umbrella, offers the High End Systems DL.3 and the Barco DML-1200 digital lighting luminaires that combine lighting and video effects into one unit. With this technology, users can change their set design on the fly—a feature designed to reduce hardware costs and labor. The need for structural sets is minimized thanks to the units’ ability to create panoramic configurations quickly.
The DL.3 features Collage Generator software enabling users to create large, blended projections with selectable aspect ratio. Equipped with an integrated media server library of 1,400 lighting-optimized files of stock images, this product also allows users to customize presentations by downloading their own images.
The DML-1200 plays the dual role of moving light or DLP video projector, and can be used for live image magnification (IMAG) thanks to several features that eliminate frame delays associated with media servers.
ETC Unison Paradigm Designed with churches in mind, the ETC Unison Paradigm system combines two worlds—theatrical and architectural lighting—for better overall lighting control, resulting in a more energy-efficient system.
“Churches need to have both energy management features that satisfy the facility requirements and allow the facility to operate very efficiently, as well as have the types of performance requirements that you might find in modern houses of worship, where they might be running several different types of rehearsals throughout the week and then several different services throughout the weekend,” observes Joe Bokelman, architectural market manager at ETC in Middleton, Wis.
Each event has different requirements, and while they could be handled using a combination of a lighting console and a traditional push-button architectural system, the Paradigm blends both together, giving users the option of running everything through a lighting console, or through the Paradigm system itself. This includes the management of complex scenarios, moving lights, LED arrays and dimmable fixtures—fluorescent or incandescent—occupancy sensing and daylight harvesting from the push of a button.
Leprecon’s Aris Architectural Interface System The Aris Architectural Interface System from Leprecon is reportedly ideal for controlling the lighting within a church facility. The Aris system can be a part of the facility network and can be programmed to create the atmosphere for each area of the worship center. Using the Aris application software on a PC, everyone from secretaries to the facility manager can easily recall the settings using a thumbnail picture representing one of the area(s). User limits can also be set on the software.
The software allows for up to eight different rooms (tabs) with 24 looks per room so users have several settings per area (day, evening, services, etc.).
Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash FX Luminaire Addressing the user’s need for flexibility, Vari-Lite has introduced the VL3500 FX Wash Luminaire that combines wash and spot luminaire capabilities into one unit. The color bulkhead is fitted with one pattern wheel with four spring-loadable rotatable and indexable 50 mm glass patterns, as well as one open position. The VL3500 has an output exceeding 50,000 lumens, and features an interchangeable front lens system that allows users to transform a bright wash light to one that projects images and aerial effects.