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Spotlight: MFA Boston

Spotlight: MFA Boston

A system of fixed and motorized louvers allows daylight to blend with incandescent lights.
Nigel Young / Foster and Partners

This project is one section of AN‘s five-part feature on architectural lighting, "Sharing the Spotlight."   

Clockwise from top: Light shows through the glass facade at dusk; diffusers filter natural light in the new wing; Barristol fabric panels filter daylight and dimmable fluorescents in the lobby; the same approach is used in circulation spaces.
Courtesy MFA Boston (top) and Nigel Young / Foster and Partners
 

The louvers are perhaps the most complex aspect of the design. In the courtyard they are fixed, but once inside the gallery, motorized louvers provide a rare museum opportunity: a view of the sky. The fixed louvers were fabricated by Simplex in Canada, while the motorized components were made by Nysan/Hunter Douglas. In the Twentieth Century galleries the track lights are no longer flush with the louvers, but drop slightly.

As the light-filled courtyard sits just off the central galleries, indirect light floods all three levels. Close proximity to the older buildings also permits indirect light to pour through side windows. Throughout, a color temperature of 3,000 Kelvin is maintained, though the indirect natural light swings from 3,000 to 6,500, meaning even upon repeated visits to the museum, visitors will rarely have the same experience twice.

From the outside, the museum strives for warmth over chilly monumentality. “In order for the building to have an identity, we wanted it to glow from within,” said Sexton. “We utilized wall lighting to give it a residential glow.” The warm light bounces off the back of the gallery walls which sit nestled within the glass box of the exterior curtain wall.

“It’s an iterative process,” Jones said of the collaboration with Sexton. “George would reign us in, telling us when what we wanted to do was absolutely not possible.” Sexton was present for the biweekly meetings with client, architect, and curators. “The result is you have this constant awareness of the light,” said Jones. “It’s just a continuum, you have a constant source but you just tweak the amount at any given time. It’s a gentle flow, so there’s no jumpy breaks, and that was hard to do. People walk around, and I don’t think they realize the engineering that it went through.”


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