A monolith of light and shadow
von | Apr 21, 2010

This mix of natural and electric lighting is characteristic of the building, says Teal Brogden, Senior Principal of the Los Angeles office of Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, and the lighting designer responsible for the project. "The wonderful thing about natural lighting is that it continually changes in colour and intensity, depending on the weather, the time of day and year. Electric lighting, on the other hand, tends to be constant and in the warmer end of the spectral range. This worked well for us to support the concept that as you approached the heart of the building, the light became warmer and more intense - like the center of a meteor" Thus, visitors in the stairwell experience varying moods: bluish natural lighting predominates on the upper storeys, whereas lower down this is mixed with increasingly warm electric lighting. The lighting designers were able to implement their striking concept using only one type of spotlight, the Vivo spotlight system of Zumtobel Lighting Company.

Where there is light, there is also shadow: this dialectic has been quite deliberately dramatised in the architecture of the Cooper Union. The New York Times speculated on Thom Mayne‘s architectural design in the following terms: "Like other radical architects of his age, he is more interested in the dark, hidden corners where people can loiter, get into mischief, escape from authority." Teal Brogden laughs at this criticism of the new college building and explains: "In the atrium, we intentionally left a few corners, behind the stairs for example, somewhat darker. When we finished, the client asked whether we had forgotten something there. We explained that, in the entrance area in particular, we wanted to achieve a sense of drama. That's why only parts of the space are brightly lit and illuminated like a stage. The rest is shadow."

Follwing lighting solutions by Zumtobel were used at this project
Atrium and stairwell: spotlights VIVO, spotlights SPIRIT
Classrooms, laboratories, artists' studios, conference rooms: downlights (1 and 2-lamp, integrated into the heating and cooling panels in the ceiling)
Offices: SPHEROS
Laboratories: continuous row lighting system RTX
WCs: special solution downlights

The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, New York/USA. All photos © Zumtobel Lighting