Lighting Adds to the Graphic Quality of New York’s Poster House

At the city's newest museum—next in our series on lighting schemes around the world—LTL Architects and Lumen Architecture use LEDs to heighten the atmosphere of a sensitive adaptive reuse project.
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Courtesy Michael Moran/OTTO

The anomalous double-height through-block space of the Poster House in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood is sundered as if by a giant stylus pen. One side of this diagonal demarcation preserves 19th-century architectural details—shallow barrel vaults, unvarnished brick, cast-iron columns, maple flooring—while the other is rendered in smooth concrete and climate-conditioned for the presentation of graphic works.

The shift from the public gathering spaces to galleries is signaled by changes in material, surface texture, and light. In the former area, LTL Architects retained the terra-cotta arches and brick, enhancing these features by means of ambient light. The scheme, developed by Lumen Architecture, uses taut LED foil strips to uplight the vaults, which glow with a somewhat eerie luminescence. “The strips are so slight they almost disappear, to the point that some people couldn’t tell where the lighting was coming from,” says Lumen founder Nelson Jenkins. For Marc Tsurumaki, a principal and founding partner at LTL, the effect “creates a much-needed rhythm in this 200-foot-long space.”

A concrete canopy and poured in place floors set off the galleries, where the lighting team specified museum-grade track head fixtures. In places the cast-iron columns penetrate the canopy; Lumen wrapped an LED band around their frilly capitals, a sly wink at the architects’ broader strategy of carefully staged excavation. Elsewhere, Jenkins’s team lit the millwork that runs along the exposed brick wall and a light box at the rear 24th Street entrance, where the organization can display large-scale posters.

Of the centralized lighting system (by Lutron), Jenkins enthuses about its precision. “It’s all dimmable,” he says. “The entire space can get to almost 25 foot-candles, but you can dim it down considerably—for example, for a candlelight dinner.”

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Categories: Cultural Architecture, Lighting