Natural vs. Artificial: Mastering Museum Lighting 

Creating the perfect lighting environment in museums can be a delicate balance between art and science, natural and artificial light.



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Let’s talk about museum lighting. On one hand, artificial lighting can be used to create a consistent and controlled atmosphere that is optimal for the display of artwork. On the other hand, natural light can add a unique and dynamic element to the museum experience, bringing life to the artwork and providing a connection to the outside world. The “secret” is always the right balance between artificial and natural lighting in museum environments, looking at the benefits and drawbacks of each approach and how they can be combined to create a truly immersive and engaging experience for visitors. 

Pros and cons of daylight in museum galleries

Daylight offers the advantages of being both environmentally friendly and cost-effective, making it a valuable resource for creating energy-efficient museums. However, uncontrolled use of natural light in museum and gallery spaces can have drawbacks. 

Sunlight can cause overheating or excessively bright illumination that may harm the artwork on display. In response to these challenges, some museums have opted to restrict the entry of daylight into their galleries, as it can be challenging to adequately regulate and maintain conservation standards. However, this approach often involves significant modifications to the original architectural design, particularly affecting heritage museums and galleries. 

Lighting design teams specialized in designing and implementing effective daylight solutions, both active and passive, can control and mitigate the adverse effects of intense light, heat, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. With their expertise, they can ensure the preservation of artworks while maintaining a balanced and controlled lighting environment. 

Reintroducing daylight to the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam underwent a significant refurbishment and modification project in 2001, led by renowned Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz. The original museum design heavily relied on the use of natural daylight. However, over time, the influx of daylight has been diminished by the installation of suspended ceilings and the obstruction of windows. The primary objective of the renovation was to reinstate the prominence of daylight. The lighting team conducted an extensive analysis of expected daylight levels and explored a wide range of options to ensure the appropriate illumination levels within the galleries. 

Rijksmuseum - 2014 - John Lewis Marshall - 04 (JPEG) (1)
1. Rijksmuseum, 2014 - ph. John Lewis Marshall

This involved careful consideration of static and adjustable treatments for windows and skylights. Collaborating closely with the architectural and restoration teams, they meticulously determined the most suitable solutions for each space, aiming to strike a balance between avoiding over-exposure to daylight and maximizing the overall daylight experience for visitors. On the upper floor, the design incorporated laylights within the ceilings and transparent sections within the roofs, allowing the ingress of natural daylight

Eregalerij, 2015 - ph. Erik Smits
2. Eregalerij, 2015 - ph. Erik Smits

To optimize the lighting conditions, the refurbishment entailed the replacement of skylight glazing with diffusion-enhancing materials, as well as the upgrading of daylight glazing to ensure uniform and improved illumination throughout the gallery. Additionally, adjustable louvers were installed in the loft space between the skylight glass and the daylight, granting the ability to fine-tune the levels of daylight according to seasonal variations. 

Eregalerij, 2015 - ph. Erik Smits
2. Eregalerij, 2015 - ph. Erik Smits

As a result of these carefully planned adjustments, the gallery spaces now bathe in a harmonious and consistent light from above, reinstating the original vision of the museum’s daylight intent while adhering to the necessary conservation requirements. The transformation not only honours the heritage of the museum but also ensures an engaging and visually pleasing experience for visitors. 

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