The Materiality of Light

Rarely does one see light as a material. Most often lighting plays the role of supporting actor, highlighting the materiality or decoration of surfaces it illuminates, rather than holding the starring role itself. That changed for us this year as we had the opportunity to design the renovation and expansion of an abandoned 14,000 s.f. two-story building in Center City Philadelphia into a restaurant + nightclub. The client sought spaces that could transform from being a romantic dinner venue to pulsing dance nightclub with little effort. We turned to lighting to make such transitions easy and dramatic.


Our inspiration for using light as the subject came from artist James Turrell’s light installations, such as “Red Around” installed at ARC, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris (shown above). While Mr. Turrell’s works from that period (1980’s) were static installations, they certainly rendered colored light as an exciting and palpable substance. By using current LED (light emitting diode) lighting technology (instead of fluorescent lamps as Turrell used in the above piece) we were able to plan a dynamic range of effects and mood environments. Use of mixed lamp sources (red, amber, green and/or blue) enables virtually any color to be achieved. Shifts in coloration and intensity can be digitally controlled as slow fades, rapid pulses or anything in between. On the exterior, the two street facades were designed as “tunable” instruments of light. Along the long façade, LED edge-lit translucent vertical “light fins” are used to create both static and animated colored light effects.

The project received a 2008 Award of Design Excellence from the Society of American Registered Architects (SARA). The jury commended our transformation of a derelict building into an urban oasis.

[23 Oct. ’08 SARA awards program – Ed Barnhart, AIA]

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