The historic Lit Brothers Building is a mixed retail and office space located in the heart of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is comprised of 33 separate buildings that encompass an entire city block. The Lit Brothers Building first opened as a department store in 1891 and has become a cultural icon in the city. With its historic significance and beautiful Victorian architecture, the building has been listed on the National Registry for Historic Places since 1979.
The owner of the Lit Brothers Building was looking for a way to revitalize commerce in and around the building. He decided that new lighting would be the best way to highlight this piece of history and showcase the stunning façade consisting of cast iron, marble, and granite. He called on The Lighting Practice (TLP), a local Philadelphia design firm, to help him with the task.
Illuminating a historically significant structure can pose great challenges, but can also drive creative solutions. The TLP team—Michael Barber, Emad Hasan, Jonathan Cook, and Christopher Hallenbeck—had to take many factors into consideration as they planned the lighting design.
Their main goal was to bring the benefits of a modern LED lighting system to the site while preserving the integrity of the historic architecture. They worked closely with the City of Philadelphia's Historical Commission each step of the way to ensure adherence to the historic and structural guidelines.
To light the façade, TLP installed Philips Color Kinetics ColorGraze MX Powercore grazing fixtures in RBGW in each of the façade's 504 windows. They used low-profile adjustable brackets under each sill. They also used a custom housing painted to match the color of the building so that the fixtures would blend in and go unnoticed by passers-by. TLP also had to make sure the fixtures were mounted and aimed so the light would not shine through the windows and disturb the tenants on the inside.
To complete the lighting design, the beautiful pilasters next to each window were illuminated using high performance Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast Powercore gen4 RGBW.
The fixtures offered a tight beam angle to beautifully illuminate these architectural details but have minimal light spillage into the interior of the building. Overall, because the façade was made of different materials—cast iron, marble, and granite—as well as not being one cohesive structure, TLP worked diligently to perfect the lighting consistency across the various surfaces so the end result would be flawless.
Due to the fact that there were areas on the building's façade where drilling into the building for cabling was restricted and power penetrations were only allowed in one area—the second level—TLP worked with Philips to come up with a solution to meet this requirement. Philips was able to provide custom color cabling, which was then mounted along architectural features to be virtually unnoticeable.
The end result was stunning and gave the historical block a bold, new presence in the city. The building owner can illuminate the building in beautiful white light or have a color-changing façade to reflect holidays, local celebrations, or world events.
"The East Market Street area was once a thriving part of Philadelphia but eventually went out of style," said Hasan. "Only in the past year has the city seen development proposals come to fruition. The Lit Brothers Building is the first of many projects that are helping to create a resurgence in the area."
The new lighting is also seen as an added benefit to support the branding and marketing needs of current as well as potential tenants, especially those in retail. The color-changing façade can be programmed with corporate brand colors and used to enhance advertiser messages on the media screen on the top of the building. In addition, the building is experiencing a new found presence on social media. Many people are snapping and sharing shots of the exquisite façade against the night sky, whereas before photos of the block were rarely posted.
"Our office looks down on the Lits Building," said Michael Barber, Principal at The Lighting Practice. "When you can experience your work every day and know that it enlivens the urban experience and contributes to the revitalization of the city, it's a great feeling."