The New York Historical Society Museum

    170 Central Park West, New York, NY, USA

    Photo Credits: Jonathan Wallen

    New York history gets a façade lift, and new light

    The New-York Historical Society is a renowned cultural institution dedicated to exploring the "dynamism" of local and national history, and its enduring impact, through research, exhibitions, and public programming. Over the past decade, the society has exemplified its commitment to furthering public access and education through a lofty initiative to revitalize its facilities, installations, and program offerings. At the crux of these efforts was a three-year renovation of the society's prestigious museum — the oldest in New York City and a designated landmark.

    Founded in 1804, the New-York Historical Society Museum has been a city staple for centuries. Today, it holds over 1.6 million art pieces covering a plethora of genres and mediums, including American portraits, historical paintings, sculpture — even a collection of folk art furniture and home accessories. In order to give the museum an architectural presence fitting of these illustrious acquisitions, the New-York Historical Society, headed by Vice President of Operations Andrew Buonapastore, embarked on what was, according to the society's website, its "most ambitious construction project since the completion of the existing building in 1938." The renovation, completed in 2011, consisted of major interior additions, including new galleries and a new restaurant, and significant exterior improvements, such as the installation of informational kiosks and increased entrance space. The most striking element of the museum's exterior renovation is the beautiful LED lighting from Color Kinetics that now enlivens the east façade.

    Illuminating the façade was no easy feat, even for internationally acclaimed lighting designer Anne Militello. Contracted by the project's architectural group, Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, Militello set to work lighting the 5 m (16 ft) high, 2.7 m (9 ft) wide windows lining the building's side. To create an artistic lighting piece reflective of the museum's interior, she first transformed the windows, which are sealed to allow for extra exhibition space, into a dynamic video screen. By stringing 280 3 m (10 ft) long strands of Color Kinetics iColor Flex SLX (now specified with Flex Compact gen3, RGB) along the seven individual window backs, she merged the defunct windows into a single canvas across which she could splash custom light shows.

    But before Militello could bring the light shows to life, she had to gain the approval of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee.

    Charged with upholding the museum's historical integrity, the committee had final say over every facet of the renovation process, including Militello's design. Its members deliberated over numerous renderings of Militello's proposed lighting schemes and chose their favorite: an amber skyscape accented by smoky clouds that drift across the repurposed window panes.

    In addition to lighting the east façade, Militello used 14 610 mm (2 ft) ColorGraze Powercore (now specified with ColorGraze IntelliHue Powercore) luminaires to uplight the large metal window grilles that flank the building's north and south sides. Militello and programmer Ryan O'Gara also created eleven more schemes — a vibrant collection of video footage and original art comprised of more skyscapes, stained glass window effects, and scrolling text — for the committee's consideration.

    Since the renovation, visitors — including President Obama and President Clinton — have flocked to the museum, and its lively new LED lighting has played a significant part in the mass appeal. According to Militello, "The museum has become one of the nicest attractions in New York City. The outside signals this amazing new venue — and the windows are the magic."
    Project credits

    Lighting Designer:

    Anne Militello, Vortex Lighting

    Project Manager:

    Andrew Buonapastore, Vice President of Operations, New-York Historical Society


    Ryan O'Gara


    Platt Byard Dovell White Architects, LLP

    Video Artists:

    Julia Heyward and Daniel Brodie

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