Illuminating St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, CA

In Uncategorized by tfwm

“It is with light that we can bring soul and spirit back into architecture and perhaps, find our own soul in the process.”
– Arthur Erickson

This erudite thought is particularly useful when considering spiritual spaces. Historically, spiritual spaces were designed to create a sense of wonder while looking at beautiful architectural ceilings modeled by color and light. This action replicates the thought of looking “heavenward” to the Light. When we look at renovating spiritual spaces, we evaluate how to restore that sense of color and light to enhance the worship experience.

Many times we find the spaces have been degraded in an effort to conserve energy and reduce maintenance costs without proper consideration to maintain adequate light to see the scriptures or observe the religious icons. Our goals at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, CA were to enhance the worship experience by increasing the general light levels as well as highlighting the ceiling spaces and the Stations of the Cross. We also took into consideration that in addition to traditional worship services, St. Ignatius has used the space for years for special services and musical productions. We introduced a permanent architectural and theatrical lighting system with simplified controls from Electronic Theatre Controls to allow for easier operation and reduced energy/maintenance costs.

The first step in the evaluation process was to identify all areas needing emphasis within the space based upon religious and performance needs. With St. Ignatius Church this meant creating a Master Plan and Budget mapping out the costs and modifications needed to the existing architectural fabric. The church was very concerned about the maintenance and efficacy of the system because they do not have a full time maintenance staff. Additionally, they wanted the lighting to be run with a minimum of training on a control interface shared with the sound and video system that already existed. We anticipated that although there were adequate monies to get started, that additional funding would be necessary to fully realize the design so we allowed for phasing the architectural fabric improvements in smaller pieces.

One of the initial challenges in lighting the church was to reinforce the spiritual atmosphere. This was achieved by dividing the lighting tasks into “near” and “far” solutions. We wanted to display the architectural splendor of the lower arches and the Stations of the Cross while allowing for a more theatrical solution to reveal the upper reaches of the Sanctuary and Nave ceilings. The Sanctuary above the altar has a domed surface with an oculus in the center filled with beautiful stained glass. Historically the interior of the church was very light because the original window glass was a pebble-grained yellow glass. In the 1950’s the windows were replaced with stained glass donated by members of the congregation. The church wanted to reveal the beautiful Stations of the Cross concealed for many years by poor lighting and grime. Originally painted in 1914 in Rome by Pietro Ridolfi, the stations are considered one of his major works; at the superhuman size of 10’ wide by 5’ high they are a dominant part of the architecture. As a result of meticulous restoration and new museum-style lighting, these have once again become a major architectural focus in the side aisles of the church.

The second step of the design process was to arrange a demonstration of the proposed light source colorations for the church to choose from. Since the 1990’s, historic architectural spaces have been illuminated with tungsten halogen sources because of their high quality color rendering ability. We arranged a mock-up of to show the church. We wanted them to select the ones they liked the best. The light sources we chose were 3000° Kelvin compact fluorescent sources, tungsten halogen T4 lamps, and MR16 lamps.

Surprisingly enough they chose the compact fluorescent uplights in combination with the MR16 reflector lamps. We then disclosed the different sources we were showing them and proceeded to have a discussion about energy efficiency and lamp life. After comparing the tungsten halogen linear lamps and the compact fluorescent a second time, they decided the fluorescent coloration was not significantly different in the application we were suggesting. This allowed the church to achieve immediate energy savings while maintaining a feeling of daytime safety and security for the congregants while Mass was not being performed.

The lower nave arches and side aisles were illuminated with a combination of energy efficient Rambusch fluorescent uplights as well as Lumiere directional tungsten halogen spots to graze the surface of the arches to reveal their architectural character. The Stations of the Cross have special hooded fixtures by Academy Light with Osram Sylvania low UV (ultraviolet light is damaging to oil paintings) emissive lamps mounted on gimbal rings so they could be focussed on different areas of each Station painting. Due to the inherent nature of religious art designed to tell a story, different areas of each painting are highlighted by the artist to draw attention to the subject material. We wanted a flexible standardized lighting system that would both protect the oil paintings as well as allow for individual adjustments to best show each part of the story. Additionally, the fixtures were designed with a hinging support stem which swings up and out of the way of the rolling maintenance scaffold.

In the upper reaches of the church, we proposed using fluorescent uplighting to illuminate the ceiling coffers and a color changing column accent lighting system to allow for mood adjustments coordinating with the religious seasons of the year. This conceptual design draws the congregant’s gaze up towards the colored light. The fluorescent uplighting system is a semi-custom Rambusch dual T5 HO lamp system mounted in an asymmetric reflector with adjustable pivot stands and a sawtooth glare shield on the rear of the fixture to control the spill on the walls in back of the mounting location. The fluorescents mounted on both sides of the nave below each of the stained glass windows focused so the light throw crossed in the middle of the ceiling and filled in any undesirable shadows. A Lutron 10% dimming ballast was used to allow us to balance the ceiling brightness in relation to the column brightness. This relationship is continuously variable depending on the degree of color saturation used on the columns, dome, and proscenium arch.

Traditional color changing systems rely on either large maintenance staffs or noisy color scrollers on incandescent fixtures to provide a selection of different colors. Once the design team examined the current economics of an incandescent solution we decided to look at alternate technologies for more energy efficiency as well as fewer mechanical parts to fail over time. The one alternative system that showed promise was a Selador seven color LED (Light Emitting Diode) array which was completely silent and produced beautiful whites in a range from very warm to very cool. Many of the LED systems we examined could not reproduce an acceptable white. The low fixture profile of the Selador LED units, the ability to insert a variety of beam shaping lenses and the excellent efficacy (64W for LED vs. 500W for halogen) of the lamps were additional positives. The intense color saturation of the Selador units provided superior coloration of the architectural elements over comparable color fader type incandescent systems. Interestingly, the incandescent lamping seemed to have a “dirty” look when compared side by side with the LED units.

Based upon this research, we were able to recommend a long life, absolutely silent, color changing system to light the nave, sanctuary, and proscenium arch of the church. For the nave and sanctuary we used 1W LED arrays and 3W LED arrays for the proscenium arch allowing us to provide a brighter contrasting color band between the two spaces. The sanctuary was challenging because the dome and oculus required shaping the beams of light differently than the nave with a flat ceiling. In the sanctuary we positioned one 24” LED array at the bottom of each structural rib. When the beam shaping lenses were added, we were able to have the beams of light meet and illuminate the honeycomb around the oculus. In the nave we located one 24” unit at the base of each fluted column and focussed on the column capitol to provide a vertical emphasis to the space. At the proscenium arch, we located two 24” units at the base of the arch on each side. These units were focussed in a cross-firing technique with a somewhat narrow flood of light to give it a smooth, bright appearance.

With the church’s feedback, we matched a set of ten colors to the different seasonal vestments they use throughout the year. After much analysis and discussion we developed the following colors for the church to use in daily or special services: warm white, cool white, rose, gold, blue, emerald, pink, red, purple, and special lavender. These colors allow us to contrast and complement the seasonal decorations used for Lent, Easter, Christmas, weddings, etc.

Another step in relighting the church was to replace the old metal halide downlights used to light the nave. This existing lighting threw a ghastly green-blue light into the body of the church without providing enough light to read the scriptures. The ceiling height of 74’ made the task of getting usable light down to the pews a very challenging task. We had a semi-custom Rambusch downlight using a HPL 575W theatrical lamp made with an adaptor ring to fit in the existing oversized ceiling penetrations. Once installed, these fixtures provided a very white warm coloration and a fourfold increase in light level at the pews. This made it much easier to read the scriptures and enjoy the services.

The overall results of the relighting were astounding. The visual ceiling height increased dramatically. Suddenly, colors and gilding which were invisible, were revealed. As colors were added to the spaces, it took on different feelings and meanings. The Stations of the Cross were revealed in all their glory and could be incorporated into special services, highlighting each one in succession to tell the story of Christ’s persecution, death, and ascension. The previous lighting left the grey church walls dull and uninteresting. Once the new lighting was installed, the church ceiling and walls came alive with the multiple sources of grazing light which expressed the historic architecture in a dynamic new way.