Museum Lighting | Standards Michigan

Museum Lighting

Famous writer and philosopher Thomas Merton once said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” For most students, college is more than classes and books; it is a time of broadening perspective, self-discovery, and personal growth. Many colleges and universities contain the hidden gem of the university art museum. Filled with historical treasures, glorious and inspiring works of art, and ample opportunity for student engagement, these oases provide beauty for the eyes and inspiration for the soul.*


Museum Lighting

April 1, 2019
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“A Visit to the Munich Pinakothek” | Charles Friedrich Alfred Vetter

The Illumination Engineering Society (IES) is an ANSI accredited standards developer whose consensus documents are referenced in the design guidelines that architect-engineers follow when preparing construction documents for a museum building project.   As in many of the documents in our library of facility design guidelines for the education industry you will find the phrase: “Design per relevant IES standard” in the electrical section.  In museums,  lighting technologies must be applied mindful of the value of the contents of the exhibition collections; not just to contribute to the visitor experience, but for security reasons.

From an electrical safety standpoint, museum lighting is regarded as “utilization equipment” in the National Electrical Code (NEC); equipment that actually consumes energy (as opposed to electrical devices which do not).  NEC Articles 410 and 411 assert wiring safety requirements for luminaires of any kind.  Lighting technologies require a great deal of power and controls wiring.  Lighting technologies present about 35 percent of the overall electrical load of any type of building.  We find nearly every photo of light produced by electrical engineers parsed by the architects and mechanical engineers who write ASHRAE 90.1 and Table C405.3.2 of the International Energy Conservation Code.

Simon Fraser University

The IES suite of recommended practices generally steer away from wiring and installation specifics.   IES documents deal principally with illumination arts.  From the RP-30 project prospectus:

The purpose of [IES RP-30 Recommended Practice for Museum Lighting] is to enhance the decision-making process by providing specific standards for satisfying the special requirements of museums and art galleries.  While this document is intended primarily for lighting designers, other decision makers—such as the museum administrator, curator, conservator, and exhibit designer—can use it to improve understanding and communication throughout the exhibition process. The more the exhibition team understands both the aesthetic lighting design rules of thumb and general conservation techniques, the better will be the final presentation.

Exhibition lighting is the focus of this document, through information relating to other museum and art gallery applications is also addressed. Lighting design guidance for museum shops, restaurants, and office spaces is provided in other IES Recommended Practice publications and in The Lighting Handbook, the IES flagship publication

The macro-trend in museum illumination (either as part of a new museum or renovated square-footage in an existing museum) is the replacement of legacy luminaires with LED luminairies.  The installation of related controls can so complicated that the signals have to be managed off-site because no one on site can be trained well enough to operate them in the museum itself.   This contributes to higher #TotalCostofOwnership because intervening firmware must be built and maintained.  A story for another post.

The technical committee roster for RP-30 is linked below:

Museum and Art Gallery Lighting Committee

We find no face-to-face meetings of this committee on its public calendar but typically all IES committees meet during the annual conference; the next one August 8-10, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky.  Ahead of that we will coordinate our collaborations with the IEEE Education & Healthcare Facilities Committee.  In any case, we keep our doors open every day at 11 AM for informal discussion on this or any other standard.   (Use the login credentials at the top right of our homepage).


Issue: [16-129]

Category: Electrical, Architectural, #SmartCampus, Academics, Arts & Entertainment Facilities

Colleagues: Mike Anthony, Jim Harvey, Kane Howard   LEARN MORE:

* The 35 Best College Art Museums



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