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The Amarbayasgalant Monastery

Amarbayasant is one of the three major Buddhist monastic centres in Mongolia. The monastery was built by order of the Manchu emperor Enkh Amgalam Khan to preserve the remains of the First Bogd, incarnation of the Buddha, Zanabazar. 
The construction took place between 1726 and 1737 and was built with the best solutions of traditional wooden architecture: it is a sacred place that represents the historical and cultural richness of Mongolia.
During the repression between 1937 and 1938, many monks of the monastery were executed and the rare and precious artefacts, including volumes, temples and paintings collected for over 200 years, were destroyed beyond repair. 
Of the entire complex, which was very extensive and had grown to house up to 6000 monks, 28 of the 40 temples remain, including the Yanpai Gate, Mahranz Temple, Tsogchin Temple, Lavrin Temple, the Tomb Temples of the 3rd and 4th Bogd, the 108 volumes of Ganjuur 
(Precepts) and 226 volumes of Danjuur (Commentaries) in their original Mongolian script.

The Main Temple or Tsogchin Temple is an architectural masterpiece characterised by a system that collects rainwater from the roof and drains it into the ground through pipes.
The objective of the lighting intervention was to improve the current lighting conditions of the buildings and artefacts of the monastery, which represent an important part of Mongolian history and culture, and in this way also contribute to their protection.
The project, developed by Azzura Architects and realised thanks to the contribution of NCD Group and iGuzzini, aimed at creating a lighting system that would stand the test of time while respecting the original architecture and adding some functionality for academic activities and tourist visits. The partners wanted to preserve rather than reinvent this space by serving the value of the monastery.

When approaching the lighting design for the temple, priorities were defined, and the first was the preservation of the ancient handcrafts and the protection of precious objects. 

The amount of light was therefore modulated according to the sensitivity of each material. For paper, tapestries, polychrome wood, leather, feathers, the illuminance level is less than 50 lux; for unpainted wood, painted surfaces and plaster, a limit of 150 lux was set, while for metal and ceramics there were no limitations. 
Special attention was paid to the reduction of UV radiation, and the use of particularly efficient LEDs helps to keep heat dissipation under control.

Other fundamental principles of the lighting design are the highlighting of the hierarchy of the 3 large sculptures, the construction through light of a space for individual worship, the maintenance of the inner perimeter of the temple in semi-darkness, low contrast and uniform shadows. Emphasis must also be placed on the entrance.

Another general guideline concerns the approach to the lighting of sacred figure sculptures, as these works should convey a feeling of calm and serenity. Shadows that would add severity or drama, as can happen with lighting from below, were therefore avoided. In addition, the light should give the impression of being emitted by the sculpture, almost as if it were a halo, and should not be traced back to external sources. 

Before the intervention for new lighting, the artificial light came mainly from candles and was therefore very warm, very dim and coming from below. During the day, the light comes from the side, from the large windows, and this type of lighting creates strong reflections on the gold. 
The constructions of the monastery are made of wood and with windows that are not airtight: to avoid problems due to weathering, corrosion and to facilitate cleaning and maintenance, outdoor fixtures were used.

Now for the lighting of the central sculpture representing Guru Deva Rinpoche, miniature luminaires have been used: Laser Blade in the ceiling version and Palco LV, so that their light streams complement each other to form a soft and homogeneous emission to soften the shadows. The illuminance level is the same on the front side as on the side area. 

For the side sculptures on the left and right, the illumination during the day comes from the side and the large amount of light coming in through the windows amplifies the reflections on the gold. During the evening hours, it was decided to use directionally emitting Laser Blade supplemented by Palco LV framer to create a balance between the illumination of the horizontal and vertical surfaces, to soften the shadows and to focus the light very precisely on the sculpture. A 2200 K filter was used to recall the colour temperature of the candles. 

Behind the large sculptures there is a glass wall with a grid of wooden slats behind which are the 1000 Buddhas and some other large sculptures. 
In order not to create too deep reflections and shadows in this area, a wide flood optic of Underscore LedStrip filter was used, which creates diffuse illumination, and on this basis layers were then worked on so that there are no parts that prevail in spite of others.
For the 1000 Buddhas, frontal lighting was chosen, from an extended light source, to achieve shadow-free illumination with brilliant reflections.  Neutral filters were used to create a fading effect and honeycomb and linear louvres to avoid glare problems. 
This basic lighting was then overlaid with accent lighting effects on the larger sculptures in front of the 1000 Buddhas, using spotlights and spot optics.  
For the functional lighting of the temple, there were precise requirements including that of 
to use a minimum of energy and to concentrate light only where it is actually needed; to have the possibility to control each area independently and to be able to manage illuminance levels: when there are no religious functions the average illuminance is 2 lx and 5 lx for the entrance area. During functions the illuminance levels increase from 60 lx to 120 lx. Another request concerned the reduction of shadows, both on the pages to be read and on the faces, so as not to create dramatic effects. 
In particular, for the central area of the temple, the requirement was to reduce any glare and reflections  that were too strong. Light was concentrated in the area where readings are held, while very low levels of illuminance were kept on the surrounding areas and columns. For the ambient lighting, indirect lighting by Underscore inOut, positioned on a profile resting on the horizontal wooden elements, highlights the beautiful ceiling decorations, was integrated to, with, to the direct lighting provided by the Laser Blade InOut and Palco InOut. Accents are provided by Palco LV projectors (∅ 22 mm), which highlight the hanging drapes.
For the general lighting of the side areas, the luminaires used are Palco projectors, positioned at the intersection of the beams. They are equipped with dark light optics and UGR<19 to be almost invisible.
In perimeter lighting, light traditionally comes from the sides and not from above. 
In this case, it was decided to intervene using high-performance Underscore positioned above the window frame. They were oriented to produce an indirect lighting effect,  to ensure UGR<19 and  to be invisible.

For the outdoor lighting, great care was taken to maintain a balance with the surroundings. This is achieved by blending a general lighting obtained by projection thanks to Agora luminaires placed at least 30 metres away from the wall surrounding the temple and an architectural lighting integrated into the building: Underscore InOut, for example, are positioned on the low wall running around the main building.
Special care was taken with the lighting of the main front to convey a sense of welcome to the entrance area. Three different levels were distinguished: the porch has a slight diffuse illumination, while the roof decoration receives a more intense illumination, from Underscore inOut placed above the wooden beams; the three golden sculptures above the canopy are highlighted by Agora and Platea Pro. The tree on the podium represents the contact and overlap between the monastery and the natural element, and even at night its presence is emphasised.
The stone walkway along the temple is punctuated by the soft light of the iWay bollards and also along the base of the temple, the Underscore InOut was used to highlight the water system that collects rainwater.

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  • Year
  • Client
    Bardmid Az Foundation
    Amarbayasgalant Monastery
  • Lighting project:
    Sergio Boccia Lighting Design
  • Main sponsors:
    NCD Group
    Azzura Architects
  • Photographer
    Courtesy NCD Group and Azzura Architects