The Courtauld Gallery was founded by collectors and philanthropists in the 1930s. It has been at the forefront of art studies ever since, thanks to its advanced research, innovative preservation practises and teaching, together with its prominent collection and the stimulating exhibitions it organises, as well as engaging events open to everyone.
The gallery is most famous for its Impressionist and Post-Impressionist masterpieces, like Van Gogh's Self-portrait with bandaged ear and Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère. These works of art are on show together with a collection of world-famous pieces that span from Renaissance times to the current day.
Founded on the belief that everyone should have a chance to measure themselves against art, the Courtauld works to extend access to education on art history, ensuring that as many people as possible can familiarise themselves with the tools needed to understand the visual world around them.
After an ambitious conversion project that lasted three years and also involved the lighting systems, the Courtauld Gallery re-opened in November 2021.
The new lighting was entrusted to Arup and Studio ZNA who focused on aligning the curatorial demands for lighting the works of art. The lighting layout had to assimilate with the architecture of the spaces, blending in with the daylight and enhancing the decorative features of the areas. The artificial lighting had to look like a natural part of the spaces, rather than a clumsy addition.
The Blavatnik Fine Rooms at the Courtauld have magnificent, decorated ceilings and it is important to respect and consider them as part of the gallery's spaces. In order to do this, it was essential to guarantee that the new lighting luminaires did not create an overpowering visual impact on the rooms. After examining the options available, it was agreed that the most practical solution was a suspended track system that also had the advantage of allowing the light to integrate upwards in order to improve the appearance of the ceilings. Thanks to their compact size, Arup opted for the low-voltage track and associated spotlights. In-depth research was carried out to optimise the positioning of the tracks and spotlights to light up the works of art, examining different points of view and positioning everything in relation to the ceiling decorations, resulting in the low-voltage systems successfully being incorporated into the spaces.
The lighting project for the Blavatnik Fine Galleries spaces lights up the beauty of the classic architecture, helps understand the periods and topics of the works on display and shows off the magnificent collection at its best, with maximum colour rendering and attention to each detail in the works. The new layouts for the Fine Rooms mean visitors can appreciate the view overall as well as the details.
The iGuzzini track was chosen after on-site tests with the client and design partners precisely for its profile which is so subtle and reduces its visual invasiveness to a minimum in this six-gallery wing. The details on the ceiling can be interpreted thanks to the extremely soft, indirect and diffused lighting feature, while the accent lighting aspect, provided by the Palco (∅ 51mm) spotlights with a variety of optics and accessories, offers an excellent opportunity to understand the works.
The luminaires, which are DALI, also allowed for the use of a bluetooth control system that controls all the Low Voltage Palcos in the Blavatnik Fine Rooms.
3 or 4 settings were created per room with the BLE system (one for exhibition, one for night-time, one for cleaning and one for security); the BLE also turns on the products in the morning and turns them off in the evening and for special events, it is extremely easy to adjust the luminaires to meet any specific requirements.
The Museum also decided to purchase BLE switches for use in possible emergencies that can even be used by security staff and controlled remotely via a Wi-Fi bridge.
The most complex part of the project was undoubtedly the commissioning of the DALI/Bluetooth system for the low-voltage track in the Blavatnik Fine Rooms. Studio ZNA handled the entire commissioning of the luminaires, referring to the works of art that are lit and connecting up with the Galleries' numbering system. This allows the team of curators and conservationists involved in preserving the works to easily monitor and adjust the lux levels to which each work should be exposed. The commissioning stage and subsequent re-labelling on the app was a particularly laborious task but meant that a final inspection could be made with the client and any necessary adjustments dealt with there and then.
Studio ZNA also drew up an accurately choreographed layout of the lighting from the outside entrance, through the reception areas and ticket office, as far as the staircase that leads to the gallery areas. This continuity was guaranteed by using the same Palco luminaire in numerous different applications. The Palcos (∅ 51mm) illuminate the explanatory panels and benches for visitors in many of the through areas. These subtle, miniaturised spotlights are fitted with headers on the ceiling’s surface to ensure as little impact as possible on the building's historical fabric, while simultaneously increasing the quality of the lit room.
Thanks to a complete range of accessories, these spotlights offer excellent optic flexibility and so, from an aesthetic point of view, allowed for an even line of products to be created that extends from the public areas to the exhibition galleries. On the ceilings of no historical interest, such as the ticket office atrium, the lighting designer has used the same Low-Voltage Palco for exhibits and the Laser Blade for browsing areas.
In the galleries with undecorated ceilings, the lighting designers made use of a standard track with the same group of Palco luminaires. In the Medieval galleries and the Bloomsbury Room, where the ceiling is lower, the Palco (∅62 mm) was used with dimming around the edge, that can be manually adjusted. In the space dedicated to temporary projects, the lighting designer continued with the use of stronger, larger Palco (∅102) spotlights, again in this case with manually adjustable dimming, guaranteeing maximum flexibility in terms of dimming output.
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