Rijksmuseum retrofit proves LEDs have arrived (MAGAZINE)

Dec. 17, 2013
Maury Wright explores the impact of a solid-state lighting installation that is tailored to the specific needs of museum exhibit lighting, enhancing the visitor experience while safeguarding the precious works of art.

This article was published in the November/December 2013 issue of LEDs Magazine.

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Back in the spring, Philips Lighting announced a major LED lighting project at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I recently had the opportunity to visit the museum, see the solid-state lighting (SSL) project and even discuss the lighting with Tim Zeedijk, head of exhibitions at the Rijksmuseum. I'm not sure I could have come away more impressed with an SSL project based on both the design and the quality of the lighting.

In fairness, the ten-year-long renovation of the museum plays a part in the impact that the museum makes. While the museum was closed far longer than anyone envisioned, the lengthy period allowed for a complete renovation of the walls and floors, as well as a complete reorganization of the works displayed. Zeedijk describes the organization as guiding visitors through the history of The Netherlands. But the complete renovation also resulted in beautifully consistent ambience from room to room, whereas many of the famous museums of the world present rooms that clash in style and décor — and, of course, lighting.

Ultimately, Philips supplied LED lighting for the exterior of the building, in public areas such as the atrium and shopping areas, and in the exhibition space. It's of course the latter that was most impressive and carries through with the theme of uniformity that clearly pervaded the renovation.

The project relied on the same Stylid spotlights throughout the exhibits to highlight the works of art. The spotlights were customized for the museum with integrated glare shields and reflector optics that generate a narrow beam. On lower floors the fixtures are black and mounted on custom square and rectangular tracks suspended from the ceiling. On the top floor, where there is some natural light present, the project used white fixtures and tracks with custom diffusion lenses. With all of the fixtures identical and virtually all works lit from above, the visitor experience is excellent.

The choice of LEDs was a bit of a gamble for the museum. Zeedijk made it clear that high quality of light was far more important than energy conservation, although savings were certainly a welcome benefit. Zeedijk also said the fact that the LEDs don't radiate UV energy and they help preserve the art was in part a reason for his interest in SSL.

When the time to choose the lighting design arrived, Zeedijk described how he performed the "Pepsi test." He lit ten works with different lighting mockups, only one of which used LEDs. The remainder used legacy halogen sources. The museum staff evaluated the ten displays and not one made a negative comment on the LED sample.

Philips Lumileds had recently started producing the Luxeon S multi-emitter LED family that enabled the tight beams and high light levels required in the museum application. Ultimately, the designers working with Zeedijk chose 3000K-CCT lighting and Philips delivered it in a 93-CRI package based on modules compliant with Zhaga Book 2.

Getting to visit the museum with Zeedijk was eye-opening, to say the least. He pointed out intricacies in paintings such as textures in a white dress that he said weren't discernible under the former lighting. He said that the light quality with near-daylight color rendering improves the experience and allows visitors to better experience the intent of the artists. I'm no art expert, but I came away very impressed.