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BYU-Idaho Center Auditorium, Idaho, USA

Issue 63 Oct / Nov 2011 : Architecture : Performance


Having been responsible for their convention centre in Salt Lake City, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought Auerbach Glasow French back on board for this follow up project.

With the December 2010 dedication of Brigham Young University-Idaho’s new 15,000-seat auditorium, BYU-Idaho Center, the campus is now home to one of the largest production theatrical facilities in North America built for the primary purpose of supporting weekly student devotional services. Brigham Young University-Idaho is part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ education system, and features lighting design by Auerbach Glasow French having already completed the scheme for its convention centre in Salt Lake City in 2000. The firm worked under the direction of FFKR Architects to design, document and commission the architectural lighting and related controls for the lobby and auditorium audience chamber within the building.

“The biggest difference between both projects is that BYU primarily serves a student community, while the Conference Center is the home of the twice-yearly general conferences and other civic events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” states Larry French, the principal in-charge for Auerbach Glasow French. “Like many buildings on college campuses, BYU-Idaho Center must serve a variety of uses, therefore the building is very active throughout the year. In addition to the programmed performances and lectures in the auditorium, the lobby serves as a pre-event communal area, impromptu student study space and as a corridor to an adjacent building.

The finishes in the BYU-Idaho Center, although of a very high quality, are simpler and more exposed than in the Conference Center. The ceiling in the Conference Center was completely finished and all fixtures were designed to be hidden from sight. At BYU – Idaho the ceiling is simply painted black and the lighting fixtures exposed, giving it a much simpler, more functional look and one more appropriate to a University setting and the use of the building.”

The main lobby is a 76,000 square foot volume that is three stories high in the central zone and features large glass windows at both the north and south ends of the building. The high volumes posed access challenges for maintenance of the lighting. Where possible, catwalks were built into the attic space above the ceilings to access downlights and accent lights. However, this was not an option for all high volume areas, therefore Auerbach Glasow French’s design solution was to attach a faceted mirror system to the ceiling that aims at specific areas on the floor. The lighting fixtures are mounted to the balcony fronts allowing access for maintenance from a standard personnel lift. An added benefit of this design solution is that the ceiling brightness around and on the mirrors aids in revealing the volume of the space. The random pattern of the mirror clusters adds a quiet sense of playfulness to the ceilings.

The lobbies are expansive in the north/south axis to accommodate the size of the audience during assembly and intermissions. Surface brightness was carefully designed to keep these long volumes from becoming dark areas. Decorative glowing sconces and a reverse cove were utilised to light the long curving walls. Artwork along the walls is illuminated with small aperture recessed accent lights. Glowing semi-recessed pendant fixtures are set in random patterns in the low volume spaces and recessed glowing downlights are set in a zig-zag pattern in the ceiling of the curved corridor adding a sense of play. The large pyramid stair leading to multiple balcony levels glows along its length and the wall behind it is deliberately highlighted. The choice of sources and attention to surfaces create a luminous lobby that is inviting and comfortable.

All light sources in the lobby, with the exception of the art accent lighting, use either highly energy-efficient, long-lasting metal halide or fluorescent sources. Although halogen incandescent, the MR16IR accent lights are the most efficient of their kind. The entire lobby is controlled by a central switching system and changes lighting looks and levels based upon time of day and time of year through astronomical time clock based controls.

In the auditorium, the firm designed lighting for the fan-shaped audience chamber that can be customised for performance, devotional, or lectures. Careful attention was paid to the finishes on the side walls and other details to create intimacy and warmth. Recessed ceiling fixtures and decorative sconces provide a soft glow, creating an intimate feel in the expansive space.

At 15,000 seats, the auditorium is one of the largest production theatres in North America built for the primary purpose of supporting weekly student devotional services.

“It may seem ironic but we want to try and make the large space appear more intimate, as is the case with BYU, and a smaller space appear to have more grandeur,” states French. “There are practical issues that must be considered when designing the architectural lighting for a large space such as accessibility to the lighting fixtures. Obviously, filling a large volume of space will require more light and more power and demand a larger more complex lighting system.

“In the case of the BYU-Idaho Center, the large surfaces of the side walls were an architectural element we wanted to break up with wall washing and custom vertical sconces. In addition we used glowing decorative sconces for the balcony fronts.”

The chamber features two balcony levels in addition to the main floor. The general lighting for the 73,300 square foot hall features a dual system that can be used in several different configurations. For performance and devotional use, a fully dimmable incandescent quartz halogen downlight array provides a theatrical look and feel to the space. An all metal halide downlight system is provided for lectures, clean up and set up. These fixtures are switched and provide a high colour rendering, energy efficient and longer lamp life system for everyday use. When high light levels are required both systems may be used together to double the light level of either system used alone.

“The most important consideration was ease of operation and the ability to set up different light levels and looks depending upon the use of the auditorium, since the space will be used for performances and lectures. We wanted to design a system that would make the transition between the two different operating modes seamless and inexpensive by employing a dual system. For every day use such as lectures and gatherings energy efficient long life lamps will be used. A warmer performance environment is required for special events and to that end fully dimmable incandescent lamps were selected to provide that soft glow so crucial to adding life to a performance space. Another important requirement was for the lighting of the auditorium to create a pleasant ambience during live broadcasts.”

Decorative lighting elements assist in providing a degree of visual relief in the large volume. At the leading edge of both balconies are glowing sconces that add rhythm and sparkle to these long horizontal edges. At the rear of the main floor and at the back of each balcony level soft, glowing recessed ceiling fixtures were used in lieu of downlights. Surface mounted glowing wall sconces further enhance these locations.

The combination of these lighting elements provides a softer glow to the lighting and contributes to the illumination of the ceiling and walls making these areas feel more spacious. The large side walls above the caliper side balconies feature three very tall vertical recessed sconces each. These glowing elements are backlit with dimmed LEDs in a very shallow enclosure. The decorative nature of this group of fixtures also adds lightness and sparkle into spaces. Caliper walls break down the massive main floor and help to create a more intimate feel in the huge volume. These walls were lit to accent and emphasize the rich wood finish. Low level steplights hidden in aisle side chairs and recessed into side walls complete the design and provide low level lighting during performances for all aisle ways and exit paths.

According to French: “We met and exceeded our design challenge, bringing a 15,000-seat auditorium and large lobby into a comfortable scale, while providing a lighting system that is maintainable and energy efficient.”


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