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Musee Du Quai Bronly, Paris, France

Issue 32 Aug / Sep 2006 : Architectural : Museum


Two French giants of lighting design, Yann Kersalé and Georges Berne, have tackled the exterior and interior lighting schemes of Jean Nouvel's latest iconic building...

Enveloping the new Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, Yann Kersalé’s dynamic lighting installation immerses French architect Jean Nouvel’s most recent building in what the French light artist describes as “a lake of light”. Inside the museum, lighting designer Georges Berne had the tricky task of lighting the various exhibition spaces, the precious objects on display and the research department under ground.
This isn’t the first time that Nouvel has called on both lighting specialists to work on a project at the same time. Kersalé and Berne both illuminated Nouvel’s Gallo-Roman museum in Périgueux (2003).
Conceived as a French presidential grand projet by Jacques Chirac, the Musée du Quai Branly was designed by Nouvel as a long, four-storey curved structure standing on pilotis (piles). A short stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, the museum houses African, Asian, Oceanic and American artefacts. “It welcomes the objects,” says Nouvel, “sheltering them from the world in which they have arrived so that they can recall the worlds they came from.”
Outside, French landscape architect Gilles Clément’s landscaped gardens have yet to mature, so Yann Kersalé’s 1,277 light sticks planted in small islands of vegetation are still clearly visible. Ranging from 30 centimetres to two metres in height, the methacrylate 3W LED light sticks will, over time, become obscured by plants and trees. Seasonal variations in ground cover will also affect the dispersion of light. A third of the rods are lit by blue LEDs, another third have green LEDs, and the rest are white.
Since the initial design phase several years ago, the appearance of the luminaires has changed – they originally resembled outsized electric snowdrops – but the overall concept behind the installation has not. The colour-mixing process is still triggered by changes in the physical state of water, whose symbolic connection with life, and its important symbolic value to cultures represented in the museum collection, gave Kersalé the original idea for the lightwork. Kersalé wished to immerse the building in a “lake of light”, and a pattern of concentric circles of light on the museum’s facade does indeed bring to mind ripples on a watery surface.
The computer-controlled network of LEDs is linked to a nearby weather centre. Trends in the weather will signal the variations in colour, so that on a rainy day, for example, foliage will be reflecting mostly blue. When it starts to snow the grounds will be filled with a greater percentage of white light.
Viewed from the road, the eventual forest will appear “dense and mysterious, swathed in light,” says Kersalé. To light the glass partition wall – which separates the museum grounds from Quai Branly, the busy quayside road that skirts the site – Kersalé is installing Metal Halide projectors. They will cast green and blue double shadows of a dozen trees, such as oaks and maples, onto the transparent wall. In his garden of long shadows, Kersalé would like visitors to appreciate the darkness, as well as the light. “A shadow can be beautiful,” he says.
On the roof of the museum, Kersalé is embedding luminaires into steps to provide sufficient light for wayfinding. On the north side of the building, he is integrating lights into the terraced seating of the open-air theatre, an extension of the museum’s auditorium. The 500-seat auditorium sits under a bright temporary exhibition space, through which visitors pass en route to the main exhibition hall.
Georges Berne, head of French lighting design company L’Observatoire 1, designed the interior lighting of the museum.
From the main entrance – which pierces the underbelly of the building – visitors move up a 180-metre-long white ramp, snaking through the temporary exhibition area. Here, a combination of spotlights, wall-washers and frame projectors supplement the lighting of this day-lit space with 3,000K halogen light. The ramp takes museum-goers into a 16-metre-long dark room. Emerging from this space, the visitor’s eye is primed for the low-light conditions in the main exhibition hall.
Running along the spine of this 200-metre-long, voluminous room is a sinuous central aisle bordered by a leather-covered wall. In terms of illuminance, the low light along this central pathway averages 25 lux. Berne also wanted this light to be “like the beginning of the day, so very low illuminance level and cold colour temperature,” he explains. In the flanking gallery spaces, the warmer 3,000K light varies in intensity from 50 to 300 lux, depending on the exhibited works and the continent being represented.
Powered by 600 lighting generators, fibre optic lighting is integrated into the glass panel museum display cases. Raised on slender supports, in front of either a black or transparent backdrop, the artefacts are shadow-less and appear to float. Light from 800 overhead spotlights, mounted between the undulating false (metal mesh) ceiling and the technical cage above it, bounces off the glass cases to create a complex arrangement of light and shadows on the orthogonal mosaic on the floor, designed in shades of deep red, ochre and maroon.
While the gardens around the museum are populated with LEDs, inside there are none. Current LED cost, CRI ratings and colour temperature stability over time meant that Berne opted for fluorescent and halogen lighting. For the first time, he employed motorised Remote Controlled Lighting, which can be programmed to memorise lamp orientation in three dimensions. In the push towards intelligent lighting, this is “an innovative step,” says Berne. As for using fibre optics, it will be “the last time,” he predicts. “LEDs have a good future. I hope for the next museum to use this technology.”

technical information

Lighting design : Yann Kersalé, AIK
Lighting: Fluxlighting, Philips
Lighting Design: Georges Berne, L’Observatoire 1
Lighting: Fibre Optics - Cemm thome – Optectron division; Motorised Projectors - Remote Control Lighting; Fluorescents - Philips; Compact Fluorescents - Artemide; Miniature Fluorescents - Secante; Halogens - ERCO


Related Articles
  • Quai

    Georges Berne's scheme consists of low level lighting “like the beginning of the day”. 800 spotlights in the false metal mesh ceiling create a star constellation effect


  • Quai

    Yann Kersalé has created “a lake of light” on the museum's facade using 1,277 methacrylate 3W LED light sticks that respond to weather conditions

  • Quai

    Fibre optic lighting (from Cemm thome – Optectron division) integrated into the glass panel display cases make the artefacts appear to float


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