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Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Canada

Issue 58 Dec / Jan .2010/11 : Architectural : Urban

Lighting Design: LIGHTEMOTION

The exterior lighting of the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) and also the Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts and is the latest stage of the lighting masterplan of the Quartier des spectacles.

After designing the lighting of the Cinémathèque Québécoise, lighting design practice lightemotion has created this vast Lighting Plan of Place des Arts, which also includes Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier and the new Grand Foyer of Place des Arts.

The Musée d’arts contemporain and Salle Maisonneuve are part of the Place des Arts cultural complex. This museum, which houses the works of Canadian artists, and Théâtre Maisonneuve, a modern version of a classical Italian theatre, is the ideal framework for variety shows, performances by small ensembles and soloists, musical comedies and film screenings. Located in the midst of downtown Montréal, the Quartier des spectacles has been the cultural heart of the metropolis for over 100 years.

The challenge was the need to integrate the lighting of each building in the overall lighting signature of Place des Arts while ensuring that the museum and the theatre have their own visual identity. Lightemotion chose to establish a dialogue between the bottom and top of each building by using dynamic lighting that suggests either movement or stasis.

The lighting design is catered to the illumination needs of the museum but at the same time is versatile enough to accommodate different events and festivals as the museum serves as a backdrop of the Quartier des spectacles Plaza. The need to be able to use the lighting of its primary façade to fit in with the different setting was a key element of the design criteria.

“We chose to play with the two identities of the building,” says François Roupinian, lightemotion’s principal. “It is made of two structures - a very classical, stone façade with clean lines that wrap around the museum and an impressive rectangle band of copper that tops the museum. This panel is made of rows of rusted copper in a square pattern - it is very modern.

“In contemporary art there is also a duality. It can be soft and subtle - a white canvas with only a red line; or extreme - a dress made out of meat!

“The design strategy was to create a metaphor and a parallel between the duality of the physical space - the building and contemporary art that it holds.”

The base of MAC is studded with lights that flood the facades of the museum in blue and white, while in contrast, the copper volume that caps the building is bathed in red amber. Besides the play of light that establishes a dialogue between the architectural volumes of the building, the designers have added a temporal element on the wall that faces the inner court. An illuminated pendulum appears in the form of a moving point of light before coming to rest every fifteen minutes and spreading over the entire surface of the wall.

The lighting of MAC includes 133 Lumenpulse LED fixtures using a maximum of 36W each. The base of the building and the colonnade is illuminated by 100 Lumenpulse Lumenbeam RGB fixtures. The top of the building is illuminated with an array of 82 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast 12 Powercore units. The entire system is controlled by a Martin Maxxyz PC DMX controller.

“We bathed the lower stone façade in soft hues of light to create the illusion of the colonnade floating on a vaporous cloud of light,” explains Roupinian. “All the light sources are hidden, it is as if the light is coming from nowhere. It gives the impression that the building glows from within. The colours used are soft variations of cool shades of white that verges onto blue.”

The copper panel, used to crown the top of the museum, is grazed with LED RGB fixtures with very tight beams that create  textured effects as the light hits the different textures of the paneled copper. Warm and amber tones are used to accentuate the copper look and create a very bold statement in the landscape.

“We tested lots of fixtures for this project as we needed two different effects for the job: a very smooth powerful wash of RGB light and an extremely tight RGB beam,” explains Roupinian. “After the testing procedure it was clear the Lumenpulse Lumenbeam fixture was the best fit for the smooth wash - the colour mix and beam spread was exceptional. For the tight beam we used Philips Color Kinetics 8° Colorblast as it is a very powerful unit and the beam of light it produces is very clean.”

“The size of the fixtures was also an important factor in the choices we made. The soft frontal wash that bathes the lower base is produced by the Lumenbeams that are carefully hidden in the lower tranches at the base of the building, it is as if the lighting is coming from nowhere.

“The grazing effect of the copper crown is produced by the Colorblasts that are fixed on a small stem coming out two feet from the top of the building. The fixtures had to be small and very slick to be able to blend in the background.”

The entire scheme is dynamic with the museum being used as an urban clock - a scenario that evolves during the course of the night. Every fifteen minutes a subtle light change occurs and the copper becomes more and more animated with slow waves of light as it approaches the end of each passing hour.

The stair-like upper structure of the Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts is wrapped in warm light, while the lower volume of the building is covered with bands of white LEDs embedded in concrete walls. The bands produce a dynamic programmable LED belt effect that showcases the large windows of the building. To complement the new perspective of the theatre, directional lamps create a visual contrast between the top and bottom volumes of the building, giving the illusion that the roof is suspended in air.

The middle section of the Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Arts is equipped with 65 x 3 metre linear white LED battens that are integrated in the concrete detail, with the structure not visible to the public. The total consumption for the LED battens is 2kW.Each of the two lighting concepts respects the architecture of the buildings, carefully concealing the light sources that, for the sake of saving energy, are largely LED.
MAC is the largest museum of its kind in Canada and is one of the biggest LED installations in the country.

François Roupinian is obviously delighted with the results. “We are ecstatic to have the opportunity of showcasing our expertise here in our home town of Montreal. Place des Arts is at the centre of the Quartier des spectacles, and we hope that this signature project will be enjoyed by the public for years to come.”

Project Details
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal /
Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Art
Client: Quartier des spectacles
Lighting Design: lightemotion

Lighting Specified
Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal
48 x Lumenpulse Lumenbeam RGB 30 degree 36W
82 x  Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast Powercore 50W with Holders and Top Hats
49 x Lumenpulse Lumenbeam RGB 40 degree 36W with GS-Glare shield and Internal reflacting lens
3 x Phoenix 115 AMSR floodlight 150W   
23 x Lumenpulse Lumenbeam RGB 45 degree 36W with GS-Glare shield and Internal reflacting lens
8 x  Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast Powercore 50W with Holder and Spread lens 40°
13 x Lumenpulse Lumenbeam RGB 30 degree 36W with lens
1 x Martin Exterior 1200 Image projector 1200W
1 x Martin MaxModule Button control system

Théâtre Maisonneuve of Place des Art
57 x Powerled Linear LED 16’ integrated vertically inside concrete
111 x Sterner (various wattages) with colour filters
1 x Martin Maxxyz on PC control system


Pic: Marc Cramer

  • Pic: Martine Doyon

  • Pic: Martine Doyon

  • Pic: Martine Doyon

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