Straightforward lighting plan for the Gardiner Museum is executed with architectural aplomb.
Suzanne Powadiuk Design/ Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects
When Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects (KPMB) was offered the commission of designing a 14,000-square-foot expansion to Toronto’s Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, opened in 1984 as Canada’s only museum devoted to ceramics, KPMB quickly tapped long-time collaborator Suzanne Powadiuk Design to complete the project’s interior lighting design. The partnership between the two teams is apparent to the trained eye—and appropriately, invisible to all others.
The Gardiner expansion is just one piece of a larger cultural renaissance in Toronto that includes the expansion or new construction of facilities for the National Ballet School and the Royal Conservatory of Music (both KPMB), the Royal Ontario Museum (Studio Daniel Libeskind), and the Art Gallery of Ontario (Gehry Partners). The museum’s design brief charged KPMB with increasing its visibility on Queen’s Park, which Powadiuk calls “Toronto’s version of Fifth Avenue.” Where the building had previously retreated from the street, the expansion would move toward it, and a third story would announce its presence further.
The result of KPMB’s work, which reopened in June 2006, is a series of terraced volumes that form a contemporary counterpart to the Flemish gable–adorned assemblage adjacent to it. A second floor boldly projects toward the street, doing double duty as an entrance awning, and a third-story restaurant component glows like a lantern from behind its horizontal limestone louvers.
That glow is produced by a straightforward formula, primarily a combination of T8s and MR16s. The halogen lamps highlight exhibition areas and fluorescent tubes signify areas of transition, such as the high-traffic lobby and the ground-floor stair landing. Importantly, these T8s are embedded within narrow ceiling channels; in a refined detail, the drywall is beveled at each slit in order for the ceiling to appear perfectly flat. On the newly constructed third floor, where the ceilings are significantly higher, those incisions are deep enough to accept Lighting Services Inc. track lighting. Powadiuk also settled upon a color temperature of 3000 Kelvin to provide warmth to KPMB’s palette of grays, white, and natural wood tones.
Powadiuk explains that, because of ceramics’ durability, a lighting designer can take significant creative liberties to illuminate a museum environment devoted to the discipline. But restraint drove her contribution to the Gardiner Museum. “The lighting is very integrated, and the expression of the ceiling is directly related to it,” she says of the channel’s beveled edges. The original lighting scheme—ceilings studded almost haphazardly with cans—is still mounted within the museum’s 24-year-old exhibition spaces, and the contrast between old and new further proves Powadiuk’s graceful result.
Mechanical and electrical engineer:
Exhibition design consultants
Fire and life safety consultant
Edward Hueber/Arch Photo Inc., New York
Recessed linear fluorescent/halogen downlights
Controls and dimming system