Bringing Light to Dark Places
In 2010, Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Kentucky, decided to embark on what James C. Burris of EOP Architects called “a resurrection project.” By purchasing the site of an abandoned mall, Southland was determined to “bring light to dark places.”
That meant transforming a building that had been in serious decline into Southland’s third campus — a multi-use project featuring classrooms, open spaces for public gathering, administrative functions, and the project’s largest space: a 2,800-seat auditorium that will serve as the building’s Worship Center.
The mall’s main department store served as the basis for the new building.
“The bones were great to start with. We had very generous floor-to-floor heights, so we could do exposed systems and ceilings in a lot of areas,” said Burris.
The architects put the existing structure to excellent use, locating most of the administrative functions and classrooms within the old footprint, so that new construction could then be effectively put to use to create a visually striking entrance and lobby, along with the main auditorium space.
Because the project was funded by the congregation, Southland and EOP went through an extensive 8-10 month value-engineering process with numerous bid packages.
“They were very careful with their money,” Burris noted. “They stuck to their principles and what they’d told the congregation from the beginning.”
With regard to lighting, that meant mixing and matching specific products based on performance requirements, energy concerns, and cost considerations.
Because of some unexpected engineering issues, savings had to be found in other areas — lighting was one of them. A successful package would have to weigh the cost of luminaires and controls, consider long-range energy costs, and use creative ways to lower lighting-related expenditures.
In the end, most of the lighting and controls in the building came from Acuity Brands, including Lithonia Lighting Avante surface-mount luminaires, DOM LED downlighting, RT5 volumetric fixtures, and Sensor Switch occupancy sensors.
But perhaps the most interesting story in the building revolves around the auditorium, where a new Acuity Brands product — Gotham Incito LED — is helping to change some of the thinking about theatrical house lighting.
Southland brings a sophisticated, professional approach to their house and stage lighting.
Matt Cooper, the church’s lighting designer, said, “We’re used to a world that’s all tungsten — we’re used to dimmers; we’re used to theatrical control devices that are speaking DMX.”
Because another of the church’s auditoriums had been equipped with a tungsten-based lighting system, Southland originally wanted a tungsten house light system, but echoing a common 21st century refrain, Cooper pointed out that they ”weren’t able to do that because of the energy footprint.”
As it turned out, LED would solve both performance and energy issues, but it was the energy cost savings that first got it on the table as an option. Lighting designers like Cooper tend to be skeptical about the ability of LED to provide the performance they’re used to from tungsten, so the challenge was to find a solid-state product that would make him change his mind. After looking at a series of possible solutions, LED house lighting fixtures were chosen for the auditorium in the summer of 2011.
Newland said, “Look, I’ll go to Louisville and get my sample kit if you guys really want to look at it.”
They did — so he got in his car. Six hours (and about 170 miles) later, he came back with a sample. He and reps from Southland and Amteck (the electrical contractor) squeezed into a bathroom — it was the only room in the job trailer with no windows.
He said, “We took out the Incito sample, plugged it in, and dimmed it down to the low setting. All three of us were blown away.”
He said, “Theatrical or performance-space lighting designers like me want full dimming. And I want it to be smooth. And when I say smooth — I want it to act like tungsten. The fact that Incito provided dimming from 100% down to less than 1%, and the fact that it was a smooth curve was advantage number one.”
Newland said, “It was Gotham. There is no doubt in my mind that I would not have done this if it had been ‘upstart LED.‘ I just would have refused — absolutely, positively refused — to have taken a chance. But I believed in Gotham — wholeheartedly.”
Plus, Incito actually gives designers more performance options than its tungsten counterpart, with more variety in both distribution and light output: Lumen packages from 2000 to 6500, ten beam spreads from 20º to 70º, and four color temperatures from 2700 to 4000K. Cooper stressed that “the 2700 Kelvin was really advantageous. For us, that mimicked the feel of tungsten.”
According Cooper, Incito was the only product he saw that not only offered that option, but handled all the varied ceiling heights from a compact 6” aperture. And it was available in the beam angles and lumen packages he needed to get everything to work together seamlessly. Every luminaire — regardless of lumen output or ceiling height — dimmed at the same time and went off at the same time.
Plus, because Incito luminaires are fully RDM compatible — digitally addressable — individual control of each fixture was possible, as in theatrical lighting.
Cooper said, “What RDM enabled us to do was install the fixtures straight from the factory and then later — remotely, without having to get out a 40-foot lift and go physically touch each fixture — we were able to address and change the configuration of each one. Now with the DMX/RDM system up and running, if I want to break a section of lights off that’s on the house-left side of the room, I can break those apart and control them separately.”
As for creative ways to lower lighting-related expenditures, Cooper explained that Southland’s other location, with its tungsten house lights, uses a large 96-channel theatrical dimming rack. For this location, they didn’t need one. The Incito luminaires at the new location “allowed us to reduce down from that to basically just 20-amp relays,” he said. His estimate of the costs savings for hardware and labor: “$50,000 to $60,000.”
Southland got exactly what they wanted…and more. Cooper tells it this way, when recounting the first full test of the new system not long before the building was to open.
He said, “We finally kill all the work lights and we’re doing our first test and everything boots up. So we click it on and we walk out of the equipment room and onto the stage and look out. That was the Aha! moment. It really just kind of blew our minds, especially when you see it on that scale. You had to pinch yourself that it was LED.”