Seattle’s Nordic Heritage Museum – A Shadowless Light


Seattle’s recently-opened Nordic Heritage Museum celebrates the culture of all five Nordic countries: Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

Lighting the new 57,000-square-foot, zinc-clad structure – once located in a nearby brick school house – presented lighting designers Shannon Glover of Stantec Design and Rob Smulling of PLA Designs with the challenge of creating the feel of light in these regions. At the onset of this three year project Glover, the architectural lighting designer, spent time researching photos, artwork, and architecture of the region. The design focused on what she called “different colors of white, and the feeling of soft, indirect, shadowless light.”

Fjord Hall
Lighting for the central “Fjord Hall” at the Nordic Heritage Museum was designed by Shannon Glover of Stantec Design and is lit with a mix of ETC Source 4WRD fixtures and white lighting tucked into troughs on either side of the space including a skylight.

The Museum’s spacious interior is divided down the middle by two towering white walls — an abstracted fjord — with high-up bridges that cross between them. Walkways connect the atrium from above, inviting visitors to cross back and forth between the Nordic and Nordic-American exhibits. The central “Fjord Hall” is lit with a mix of ETC Source 4WRD fixtures and white lighting tucked into troughs on either side of the space including a skylight.

Glover specified ETC Paradigm for the complex task of controlling the lighting in the fjord, as well as a backbone for the museum areas, retail spaces, and the performance auditorium. Of particular importance for Glover was Paradigm’s lights sensors and responsive controls. “ETC allowed us to control the electric lighting according to the amount of daylight available. In the galleries, we used the ETC Paradigm system to make sure we didn’t exceed conservational maximums for the light-sensitive artifacts, and we used time clock presets with manual overrides to keep the lights off entirely when the galleries are closed but the main floor (with Kaffe, Auditorium, and Museum Store) is still open for visitors,” explains Glover.

The controls package used 0-10V dimming wherever possible to reduce costs, but the galleries are ELV for dimming the track heads. Glover pointed out that Seattle has one of the most stringent energy codes in the country and they used 0.97 watt/square foot for the building as a whole. The museum almost exclusively uses LED lighting, except for a few ellipsoidals in the auditorium. “Many vendors were involved but for ETC it was all about the control system,” says Glover. Paradigm was used for daylight sensing, color-changing controls, decorative twinkle lighting in the auditorium (controlled by a Mosaic networked with the Paradigm system) and even a security motion-sensor that will trip some area lights in the Sun Terrace outside the building.

Rob Smulling of PLA Designs created the lighting rig in the Nordic Heritage Museum auditorium. An ETC Element 2 controls a system that includes LED Source Fours and Echo relays.

Lighting designer Rob Smulling of PLA Designs described the challenges of creating a house rig in the auditorium that would accommodate lectures, concerts, plays, and dance recitals. “The client wanted the flexibility of a black box design, with no permanent stage, seats on an unraked floor, and walls built of blond Nordic woods.” The final design used 18 ETC connector strips, 10 floor pockets and a mixture of 50 ETC Source 4 Tungsten and LED fixtures controlled by an Element 2 and an Echo Relay system. The flexible system met the architect’s requirements for quick turnarounds and a user-friendly control console.

Glover and Smulling have enjoyed long careers in the Seattle specification and design scene, much of it in partnership with ETC. “They have excellent and hands-on representation here in Seattle – Eden Van Ballegooijen with Pacific Lighting Systems – that offers assistance with educating specifiers on what’s possible and how to specify it, reviewing controls schedules and specifications for accuracy and completeness, providing budget pricing, answering all kinds of questions, and even assisting during construction,” says Glover. “There are lots of controls manufacturers out there, but I always default to ETC because they are just terrific to work with from start to finish.”

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Marshall Bissett
Marshall Bissett grew up in Central Scotland and studied theater direction at the Old Vic Theatre School. He worked on the original productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and toured with such acts as Chicago, Neil Diamond, and The Rolling Stones. In 1983 he founded TMB, a worldwide supplier of lighting equipment. He’s kept his hand in directing, which in retirement now vies for his time along with freelance writing and fly-fishing.