Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas, USA by George Sexton Associates

Rothko Chapel in Houston, Texas, has won a Build Back Better GOLD Award for a relighting project by George Sexton Associates.

The building was founded as a meditative space to promote peace and to display fourteen paintings by the artist Mark Rothko. 

Since its opening in 1972 it was apparent that there were problems with the illumination of the chapel interior. The brightness of the large central skylight was visually overpowering compared to the dark paintings and allowed excessive illumination levels that could be damaging to the artwork. Several interventions were attempted over the subsequent decades, radically changing the architectural quality and proportions of the space.
As part of the renovation of the Rothko Chapel completed in 2020, the design team sought to restore the original form and proportions of the skylight while addressing the problems of the original design. 

To that end, George Sexton Associates, in collaboration with Architecture Research Office, developed a louvre system that follows the profile of the original skylight while gently washing the perimeter walls with natural light.
Supplemental artificial lighting for the paintings is provided by a set of digital projectors concealed at the skylight ring. Light from the projectors is directed to the perimeter walls via a set of mirrors suspended below.
Lighting for paintings is provided by digital projectors with LED sources, which do not require regular access for re-lamping. Long-term replacement of the projectors can be achieved through operable panels at the skylight ring.
The skylight ring uses a track system for events and programs, which allows for fixtures to be moved or added as programmatic requirements evolve.
The total connected artificial lighting load is estimated to be 1.5W/square foot. Artificial lighting is controlled by photosensor and is only turned on when natural light drops below minimal illumination levels required for viewing artwork, minimising the actual power consumption for artificial lighting.
Natural and artificial lighting for the paintings is designed to reach a combined target annual illumination exposure of 875,000 Lux-hr per year, equivalent to an average of 200 lux at 12 hours per day over the course of a year. The total 
annual light exposure for paintings is estimated to be comprised of 80 per cent natural light, 20 per cent artificial light.

How the lighting project contributes social value: The controlled natural lighting helps foster a calm, meditative environment. Supplemental lighting in the skylight ring provides illumination for colloquiums aimed at fostering mutual understanding on issues affecting justice and freedom.

The designers on the project were George Sexton, Owen Brady and Chen Lieu.

Supplier credits:

Digital projectors for painting illumination: Christie Digital

Lighting track and track heads at skylight ring: Litelab

Recessed downlights: Lucifer Lighting, Lucent Lighting, Portfolio Lighting

Exterior framing projectors for Broken Obelisk: We-Ef lighting

Exterior tree, pole and canopy mounted downlights: BK Lighting

Skylight Fabrication: Linel

Picture: Elizabeth Felicella Photography