Project team:

Client Representative: Stefan Boehme
Architects (original): Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root
Lighting design: Office for Visual Interaction (OVI)
Structural engineering: Klein and Hoffman
Electrical engineering: Environmental Systems Design
Lighting manufacturer: Zumtobel

05. Jul 2013

Subtlety as its best
The Rookery in Chicago receives its first façade lighting scheme

Text: Joachim Ritter
Photos: The Rookery LP, The John Buck Company, OVI

Little real development has been made in the illumination of historical facades in the last few years. The overriding task is to define the architectural details to enable the building to be viewed – and celebrated – after dark. The finer these details, the more difficult it became to light the facade using conventional light sources and luminaires, the latter being too large and ungainly to integrate into the texture of the façade. Size is not an argument when it comes to solid state lighting, however, and precision is also no longer an issue, as the award-winning project The Rookery in Chicago more than adequately demonstrates.

Completed in 1888, The Rookery is one of the greatest surviving examples of early commercial skyscrapers and is considered a milestone in American architectural history. Designed by Burnham & Root, the twelve-story building employs masonry hung from a steel frame – an innovation in construction at the time of its completion that allowed the building to achieve unprecedented height. The Rookery was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and designated a Chicago Landmark in 1972.

For over a century, the building’s distinctive dark red masonry facades have been unlit, making it visually disappear at night. Now, lighting softly activates the intricate masonry carving, creating a subtle presence of brightness, shadow, and contrast that renders the building visible without overpowering it with light.

While the building appears symmetrical, nearly every window condition is unique. With over 100 irregular ledges, the use of standard luminaires proved impossible.

One key to the success of the project was achieving the desired light distribution while meeting strict historic preservation regulations. The Chicago Landmarks Commission required that lighting hardware be meticulously concealed from pedestrian view and street lines-of-sight.

Another critical issue for the Commission was preventing harm to the Rookery’s masonry and locating the custom luminaires while avoiding penetration of the historic building fabric. While the building appears visually symmetrical, nearly every window condition is unique. In addition, all the ledges have different stepped profiles, and masonry ribs are present at stone joints throughout – in no specific rhythm. This was a waterproofing detail from the time of the original construction. Each of the luminaires had to be positioned to work around the rib locations, then adjusted to provide symmetrical, even lighting. […]


The full version of the article can be found in PLD No. 88.

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