Tiffany Gallery, New-York Historical Society, New York, USA

Art & Exhibitions / Museums & Galleries

dpa lighting consultants worked in collaboration with the office of renowned architect Eva Jiřičná to create the Tiffany Gallery for the redesigned Luce Center on the fourth floor of the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

dpa also worked closely with the New-York Historical Society on this project. Specifically the brief required the creation of a spectacular, custom-designed glass gallery showcasing the Museum’s preeminent collection of Tiffany lamps. The gallery of Tiffany lamps, comprises a 4,800-square-foot, two-story space measuring nearly a city block with its elegant glass Norman S. Benzaquen Grand Staircase.  As the centerpiece of the fourth floor, the gallery features 100 illuminated Tiffany lamps from New-York Historical’s collection displayed within a dramatically lit jewel-like space that visitors can access through the Geduld Family Gateways.  The project was inspired by New-York Historical’s discovery of the unknown story of Clara Driscoll and the “Tiffany Girls,” who designed and created iconic Tiffany lamps at the turn of the 20th century, many of which are in the Museum’s collection.

“The reopening of our Henry Luce III Center on the fourth floor of our landmark building marks a new and dramatic phase in the evolution of New-York Historical as one of the great showcases for architectural innovation in New York with, among other spectacular features, a bi-level glass Tiffany lamp gallery that is a major feat of design and engineering,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society.

Nick Hoggett, Partner at dpa lighting consultants and lead on the project adds: “It was a wonderful project to be part of, the technical challenges of showcasing lamps that are over 100 years old in some cases, with contemporary context and techniques, was one we relished.  The Tiffany Girls remain an inspiration to all of us interested in light.”

The glass stair underwent considerable design input by all concerned, dpa and EJA carried out numerous studies and mock-ups, which has culminated in the carefully integrated linear LED lighting elements to the stair treads and supporting fins. A cool crisp white light was chosen so as to complement the glass structure whilst also complementing the warm white light used within the Tiffany lamps and elsewhere within the gallery space.

Eva Jiricna Architects designed special curved glass showcases to house part of the Tiffany collection and perimeter glass showcases for the remainder of the various Tiffany lamps that are now on show. Artificial lighting has been carefully coordinated within the showcases with a combination of fibre optic spotlights and various LED sources.

The lamping of the Tiffany lamps themselves raised some interesting philosophical questions which were debated with the curatorial team at the museum and internally at dpa. One key question was whether the lamps used should provide an accurate representation of the tungsten lamps used historically or whether the visual impact of the Tiffany lamps was the most important factor. After much debate and trialling of numerous retrofit LED lamps, a palette of high CRI ‘filament style’ LED lamps was settled upon which paid respect to tungsten sources in terms of look, colour temperature and colour rendering but offered the energy savings of LED and reduced the heat build-up within the display cases. Another question included whether specific lamps should be provided with additional illumination to further reveal and highlight the craftsmanship and decoration of their bases. Several mock-ups were carried out using fibre optic sources but it was eventually decided that the lighting of the bases should reflect how they were presented historically using the spill light from the shades above.

Whilst the glass staircase and Tiffany lamps themselves are the star attractions in the gallery, the lighting design challenges also included the integration of illumination to non-self-illuminated exhibits and also the descriptive texts and graphics within the gallery. dpa worked closely with the architects and the display case suppliers to integrate and conceal lighting within the cases and again mock-ups proved an invaluable tool in the testing and refining stages of the casework development.

Whilst the Tiffany gallery predominantly provides a stunning space within which to display the Tiffany lamps and present their history, the gallery can also be used by the museum to host special events. In order to respond to this additional requirement, the coves which are ordinarily lit in blue to reveal the barrel vault ceiling can be set to differing hues and brightness via a DMX system to set a more celebratory tone within the gallery.

Rounding off the floor, the Robert H. Smith Family Skylight Gallery designed by Eva Jiricna Architects provides visitors an airy, sun-soaked lounge space where they can reflect on their experience beneath a historic skylight that was part of the building’s original construction, restored with the generous support of American Express.

Client: New-York Historical Society
Architect: Eva Jiricna Architects
Local Architect: PBDW Architects
Structural Designer for Staircase: GL&SS Consulting Engineers
Lighting Control Systems and Integration: Westview Productions
M&E Consultant: ads Engineers
Photography: Corrado Serra and Jon Wallen