Exterior of the Tacoma Art Museum at twilight; Exterior of the Tacoma Art Museum at twilight;

Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Wing, Tacoma, WA

This museum's authentic lighting design showcases its collection

The Tacoma Art Museum recently celebrated the opening of its new Haub Wing, a 16,000ft2 addition designed by Olson Kundig Architects (OKA), in December 2014. The addition accommodates 7,000ft2 of new gallery space dedicated to the Haub family collection, which includes paintings from the most iconic artists of the Western genre.

Lighting was of critical importance to the museum in its mission to reveal its unique collection in the most authentic manner possible. To support this vision, OKA enlisted the support of Arup’s San Francisco lighting team to collaborate on the project. Daylighting was considered early on in the design process to inform key architectural decisions — such as glazing locations and shading design — and to develop design criteria with respect to artwork conservation. Electric lighting design discussions also began early, as the museum was interested in adopting LEDs for its gallery lighting; a technology that it did not yet have experience with.

The Tacoma Art Museum is a masterful example of integrating elegant architecture with rigorous daylighting consultation early in the design process. The result is a building that celebrates animated light in the public spaces and quietly restrains it in the galleries to bring focus to the artwork.

The details of daylighting 

With a tight programme, the visitor experience of navigating from the bright exterior environment to the controlled light conditions of the galleries was of particular interest. Daylighting was used to assist in the visual adaptation as visitors travel through progressively lower ambient light conditions before reaching the galleries.

The design team was comfortable with generous (yet controlled) quantities of light being admitted into the west-facing sculpture gallery, while more restrained quantities of diffuse daylight were required for the rear galleries where more sensitive artwork would be located. 

To this end, sunlight animations and sun-exposure analysis were used to demonstrate where additional shading was needed to mitigate sunlight from entering the galleries. Track-guided exterior shading screens operate by using a manual crank (a signature of OKA) that allows the quality and quantity of light to be modulated based on atmospheric conditions and curatorial needs.

Finally, annual hour-by-hour daylighting simulations were performed using Tacoma climate data to demonstrate daylight exposure in the galleries. This data informed both exterior shading requirements and optimal sizing of apertures (so called “peek-a-boos”) that allow daylight to bleed through the partition walls into the galleries without direct sunlight. The analysis also informed appropriate locations within the galleries where the most sensitive artwork should be displayed away from daylight, if required.