No.9 / Top 10 lighting experiences: The Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

April 06 2011 — by Jonathan Speirs
In my humble opinion this is Louis Kahn’s (1901-1974) seminal building where the integration of light was key, and where Kahn worked with the grandfather of lighting design, Richard Kelly (1910-1977).

The Kimbell Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

As part of the deal when I taught for a week at TCU for Fred Oberkircher I was invited by the dean for lunch at the museum. The building's open vistas meant you can view through several of the spaces. It was a bright day, and the daylight was being bounced onto the cycloid shaped vaults from the suspended perforated metal reflectors. The luminosity and light across the vault is quite beautiful. All of a sudden a cloud drifted in front of the sun and slowly the interior of the spaces became darker, the cloud moved away and the spaces grew brighter again. There was still suitable illumination of the artworks from the track luminaires but for me the breathing in and out of the space was powerful.

Here, you always have a connection to the outside world in terms of quality and quantity of light. How much energy and money is expended on our newer major museums and galleries where complex daylight filtering systems combined with replacement artificial lighting as the daylight fails means that you really don’t know what is happening outside? It could be snowing, or a glorious summer’s day, and the space inside is just the same. While I know the conservationists and some museum directors like this kind of environmental control, I cannot but think that if the Kimbell can do it so successfully why should we suffer grey-day lighting experiences in our museums every single day?

Jonathan Speirs