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The Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon

Between 1995 and 1998 we worked on the re-lighting of the whole of the Gulbenkian Museum. This modern building, shown here with its two internal courtyards and surrounding parkland, has been regarded for the previous thirty years as an important example of a museum building that has worked well in terms of display, lighting and visitor satisfaction. We aimed to upgrade the lighting without loosing the quality of the visual environment that was evident in the museum.

The collection covers the periods from Egyptian, Assyrian and Greek art, through Islamic and Oriental to European painting and furniture. Our re-lighting has maintained and enhanced the feeling of quality and individuality in the display of the objects.

The Islamic Gallery, shown here on the left has a wide variety of objects displayed together. These range from objects highly susceptible to light damage, such as carpets, manuscripts and textiles, to ceramics and glassware that are not so light sensitive. We have re-lit the whole gallery with a subtly changing light gradient from low level over carpets and textiles to slightly higher levels over those neighbouring objects less susceptible to light. The whole effect gives a pleasing appearance for the visitors, with all objects lit in a way that increases their appreciation by the viewer and stays within conservation limits.

All in the detail

During our work at the Gulbenkian we had the opportunity to position the light specifically for each object as it was a static collection. This allowed us to bring out the most important features of each object whether on open display or in separate showcases.

The single pot shown above was within a case and was thought by most viewers to have a smooth grey surface. Once a small amount of side lighting had been added, it was clear that the pot was ribbed and had a flecked colour.

We introduced new fibre-optic lighting into certain cases to deliberately bring out the best features of individual objects and changed the balance of lighting in other cases to increase the emphasis on the objects rather than the case background.

1999/2000 refurbishment

Just as we had finished the commissioning of the new lighting a decision was made by the Foundation to carry out a comprehensive architectural refurbishment of the whole museum. This did not involve us and resulted in the replacement in some spaces of much of the new lighting with a simple overall lighting scheme. This in our opinion has led to a brighter but blander lit environment. The museum still looks light and airy but some exhibits do not stand out so well now as individual objects.

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