ST. LOUIS, MO – Reed Burkett Lighting Design (RBLD) has completed a transformational lighting design project to illuminate the interior of the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Previously, 83,000 square feet of stunning mosaic artwork throughout the walls and ceiling of the Cathedral Basilica was muted in darkness. The functional light levels were so low that parishioners struggled to read hymnals. RBLD not only enhanced the day-to-day experience in the space but also achieved a striking revelation of the mosaics, artwork, sculptures and architecture not previously viewed in such color and detail. In some areas of the nave and transepts, the light was elevated by nearly 300%, allowing formerly invisible details to be enjoyed for the first time.
“If you’ve been to the cathedral but you haven’t been back since the new lighting, one of things that you’ve never seen before are the mosaics in all their glory,” said Monsignor Henry Breier in a St. Louis Magazine article. “When it’s not Mass time and the cathedral is dark inside, you’ll notice a gold light circling everything. It’s a nice ambient feel of being bathed in gold.”
Discussions between RBLD and Monsignor Breier to improve lighting go back nearly four years. Lighting in the Cathedral had never been optimal, yet over time it got worse as many fixtures were replaced with those of lesser quality. A ban on the sale of incandescent bulbs this past summer made it increasingly difficult to replace burnt-out bulbs. With many more bulbs reaching the end of their lifecycle and the attractive benefits of LED technology, the project was approved.
Through technical surveys, including observations of various events at the Cathedral during different times of day, the team studied the colors and reflectances, came to understand the angles from which each piece would be frequently viewed by parishioners and determined the optimal angles to introduce light.
RBLD used only LED light sources to provide the desired control, achieve the best color within the space and maximize optical precision so the light would only illuminate where needed. Illuminating great expanses of glass tile art —30 to 40 million pieces in total —was one of the primary challenges. Many tiles are polished, while others are matte — each responding differently to light. Often, sources of light were introduced from several positions to best manage reflections and amplify the visual impact.
An artistic approach was used to highlight the marble statues in a way that draws visitors’ eyes to elements that tell the story of the Cathedral and the Catholic Church. “You can light a sculpture of a human figure in half a dozen ways and have them [all] look different,” said Randy Burkett in the St. Louis Magazine article. “One might be more emotional, and then one might be flat and less engaging.”
A dimming control system allows fine-tuning for each art piece and precise adjustments of ambient lighting levels. More than a dozen lighting “scenes” have been programmed to best serve the variety of interior cathedral activities.
The design’s most significant light source is a lightbox assembly mounted at the apex of the nave’s center dome. Electricians, from subcontractor Schaeffer Electric, had to be elevated 150 feet and into an 8-foot diameter hole in the ceiling to replace 35 large LED fixtures with 108, 500-watt incandescent sources.
Though lighting levels were increased dramatically, the system’s energy consumption is nearly 80 percent lower! The LED fixtures have 50,000 hours of rated life, greatly improving maintenance cycles.
Established in 2022 by the merging of Envision Lighting Design and Randy Burkett Lighting Design, the team’s other notable projects include the St. Louis Arch, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington D.C., the Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum at the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center at Laumeier Sculpture Park and multiple projects for Cortex and Ballpark Village.
The iconic Byzantine and Romanesque-designed Cathedral Basilica took 80 years to fully build. Construction began in 1907, and the first mass was celebrated in 1916. The German firm of August Wagner was contracted to install the mosaics. Following the design of the artisans, Paul Heuduck undertook the red and gold designs of the transept galleries, then completed the Arch of Triumph, the Arch of Creation, the main dome and the Doctors of the Church pendentives surrounding the Sanctuary Dome. In 1930, the mosaics depicting the life of Saint Louis were completed. Shortly after World War II, a sacristy was added to the north end of the structure. The mosaic work was not completed until the east and west transept were finished in 1988. In 1997, the Cathedral was designated as a Cathedral Basilica by Pope John Paul II, who visited it during his visit to the United States in 1999. For more information about the history of the Catedral Basilica, visit https://cathedralstl.org/about-basilica/our-history.
ABOUT REED BURKETT LIGHTING DESIGN
In 2022, Envision Lighting Design, led by Lisa J. Reed, and Randy Burkett Lighting Design merged to form Reed Burkett Lighting Design (RBLD). Serving local St. Louis and national clients, RBLD specializes in cultural, outdoor environment, commercial, higher education, healthcare, hospitality, retail and institutional projects. The versatile team of design professionals is equipped to manage the complete range of lighting design services, from initial conceptual development through final project completion, for projects of all sizes. RLBD is a certified Women Business Enterprise with the State of Missouri, City of St. Louis and the State of Illinois. The firm also is certified with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB). For more information, visit https://rbldi.com.
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