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   from the issue of July 17, 2008

Sheldon renovation opts for energy-efficient exterior lights


By day, Sheldon Museum of Art shares a nuanced elegance with passers-by; by night, the museum bathes itself in light to create a rhythmically articulated drama.

Architect Philip Johnson's decision to shoot light upward, along the sculptural columns that die into Sheldon's repeating band of 30 flattened arches, turned the building into a nighttime campus monument - against a dark canvas, a gleaming, white jewel box sitting on a raised terrace.

However, 45 winters and early-1960s lighting technology combined to crack much of the travertine stone that sheaths the building's base, or plinth. Fortunately, modern technology has an answer for maintaining Johnson's lighting design, protecting the stone's integrity, and offering reduced maintenance.

A completed element of the exterior renovation under way at Sheldon is replacement of the original 300-watt incandescent bulb system with red, green and blue light-emitting diode technology. In winter, heat from the original bulbs melted snow falling on the base, creating water that infiltrated crevices and joints and then froze. Over time the freeze-thaw cycle caused the stones to crack and move. By contrast, the new LED system will produce only 18 watts, eliminating the freeze-thaw effects of the lights while saving energy.

"The incandescent lamps last less than 1,000 hours. The LED lamps have a 50,000-hour lifetime," said Joe Goodwater, a project manager with Facilities Planning and Construction overseeing the renovations. "The new system will save energy, but its maintenance cost-savings will be even greater."

The university's Aesthetic Review Committee approved Sheldon's new lights after evaluating the system's ability to match the color of the existing lights. By varying the intensities of the three color diodes, the new illumination system can be programmed to produce millions of color variations. Controlled by a computer, Sheldon's system will be programmed for up to eight preset variations.

The new LED system is manufactured by Color Kinetics, a division of Philips. The technology has been adapted for public sites including Boston's historic Old North Church and the Centennial Waterfall at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds.

As the new system was installed, contractors replaced or repaired the travertine that wraps the plinth.

The exterior repairs to Sheldon, now in their second of two summers, have been extensive. Last year the building's roof was replaced and fascia, capstones and column stones were stabilized.

Along with the plinth upgrade, workers have started to repair/replace the east and west entrance stairs. The improvements are funded by a legislative appropriation.

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