Seeing Red at Ruby City Galleries

Feb. 16, 2021

CHALLENGE: Designed by London-based Sir David Adjaye, based on a sketch from the client’s dream, the richly red Ruby City Art Center in San Antonio, a facility for contemporary art and the sculptural architecture, required a layered lighting system that would actively incorporate abundant daylighting and emphasize the sloping, industrial hall-like ceilings; it would also need to enable a high degree of flexibility with the staging of exhibitions.

INFLUENCE: Describing the new Linda Pace Foundation building, as a “little temple of art,” that’s “kind of shy, in constantly hiding and revealing its face,” Adjaye was commissioned to complete the literal vision of the late heiress, a collector of contemporary art, and herself an artist. Before her death in 2007, a dream allegedly bestowed upon her the vision of a red building with high towers for accommodating her collection. The lighting concept, by the New York lighting studio of Tillotson Design, which leads organically through the building, is layered in three ways:  daylight, general lighting from wall washing, and accents of light. Visitors entering the foyer are greeted by diffuse ambient light which emphasizes the color nuances and surface structures of the red concrete walls. Accent lighting above the reception provides orientation.

SOLUTION: Track lighting embedded in the ceilings emphasizes the sloping nature of the latter by providing them with a discreet linear structure. “The complex geometry of the ceilings made even wall-washing very challenging technically, requiring several rounds of 3D calculation studies, mock-ups, and on-site focusing after installation,” said Pfeiffer Trimarchi of Tillotson.

The Tillotson team aligned the luminaires with the help of a lifting platform. Depending on the ceiling height, spotlights were individually dimmed and the Spherolit lenses singly equipped with different light distributions according to the format of the artwork displayed. ERCO wall washers, also selected from the Parscan range, guide visitors via a narrow staircase to the exhibition rooms on the first floor. The wall washing gives the canyon-like corridor a deeper appearance and offers the option of extending exhibitions into the stairwell area. 

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Project Specs: Ruby City, San Antonio, Texas // Client: Linda Pace Foundation, Ruby City, San Antonio, Texas // Architecture: Adjaye Associates // Lighting Design: Tillotson Design Associates // Photography: Timothy Schenk, New York