Cambridge City Hall’s updated façade lighting enables newfound capabilities

Aug. 10, 2023
Auxiliary exterior lighting of the late 19th–century Richardson Romanesque building was previously conducted through a manual process.

From Acclaim Lighting:

Built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style between 1888 and 1889, the Cambridge, Mass., City Hall serves as a centerpiece of the surrounding City Hall District, especially with the addition of its architectural lighting system.

Designed by the architects at Longfellow, Alden & Harlow almost 140 years ago, the three-story building with its bell tower rises to 158 feet and houses offices for the city council, the city manager, and several municipal departments. The revival style building incorporates 11th- and 12th-century southern French, Spanish, and Italian Romanesque characteristics with its stone walls made of Milford granite trimmed with Longmeadow brownstone.

Past lighting limitations

The previous lighting system featured antiquated metal halide floodlights that were difficult to maintain, required a manual process of changing lenses to alter the color output for city events, and lacked the lighting performance to highlight its ornate building façade as compared to newer, more precise LED technology. To supplement the exterior lighting, the City of Cambridge had been utilizing a local theatrical dealer and integrator for many years who provided and programmed a temporary color-changing system to illuminate the façade of City Hall during the holidays. 

In an effort to update the lighting system, the director of the City’s Electrical Department approached Omnilite | illuminate, a New England lighting representative, to investigate a more permanent, energy-efficient solution that could be used year-round for not only holiday lighting but also cause-related awareness campaigns. Omnilite worked along with Glenn Heinmiller, principal of locally based lighting consultant Lam Partners, to establish the criteria for new exterior lighting.

Jeff Landes, principal at OmniLite said, “During our investigation, we determined that the new lighting system needed to be permanent as well as easy to install since the city electricians would be performing the work. Second, the lighting system needed color-changing capabilities with relatively easy programming to provide special lighting for the holidays and special events.”

Colorful wireless solution

After a thorough investigation, Omnilite specified the Aria Wireless DMX system from Acclaim Lighting, including 12 Dyna-Drum SO floodlights along the base of the building to replace the failed HID units. Another six Dyna-Drum SO floodlights were installed on existing pedestrian scale poles along the street without the need to run new wiring. 

Aria is a compact, local, outdoor-rated wireless DMX system with a transceiver that can act as either the sending or receiving point with 15 channels on the 2.4 GHz band. Its internal wireless radio features both automatic networking and signal routing optimization to ensure the best possible reception of DMX data. The DMX system features a 5-dB omnidirectional antenna that provides transmission up to 2,600 feet line of sight and 300 feet between obstructions and walls.

Working in sync with the wireless DMX system is the Dyna Drum SO, an outdoor-rated, LED flood fixture. It features an adjustable yoke, on-board digital display, and a 100–277VAC internal power supply.

According to Landes, the RGBW capabilities of the Dyna Drum floodlights allowed the design team to fine-tune the general façade lighting scene to accentuate the warm Milford granite stone.

In addition, the lighting system enabled the installation of a Colour Profile RGBAM projector from Elation Lighting in a city-owned building across the street. The projector features a 180-watt RGBAM (red, green, blue, amber, mint) LED engine, a high CRI of 94 with 4,100 total lumens, and 19-, 26-, 36-, and 50-degree interchangeable lens options. The system also includes the Art 500, a touch panel DMX Controller with 1,024 DMX channels and 500 programmable scenes for architectural lighting control that augments the capabilities of the Aria system. 

“The city loves the new lighting system and uses the theatrical integrator to program new shows and scenes that highlight charitable causes and organizations as well as holidays, including those identified and requested via email by the citizens of Cambridge,” Landes said.

Participants

  • Owner: City of Cambridge electrical department; Stephen Lenkauskas, former department director
  • Lighting consultant: Lam Partners
  • Sales representative: Omnilite
  • Programming: 4Wall Entertainment, Boston 

Products

  • Acclaim Lighting: Aria DMS System, Dyna Drum SO, Art 500 controller
  • Elation Lighting: Colour Profile RGBAM projector
About the Author

Architectural SSL staff

In January 2024, Architectural SSL evolved to LightSPEC. While the name changed, the editorial focus -- writing and developing audience-first content about architectural lighting in the built environment for architects, interior designers, lighting designers and manufacturers, and specifiers of commercial and residential lighting and controls -- remains the same.