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Lighting Design for Wiess Energy Hall – Houston Museum of Natural Science

The new Wiess Energy Hall is the most contemporary, comprehensive, and technologically advanced exhibition on the science and technology of energy anywhere in the world. An intensive 3-year design process made this 30,000 square feet of permanent exhibition a showcase for museum lighting design. Embedding lights into almost all exhibits creates an environment where every surface is glowing with light, texture, and energy.

Lighting design concepts were conceived together with the exhibit designer Paul Bernhard Exhibits and Consulting who produced photorealistic renderings of the exhibits prior to construction. Christensen Lighting worked closely with the team, providing guidance to realistically integrate lighting into the renderings.


The first step in the process was taking a vast storage space and transforming it into an exhibition hall. We designed a power system where each overhead ceiling coffer has a relay controlled outlet and a lighting data port. A service corridor was designed around the entire perimeter of the exhibition that allowed easy access for the hundreds of lighting drivers, the lighting-network, and exhibit controls.

Every lighting element is programmable which allowed us to easily balance the brightness, color, and contrast of the whole exhibit hall. The lighting control system consists of three different servers broadcasting over 160 universes of DMX data over sACN/KiNET. The servers controls over 75 timelines from basic animations to visitor-activated lighting and complex 4D theatres synced with timecode.

One constant challenge we faced was coming up with ways to make LED sources disappear in the exhibits to surround the visitors with untraditional light sources. We worked directly with the fabrication team and manufacturers to test concepts until all custom details were perfect.

Additional key lighting design components include:

  • When visitors step out of the elevators into the exhibition, they are standing on a working ocean oil platform. The background is a 80-foot curved video wall synced with a night-to-day lighting sequence.
  • The entire exhibit has a RGBW downlight system with a DMX controlled motorized zoom allowing for just the right sized pool of colored light per exhibit area. This system also allows for party lighting.
  • Uniquely, only 25% of the exhibit is lit with traditional overhead museum lighting fixtures; the majority of the exhibit is lit internally.
  • Just below the complex curved concrete counters, we embedded a smooth glowing horizontal line that animates with color and random pulses of light.
  • Inside the two 4D theatres the visitors are surrounded with animated lighting to distinguish different environments. The lighting motions create the illusion that you are inside a vehicle drilling underground.
  • Inside a 60-foot wide curved fabric mobius sculpture, visitors take a group quiz about how to save energy. LED moving lights and linear color changing strip-lights project custom icons and colors to enhance the interactive test. When the group passes the test, a burst of lighting effects dance around the sculpture.

This energy efficient, all-LED lighting fixture project was completed on time within a strict budget. The Houston Museum of Natural Science is proud to showcase this groundbreaking lighting project.


Wiess Energy Hall – Houston Museum of Natural Science

Client: Paul Bernhard Exhibits and Consulting

Lighting Design Firm: Christensen Lighting

Lighting Designer: Donald Christensen

Associate Lighting Designer: Shannon Zura

Master Electrician: Buddy Taylor

Assistant Electricians: Tyler Nicholas & William Sammons

Moving Light Programming: Criswell Design

Lighting Hardware:

  • 1,649 conventional LED fixtures
  • 6,900 LED nodes
  • 1,248ft of animated tape light (23,000 RGBW-Pixels)
  • 1,040ft of static tape light
  • 9 LED moving lights

Lighting Manufactures:

  • Acclaim Lighting
  • Altman Lighting
  • Chauvet Lighting
  • City Theatrical
  • Color Kinetics
  • Gantom
  • ETC
  • Luminii
  • MA Lighting International
  • Optic Arts
  • Pathway Connectivity
  • Pharos Architectural Controls
  • Robe
  • Rosco
  • SSL
  • Wildfire
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