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Susan Naylor Center at the Witte Museum

For over 80 years, this museum has conveyed everything from the wonders of the natural world to the local environmental and cultural history. Available Light had the honor of designing both exhibit and architectural lighting for this new campus wing and major infrastructure renovation. 

Before entering, exterior visual cues tie the development to the existing six-building campus. Uplight accents visually lift the overhanging patio roof, while pattern projectors concealed under the roof produce a dappled-light effect similar to the landscape moonlighting treatment that leads visitors to the entrance. Cast dinosaur footprints lining the perimeter of the entryway pavilion were revealed grazing with light. Thoughtful balancing of interior/exterior lighting delivers a delicately balanced, magical lantern effect producing a signature visual element for the new campus. Proof-of-concept renderings illustrated not only the effectiveness of the lighting on the new building and grounds but also detailed how the project would visually meld with the existing campus. 

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Once inside, a replica giant Quetzalcoatlus soars overhead welcoming visitors of all ages. The Great Hall doubles as both exhibit space—with many giant fossil artifacts and large super-graphics—and event space. Dynamic exhibit lighting celebrates dinosaur fossils while architectural lighting accents graphics and supports visitor circulation. Integral to the exhibit, filtered lights both overhead and hidden in a scenic platform abstractly immerse marine fossils in their environment. Throughout, architecture was painted with kinetic light and texture creating an immersive, dynamic feel. Color palettes were partially selected to suggest depth and drama. All lighting in the Great Hall, both architectural and exhibits, was exposed, but tightly organized by on runs of digitally-controlled data-track from which each fixture was individually addressed/controlled. A hierarchal lighting balance with exhibit fixtures accenting artifacts and architectural fixtures providing ambient house-light was deployed. Lighting integral to the exhibits highlights smaller artifacts, reducing the need for additional higher-wattage overhead lighting. 

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Deeper into the building, the Texas Wild Gallery lets guests explore regional ecosystems, flora, and fauna via a multi-media immersion exhibit. A domed, cyclorama sky was illuminated from lighting mounted to a curving perimeter pipe lighting and limited dome penetrations for overhead light. The dome also served as projection surface for theatrically dynamic lighting and video hidden in the scenic diorama. The People of the Pecos Gallery focused on the prehistoric hunter-gatherers, who embraced their natural environment. Lighting was meant to evoke the natives’ natural setting. Once again, integral exhibit lighting kept artifacts displayed in an interesting setting while also reducing the need for excessive track lighting above. Concealed integral lighting adds depth, texture, and intimacy while mitigating glare. Delicately aimed spots draw focus to cave paintings. Visitors sat under a dynamic fiber optic starry night sky while watching the Lifeways Theater,an immersive film and lighting experience.

The design team was dedicated to collaboration, creativity, and robust technical solutions. The project successfully met all budget and time constraints. This breathtaking reimagining of the institution’s campus and collection has set the stage for 21stcentury visitors to learn while being awed and enchanted.

Design Team & Key Equipment Used:

Architect: Lake|Flato

Exhibit Design: Gallagher & Associates

Equipment:

  • Lighting Services Inc: Track and Track Lights
  • Lucifer Lighting: Exterior Path and Step Lights
  • Pathway Lighting: Downlights
  • ETC: Architectural Controls and Theatrical Fixtures
  • Altman Lighting: Theatrical fixtures
  • Color Kinetics: RGB Cove lighting
  • BK Lighting: Exterior landscape and in-grade lighting
  • HK Lighting: Exterior Down lights
  • Lumascape: Exterior Fountain Lighting
  • PRGRHA Lighting: Diorama Lighting
  • Visual Lighting Technology & Roblon: Fiber Optic systems
  • Focal Point: Classroom Lighting
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