Canadian Consulting Engineer

Lighting: Detroit Symphony Orchestra Hall

March 1, 2003
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Aspecial group of six engineers and designers at Crossey Engineers of Toronto are working on the renovation of Orchestra Hall for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.The hall in downtown Detroit was built ...

Aspecial group of six engineers and designers at Crossey Engineers of Toronto are working on the renovation of Orchestra Hall for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

The hall in downtown Detroit was built in 1921. It has been called “acoustically perfect,” and as a venue it was not only home to the orchestra, but also became the Paradise Theater featuring the great jazz singers of the 1940s. However, in the 1969s it was abandoned and boarded up.

A retrofit in the 1980s saved the day, and the building is now undergoing a major U.S. $47-million renovation. The original 2,000-seat Orchestra Hall is being restored, and a new addition includes a four-storey atrium, 500-seat concert hall and music education centre.

The Crossey lighting design group operates under the banner of a separate firm, “Consullux,” under the leadership of president Wallace Eley, P.Eng. and lighting designer Ion Luh. They work with Diamond and Schmitt Architects of Toronto and DSO project director Sandra Seim. Lighting effects are hard to predict, but sophisticated rendering programs, done by Cicada Design, help the designers to visualize different scenarios.

Orchestra Hall

One of the main focuses in refurbishing the 1920s auditorium has been to shed light on the elaborate gold-leaf ceiling and murals that until now were half-hidden in shadows. To do this, the designers have remodelled the three chandeliers, the largest of which measures 8 feet in diameter. They have doubled the lamps around this chandelier’s rings to 133, and are using 50-watt MB-19 halogen bulbs with pebble glass enclosures for sparkle.

On two of the chandeliers they are adding eight powerful 500-watt halogen uplights onto the ceiling to reveal the art. The predicted light levels in the hall are 24-30 foot candles, with 9:1 uniformity.

The original 1920s balcony wall sconces are being retrofitted with new light diffusing shades. For step lighting, amber LED fixtures that consume only 0.4 watts each are to be attached to the seating.


In the atrium of the new addition are four large lanterns suspended from the 52-ft. high ceiling. The lanterns are between 24-48 ft. (7.3-14.6 m) high, and consist of translucent glass casings attached to a metal tube spine. Inside each lantern are two light pipes fed from a 400-watt metal halide source located on the roof. The light travels down the 6-in. or 12-in. diameter tubing to create ambient light.

As well, drama and sparkle is added to the space with 500-watt halogen track lights attached to the base and top of the steel columns. Spotlights arranged behind a bronze mesh screen on the balconies create a sense of transparency and texture.

Music Box

A feature of the new 500-seat concert hall is an articulated “fish-scale” acoustic wall that creates a three-dimensional effect. The wall has dimmable 25-watt incandescent lamps recessed into drywall pockets, creating soft up and down light. Incandescent lights avoid the humming noise that comes with light sources that need ballasts, and they produce less heat than halogen lamps.

Above the stage, the designers fitted recessed halogen lights into a soft acoustical panel “cloud” that is winched up and down depending on the type of performance. When a large orchestra is on stage the panel might be 20 feet above the musicians, whereas an intimate chamber orchestra might require the panel to be only 5 feet above them. To complete the lighting symphony, there are 500-watt halogen, power 56 track fixtures suspended from a catwalk in the room’s open ceiling.


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