Illuminating Symbolism at the Lincoln Square Synagogue

Illuminating Symbolism at the Lincoln Square Synagogue

This piece was originally published in the February 2017 issue of electroindustry.

Sohana Arni, LC, Marketing Manager, Architectural Products Group, Eaton’s Lighting Division

© David Sundberg, EstoPhotographics Inc.

The Jewish faith emphasizes symbolism in architecture, and the Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York, New York, honors Jewish history and tradition.

In planning for a larger synagogue and expanded facilities, the synagogue called on Tillotson Design Associates and Eaton’s lighting division to amplify the architectural vision with lighting design. With a focus on illuminating the elements and materials that made the building project special, Ellen Sears, principal designer for Tillotson Design Associates, ensured that the lighting was integral to the overall design.

Every architectural element in the building is inspired by the Jewish faith. The front wall design of the glass façade, divided into five undulating glass ribbons, represents a Torah Scroll. The light comes from within the Torah as a guiding symbolic reference; the illumination of the entire façade alludes to this reference. Linear LEDs incorporated into the bottom and top of each glass facet illuminate a sheer, bronze-colored, fabric interlayer, as well as a white translucent pattern on the interior. During the day, the fabric layer sparkles in the sun; at night, the translucent pattern and lighting help create a soft glow.

© Emile Dubuisson, Studio Dubuisson

Inside, the sanctuary’s 613 1¾ inch diameter recessed LED downlights, set in a moderate convex ceiling with brilliant acoustical properties, equal the number of commandments in the Torah and are meant to symbolize the stars in the desert sky. To maintain the star symbolism, the downlights needed to be small, but designers feared that they wouldn’t give off enough light. Fortunately, LED technology advanced so rapidly after the project started in 2007 that, in the end, the team was extremely confident about the light levels in the sanctuary. These lights were positioned using a formula to show that God’s plan is always at work, even if it is not always visible. Finally, the ceiling had to be plastered due to the synagogue’s acoustical system, creating a need for small flanges and access to the drivers through the actual fixtures.

© David Sundberg, EstoPhotographics Inc.

The interior walls have soft lighting that emphasizes the angled facets of the acoustical wall panels, creating a tent-like feeling. The sanctuary’s “in-the-round” seating also represents the nomadic history of the early Jewish people.

The Lincoln Square Synagogue marked one of Tillotson Design Associates’ first projects that called for the illumination of an entire façade with LED fixtures, and the interior design was multifaceted as well. In total, the design called for about 500 individual fixtures, each of which was about 12 inches long, and 50 remote drivers. The design team needed a product that could handle the design’s complexity yet create something beautiful, so they turned to the team at Eaton to help choose the right product and figure out much of the wiring for the project.

Together, the design team created a striking space at the Lincoln Square Synagogue, which has been embraced by the community. Tillotson Design Associates has received several awards for the project, including the 2016 International Association of Lighting Designers Radiance Award, 2016 Illumination Engineering Society (IES) Illumination Award of Merit, 2016 IESNYC Lumen Award of Excellence, and the 2015 Architectural Lighting Outstanding Achievement Award.

© David Sundberg, EstoPhotographics Inc.

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