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Building a stairway to the stars at the Hayden Planetarium

At the Hayden Planetarium's Rose Center for Earth and Space, a merger of architectural and theatrical/entertainment lighting systems helps create the most technologically advanced planetarium imaginable.The newly renovated, $210-million Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York City's American Museum of Natural History opens the eyes of visitors to the vastness and wonder of the universe using spectacular

At the Hayden Planetarium's Rose Center for Earth and Space, a merger of architectural and theatrical/entertainment lighting systems helps create the most technologically advanced planetarium imaginable.

The newly renovated, $210-million Rose Center for Earth and Space at New York City's American Museum of Natural History opens the eyes of visitors to the vastness and wonder of the universe using spectacular theater shows and interactive displays.

With few artifacts to show, the planetarium's exhibits rely on pushing technology to the limit. Video walls, 3-D computer modeling, and sound loops are used to reach audiences that range widely in age, interest and education.

Replacing the Hayden Planetarium's original 1930s Art Deco structure, the Rose Center includes the Cullman Hall of the Universe, the Gottesman Hall of Planet Earth, and the centerpiece of the 333,500-sq-ft seven-floor facility: an 87-ft sphere that houses the new Hayden Planetarium. The white, aluminum-clad sphere appears to float in a 95-ft high glass cube. Located directly beneath the sphere, the Hall of the Universe houses interactive educational displays.

More than 1.2 million ft of electrical power and low-voltage control wiring, operating a wide array of lighting equipment, provide the visual and aural stimulation behind these educational efforts.

COLLABORATION, THE NEW YORK CITY WAY Working directly for the installing electrical contractor, E-J Electric Installation Co., Long Island City, N.Y., Barbizon Lighting, a specialty electrical distributor in New York City, provided system integration, lighting equipment, project management and technical recommendations on four different lighting systems.

The Space Theater, the Space Theater's Pre-Show area and the Hall of the Universe hold three of these systems. The fourth, called the Events Lighting system, provides control and power distribution for portable lighting equipment used on a temporary basis. In addition, Barbizon provided complete installation documentation, technical recommendations for installing the equipment and system programming for the four systems.

Under the direction of project manager John Gebbie, Barbizon also worked in conjunction with a number of consultants; the construction manager, Morse-Diesel International; and museum personnel to provide value engineering on certain aspects of the project.

"Many electrical contractors are unfamiliar with the specification and maintenance of theatrical equipment, or how to wire these instruments on a truss, so this is where we provide valuable help," said Jeffrey Siegal, systems integrator at Barbizon. "We deal with factors such as proper mounting, access for maintenance and emergency lighting codes."

Specialty and theatrical lighting fixtures are available with a wide range of lamps, color, focus, control and accessory options, and are now installed as permanent architectural accent lighting or "architainment lighting."

"We see a great deal more dimming being done in architectural spaces today and a greater use of permanently installed theatrical or special effects lighting to add visual impact to these spaces," Siegal said. "We see that today's architects are more open to use a building for both color and texture."

The museum called on Barbizon to do construction administration, review contractor submittals and answer all types of installation questions, which happened often on this project.

"There was tremendous amount of coordination between all the trades and the design teams for this project," said Jonathan Rensick, president of Barbizon. "It was up to us to interface so there would be a smooth construction process as far as the lighting systems were concerned."

LOOKING AT THE DETAILS An ETC theatrical dimming and control system, along with a DMX distribution system for special events, is used in the Space Theater. Additionally, an Emergency Lighting Transfer System and Contact Closure Interface links up with the life safety and A/V systems.

For the Pre-Show area, where visitors gather before entering the Space Theater, an ETC Unison Architectural Control System was installed. A contact closure interface also links up the life safety and A/V systems, and ETC Alternate Source Transfer Switches serve as a cost-effective way of switching normal power to emergency power.

The distributor provided project management, on-site field supervision and system programming for Auberbach + Glasow, the lighting consultant on both the Space Theater and the Pre-Show areas.

Barbizon also provided technical recommendations for the installation of the equipment along with project management and on-site field supervision for the lighting equipment in the Hall of the Universe, a permanent exhibition area on the lower level of the Rose Center. Here, fiber optics and fluorescent sources illuminate the artifacts and cutout texts used in the displays.

More than 200 fluorescent lighting circuits with a power consumption of about 300A, are used in this area, and each circuit has architectural dimming down to about 1% of output. Thus, in most cases, a 15A branch circuit is dedicated to a single individual fluorescent fixture, so most of the branch circuit loads are less than 60W.

Because conventional SCR dimming does not operate well under low loads, Barbizon developed a unique dimming system using special fluorescent dimmer ballast controller cards. Each card receives a DMX signal and can power four-20A circuits. Similar dimmer racks are provided for dimming incandescent loads. Low-voltage relay panels with DMX Interfaces and relay drivers are used for controlling power to fiber-optic illuminators and LED controllers.

These dimmer racks and control panels are housed in three 5-ft deep pits, or wells, beneath the exhibit hall. Since the pits are too shallow to accommodate full-size dimmer racks, Barbizon custom-designed smaller racks and panels. The DMX signals are sent to each relay panel and distributed within each Fluorescent Dimmer Ballast Controller Enclosure across anywhere from four to 15 controller cards.

Using either an astronomical time clock or presets that are recalled on an LCD control station, an architectural control system operates the entire exhibit. A contact Closure Interface connects with the A/V system and the life-safety system.

LIGHTING AROUND THE SPHERE Ralph Applebaum of Applebaum & Associates, the exhibition designer, placed a number of spherical objects near the nine-story sphere to illustrate the relative size of the planets and other elements in our universe. They are hung from the ceiling and affixed to railings, and are linked with educational messages saying, for example, "If the sphere is the sun, then this 9-inch ball is earth, and if the sphere is a rhinovirus than this 10-inch ball is a hydrogen atom."

Fifty-three ellipsoidal theatrical lighting instruments (with 5-deg, 10-deg and 19-deg beam spreads), mounted on a catwalk 90 ft above the floor, illuminate the hanging models and other nearby exhibits. Fitted with up to 575-W long-life incandescent sources, these fixtures provide narrowly-focused illumination.

The 19-deg beam spread fixtures also provide illumination for a second floor walkway. Control is provided by a Lutron 6000 architectural dimming system, which also controls other architectural lighting in the building.

"Various presets change the mood in the entire space for events at night," said Larry Kochman, lighting systems project manager for E-J Electric. "The general illumination during the day highlights the different exhibits. Come evening, the mood changes as the sphere is bathed in blue and the orbs are glowing."

Fluorescent floodlights in shielded locations above and below provide the blue glow to the sphere. Louvered to minimize source brightness, these fixtures use 4-ft, T12 lamps, having a 20,000-hour average rated life, for reduced maintenance costs. The planet models are lighted from below by shielded filament, low-voltage narrow beam spotlights located with the fluorescent floodlights on the lower edge of a balcony. Lighting the sphere was a major challenge for the design team at Fischer Marantz Stone, the lighting consultants.

EVENTS LIGHTING SYSTEM The events lighting package for the exhibit area beneath the sphere, designed by Charles Stone of Fischer Marantz Stone, features a distributed dimming system as well as hanging points for truss at key points in the space.

"It's the first major public building design that allows theatrical lighting to come in off the truck and hang without running any cable," he said.

Recessed floor boxes and custom faceplates can distribute 120-V and 208-V power and control circuits where they are needed. A total of 20 portable dimmer boxes can be hung at any of the lighting positions and plugged into a DMX control station to provide special events lighting without running cables on the floor.

In addition to installing the lighting and audio systems, E-J Electric also installed an array of communications networks at the museum. Most importantly, the fiber-optic network cabling connecting the supercomputer to the Space Theater control console involves 96 multi-mode fibers and 48 single-mode fibers. The contractor also made low-loss fusion splicing to the museum's existing fiber-optic data network.

Called lighting instruments, theatrical fixtures offer more flexibility in terms of aim, focus, direction and shape, and tend to produce a more evenly-distributed and easily-controllable beam that can be soft- or hard-edged, colored and patterned. These fixtures can also maintain the integrity of the beam for a longer throw-a feature especially useful in atriums and lobbies. In addition to control, theatrical fixtures allow manipulation and variety.

Technology developments allow fixtures, control systems and lighting techniques used predominantly in the theater to be integrated into architectural lighting schemes to produce more varied effects. For example, Lutron Electronics Co., Coopersburg, Pa., offers a Two Link panel that allows an architectural space, such as a school auditorium, to be operated by its Grafik Eye 4000 or 6000 architectural control system and a theatrical console using the DMX 512 control protocol.

However, regular system maintenance is very important because theatrical fixture lamps generally do not have a 15,000-hr to 20,000-hr rated life. Thus, it is useful for a user to form a relationship with a local theatrical rental shop or an electrical distributor and develop a service contract. Another tip is to hire trained technicians who can troubleshoot a problem.

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