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21st Century Lighting Enhances Natural History Museum

Posted 12-JAN-11

After five years of restoration, modernization, and seismic retrofitting, the historic Rotunda building of the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum reopened in July 2010 with a new face and a whole new set of lighting — decorative LED bulbs supplied by Torrance, CA–based LEDtronics, Inc.

The museum is the largest in the western United States, and its collections include nearly 35 million specimens and artifacts and cover 4.5 billion years of history.

Renovation of the 97–year–old Beaux Arts–inspired building was part of a multiphase, $107 million project that included modernization of the electrical system to support multimedia presentations and events, improve climate control, and enhance exhibition lighting in an energy–efficient manner. Modernizing the lighting system involved a retrofit from incandescent light fixtures with custom–manufactured LED systems without compromising the historical integrity of the original fixtures, notably in the Rotunda.

Modernizing the Rotunda

LEDtronics provided 90 Series PAR38–180 5 W bulbs and 160 Series DEC–G25F 1 W frosted bulbs through the distributor, American Electric Supply of Corona, CA, to the contractor of record. The lamps were first installed in summer 2008.

Both types of bulbs offer a color temperature of 3,000 Kelvin. Most of the PAR38–180 bulbs were of a narrow beam configuration, and were positioned in a crisscrossing beam fashion around the perimeter of the 57 ft high Rotunda dome — the centerpiece of the museum building. The rest were medium beam, and were installed in recessed fixtures as down lights around the building’s upper walkway. Use of the 5 W LED lamps represents a minimum savings of 4,000 watts when compared to the 50–to–60 W incandescent PAR–style bulbs that might otherwise have been used.

The DEC–G25F–style frosted globe lamps were used as accent lighting all around the inside perimeter of the Rotunda. The complete installed set of 1 W LED bulbs only consumes about 160 W, compared to the 2,240 W that would otherwise be consumed had the architect designed in a similar set of standard 14 W G25 incandescent bulbs.

Multiple Benefits

The LED bulbs were installed not only to reduce energy consumption and improve light quality but also to reduce maintenance costs. Incandescent bulbs would go out often and the poor accessibility made replacing them difficult. Based on the LED’s 50,000–hour operational lifetime and the museum’s weekly hours of operation, maintenance teams will need to replace the LEDtronics lights only about once every 15–plus years.

There is another advantage to the LED switch: the dramatic reduction in lamp–generated heat. This provides major benefits both in terms of much less air conditioning required to keep the older bulbs cool, and also because keeping the temperature in the rotunda down is important since heat can cause the lead in the skylight to soften.

Originally dedicated when the Natural History Museum opened its doors in 1913, the Rotunda, crowned by the stained–glass skylight, is one of the museum’s most elegant and popular spaces. The colonnaded hall has often been used as a filming location, while the museum’s distinctive main building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

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