Case Study

Gould Memorial Library – A Historic High Ceiling Renovation

Renowned lighting design firm CBB Lighting Design share insights to this historic high ceiling renovation featuring the Whiz 2.0 luminaire
A Masterpiece of Architecture—Gould Memorial Library
Gould Memorial Library (GML), can be found within the beautiful grounds of Bronx Community College. Inspired by Rome’s Pantheon, this building design is the brainchild of renowned architect Stanford White. This impressive Beaux Arts structure features colorful Tiffany stained glass windows, opulent Connemara Irish green marble Corinthian columns, and intricate Italian marble mosaic tiles. The soaring coffered dome, originally illuminated by natural light from the skylight, invites visitors to delve into the building’s history.

Renovations to its roof and dome, include the installation of 16, Whiz 2.0 high ceiling fixtures with elevated frosted diffusers to illuminate the 70ft hall. We had the opportunity to speak with lighting designers, Francesca Bettridge and Nira Wattanachote from CBBLD, to learn more about this historic project.

Illuminating Ideas with CBB Lighting Design

Credentials: FIES, IALD, LC
Credentials: MIES, WELL AP
Senior Associate
The Gould Memorial Library is a designated New York City landmark. Can you tell us about the previous lighting used and why there was a need to redesign the lighting for this iconic space?
CBB: The original lighting in the rotunda would have been natural light from the skylight. However, due to many issues, years ago a plaster ceiling was added under the skylight with small openings and high-pressure sodium high bay fixtures were hung through those openings to illuminate the space. The high-pressure sodium fixtures made everything look yellow and grayish because of the low CRI and very warm CCT. They were also not suitable for emergency lighting because of the restrike time.

Now that the school wants to reopen the space to the public and hold events there, the lighting needed to be redesigned to make it code compliant, safe, dimmable, and allow for people to see and appreciate the historic architecture. There will be different events during both the day and night, so dimming is important, and the existing fixtures did not have this capability.

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Leidel

Meteor’s involvement in the project rose from a sales call visit where the Whiz 2.0 fixture was shown and discussions started on customizing the fixture’s diffuser to mitigate glare. How vital was the elevated frosted diffuser to the lighting design?
CBB: The main challenge we had is that the space is 70’ high, so high power LEDs were necessary to provide enough light output, which the Whiz does. However, we didn’t want people to look up at the ceiling and see the LED pixels and glare. Typically for high ceiling applications, we would use fixtures with cutoff to mitigate glare from normal viewing angles. 
However, in this application, people want to look up to see the beautiful historic dome, so a frosted diffuser is a better option to solve the glare issue. The diffuser also helps to widen the beam spread so the dome details and the sculptures around the balcony are highlighted as well.

Whiz 2.0 configured with a customized frosted diffuser

What unique challenges did the historic nature of the building pose for your lighting design, and how did you overcome them?
CBB: We have worked on many historic buildings, and each project has presented different challenges. One thing historic projects have in common is the requirement that the lighting fixture must work with the architecture without altering the existing conditions; and must have the ability to be removed to restore the architecture to the original state. Typically, alterations need to be approved by Landmarks and/or community hearings, which can be a long process. In this case, “the original lighting” was the skylight, which due to physical condition issues no longer existed. Therefore, we worked with the existing condition of the plaster ceiling with its set openings and accessible by catwalk above.

The new pendant fixtures are hung from the catwalk and are located exactly at the center of each ceiling opening. The wiring was replaced to meet code requirements. The space above the ceiling has no ventilation, so the fixtures are dropped below the ceiling plane to prevent overheating. Maintenance is also very important, so the drivers are remotely located in the electrical closet for easy access.

How did the end result of the fixtures installed around the Rotunda affect the overall ambiance and atmosphere of the space? What impact did that have on visitors?
The architecture is now truly visible and receives the appreciation it deserves. All of the surfaces are showing their true colors. The scale of the space and architectural details that had been lost is now rediscovered.

The magnificent columns now appeared green with beautiful marble veins; previously under the yellow light of the high-pressure sodium light, they appeared dark gray. The dome and sculptures are now highlighted. It is such an inspiring space, and everyone is pleasantly amazed to see it in a brand-new light.

What advice would you give to other lighting designers working on historic building projects like the Gould Memorial Library?
For the historic projects, we must respect the architecture, listen to all the parties involved, and find solutions(s) that work best for the project. Think about how the space is to be seen and used, what are the important elements to illuminate, and how is the lighting controlled to allow for different light levels. Teamwork is extremely important in this type of project. We worked closely with the architect, engineer, manufacturer, and contractor to make sure all the requirements were met.

One advantage of relighting existing spaces is that the architecture already exists, so on-site mock-ups are a powerful tool to viewing the lighting effect and get everyone to agree on the solution. During schematic design we had an on-site mock-up with different types of fixtures and noticed the glare issues; it made us realize that the fixtures needed a frosted lens. We coordinated with Meteor to develop a modified lensed fixture which is a perfect solution for this project.



Francesca Bettridge FIES, IALD, LC

Nira Wattanachote MIES, WELL AP
Senior Associate


Richard Southwick FAIA, LEED AP

Graham Roscoe AIA, LEED AP

Engineering – O&S ASSOCIATES


Lighting Control Manufacturer – Lutron Electronics

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