Light Becomes a Time Machine
The Austrian National Library is a cathedral of culture and learning, one of the richest libraries in Europe with thousands of volumes across multiple rooms adorned with artworks and sculptures, and enriched with frescoed walls and ceilings. These spaces are also filled with history, having welcomed and housed many famous people over the centuries, with different desires and needs. An awareness of this amalgam of history and culture was a central realization for Lighting Design Austria, a practice founded by Helmut Revgart, as it embarked on a new design for the complex. The light had to be perfect for the people working and using these spaces, but it also had to draw out those otherwise hidden details that would be all too easy to miss. This concept is central to understanding the project, in which Linea Light Group played a leading role. “My background in theater was an enormous benefit as I developed this design”, explained designer Revgart. “Just as actors on stage are in constant motion and the light has to follow their actions, so in the corridors of the library the staff who handles the daily consultation of books, potentially using ladders, needed a flexible lighting system that would follow their movements. It needed to be custom made”. Linea Light Group, based near Venice, is known for its flexibility and products that can be concealed from view. In this design, its lights also proved exceptional in rendering the perfect warmth for the colors in the frescoes in the State Room, which is in the wing where the company was most involved in the project. Crowned by a dome frescoed by Daniel Gran, the room holds millions of volumes, including 15,000 books that once belonged to Prince Eugene of Savoy, a large collection of manuscripts from Martin Luther’s era and Venetian-made baroque globes.
“The frescoes, bookcases and books have similar hues”, Revgart added. “The frescoes are filled with warm colors that only became apparent after the lighting was changed; many have very small golden touches that were not visible before, just like some of the three-dimensional aspects of the paintings”. Thus, the light becomes a sort of time machine. In this project, producing high-quality lighting that matched the design brief was only part of the problem, as such a heritage room also requires all elements to meet demanding historical conservation rules to avoid damaging any of the books or wooden structures. For example, the shelves could not be illuminated with more than 50 lux, leading to indirect lighting being a more viable solution. The new lighting system uses three-phase DALI tracks on which all the new LED lights were installed in a network system. The products by Linea Light Group include Navata Optus, Optus_W2, a custom version of High Protection and Periskop for the statues and busts. Even after many centuries, this library never ceases to amaze, with the unveiling magic of light now playing a leading role.