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Solution of the Month
Daylighting for Deep Interiors

BNIM Architects
September 2008

By David Sokol

For admitting daylight into a vast, low-slung building like a warehouse, skylights are no-brainers. But allowing that light to penetrate far into the interior requires a multi-pronged scheme. BNIM Architects’ deft handling of an atrium for the General Services Administration suggests an artistic approach to the solution.

Daylighting for Deep Interiors
Photo © Farshid Assassi
Daylighting for Deep Interiors
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BNIM took on the partial renovation of a million-plus-square-foot warehouse within the Bannister Road Federal Complex in Kansas City, Missouri, as part of its five-year contract with the GSA’s Heartland Region. The 1940s-era building was originally constructed as an airplane factory to support the war effort. The GSA later took ownership of the building and used it for paper and equipment storage, and it recently distributed some of that space to much-needed offices for the Federal Supply Service. (Honeywell Corporation leases half of the building.)

Responding to the GSA’s Workplace 20-20 initiative for improving the quality of federal office space, not to mention sustainability principles in general, BNIM’s project team, led by associate Curtis Simmons, AIA, LEED, decided to incise two bays above the renovation area and cap them with skylights whose rakish angle facilitate self-cleaning—every rainstorm is a nature-made wash. Underneath, BNIM fashioned the warehouse into a circulation core. This 3,200-square-foot atrium allowed the architects to equitably distribute illumination from the skylights among the adjacent offices. 

To accomplish that task, terrazzo floors, white walls, and an integrated light shelf offer reflective surfaces. But first daylight diffuses downward into a “light machine” that pushes it to well beyond its normal spread. “The light machine is comprised of an aluminum armature hung off of the remaining concrete structure,” Simmons explains, and a Tyvek shroud directs light inward. One segment of this series is interrupted, instead featuring a wedge-shaped swath of acrylic clad in dichroic film.

This whimsical element suspends lower than the Tyvek paneling to announce itself, yet it is not merely a one-note spectacle. Rather, the high-tech material engenders a continual relationship with the building’s office workers. “The colors vary from cyan to magenta, yellow to green, oranges and reds,” says Simmons, who also works as an abstract painter. “They’re somewhat unpredictable in nature, changing depending on the angle they are seen from or how the light hits the material. As the time of day and the time of year changes, there are always new angles and intensities of light for the light machine to transmute into color. The intent of this part of the light machine was to create a sense of joy and wonder, and perhaps a little mystery, into the space.”

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