Royal Philips

Can one of the world's most famous historic churches hold up to modern-day lighting?

Many things look better with crisp-edged LEDs – traffic signals, airplane cabins, perhaps even Christmas lights. But what about the moody, atmospheric interior of a 12th-century French-Gothic cathedral?

The architectural world can find the answer to this question this week by strolling into the Notre Dame de Paris, the historic Catholic church that stands on a Seine River island in Paris. From when its first stone was laid in 1163, the towering structure has basked in all the standard forms of illumination from candles to incandescent bulbs. But it's just received a retrofit for the modern world, thanks to an array of more than 400 luminaires that look like this thing:

And this wand:

The 21st-century lighting scheme, supplied by Royal Philips, has banished many of the cathedral's dim edges and left spaces looking clean and crisp. Whether or not that's an improvement depends on if you're a fan of traditional dark and brooding architecture. For what it matters, the lighting designer has intentionally left areas of contemplative half-light, and the LEDs are dimmable via computer panel should the overseers want to tone things down. What's certain are the environmental benefits: This new rig uses 30 kW as opposed to the previous one's 140 kW, an energy savings of 80 percent.

Here's a shot of the interior of Notre Dame pre-LED retrofit:

And this is the inside today:

Images courtesy of Royal Philips

About the Author

John Metcalfe
John Metcalfe

John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.

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