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A fresh feel for a  
historic museum

Musée d'arts, Nantes, France


An insightful interview with Nick Cramp and Jocelyn Urvoy, who helped to transform the Musée d'arts using light.

Philips lighting at Musée d'arts, Nantes, France


Our client
wanted to

make better use of daylight and also have a flexible installation of museum lighting. We designed an intelligent system that balances artificial lighting and daylight."


-Nick Cramp, Senior Partner, Max Fordham LLP

Philips lighting at Musée d'arts, Nantes, France
Philips lighting at Musée d'arts, Nantes, France

Customer challenge


For the renovation of the historic Musée des Beaux-Arts, the new lighting would have to do more than just illuminate the displays. It needed to complement the architecture, guide visitors, and balance the natural light  - all without damaging the precious artworks.

Philips lighting at Hercules Segers in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The right lighting 


Nick Cramp and Jocelyn Urvoy from Max Fordham LLP worked with architect Stanton Williams to create the lighting strategy. The result was an incredible design that has transformed the museum’s image.


How did you create the interface between daylight and artificial lighting?


Nick: We designed an intelligent system that balances artificial lighting and daylight. The quantity of natural light is controlled: on especially bright days, blinds close to preserve the artworks. 


Glass of varying transmission levels is used above the patio; this makes the light consistent and avoids overheating. Between the galleries and the external glazing, there are perforate blinds and diffusing membranes that even out the light.


How did you achieve the right quality of light?


Nick: Above each gallery there is a ‘top hat’ containing the layers needed to manage the acoustic, lit and thermal environment. It contains etched double-glazing, which gently diffuses direct light but keeps it directional. Beneath this, a micro-perforated acoustic layer and dual-layer stretch membrane manage the distribution of light. 


Why did you embed LED light in the architecture of the rooflights?


Jocelyn: Having such large rooflights, we chose to keep the lighting above. We needed soft, energy-efficient lighting that could make the change from natural to artificial light in a subtle way.


What is the ambiance in the galleries? 


Nick: Each gallery has a different atmosphere, from large spaces lit coolly by light boxes in Le Cube, to the classical halls in the Palais bathed in sky light.


In what way is the light part of the museography? 


Nick: The different character of the spaces helps define the journey through the museum. Spaces displaying older parts of the collection are treated with warm light focused onto the canvases to help lift the colors. Contemporary works are positioned in bright ambient spaces that have a more subtle style of emphasis. 


What is the ceiling entrance lighting design? 


Nick: The entrance hall acknowledges the architecture and creates a visual flow towards the internal patio zone. A mix of concealed LED strips, spotlights, and linear edge-lighting provides the right balance between reflected and direct light.


Jocelyn: The ground-floor galleries were provided with a specially made Philips luminaire that runs the length of the ceilings. Fitted with tunable fluorescent high-output light sources, it allowed us to set up different scenes throughout the ground floor. 


How did you light the staircases and corridors?


Jocelyn: The monumental staircase in the museum retains its original glazed rooflight. The lighting for the new Cube wraps around its walkways, serving visitors and providing architectural backlighting.

The Modular luminaires, with fluorescent or LED sources, are used in most public circulation areas, guiding visitors and smoothing the transition between zones.


Why was LED lighting used in museum spaces?


Jocelyn: LED lighting was used, where affordable, to minimize operational costs and energy consumption in the long term. Good color rendition was also very important. 


What feedback have you had?


Jocelyn:  So far, the feedback is enthusiastic. The Palais and the new galleries have a lively rhythm of daylight variations, which we recognize from the outside world. This is a strong asset, one that deserves to be experienced at different times of the day and the year.

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Artificial and natural 
light in harmony

The Team

Ville de Nantes and Nantes Métropole


To Website

Stanton Williams

Architect and Museography

To Website

Max Fordham LLP

Lighting Designer

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Engie Ineo


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