Inspired Illumination

Duke Chapel’s exterior lighting is part of a larger sustainability shift toward LED

Duke University Chapel is shown here illuminated at night in early 2019. Photo by University Communications.
Duke University Chapel is shown here illuminated at night in early 2019. Photo by University Communications.

An important sustainability movement that’s visible, yet hard to notice, is sweeping across Duke’s campus.

Improved reliability and quality for energy efficient LED lights, combined with a lower price, have made LEDs an easy choice for incorporating into new and existing campus buildings. And now, when darkness falls, Duke University Chapel is bathed in the LED-produced light.

“I think it says a lot about Duke’s commitment to becoming climate neutral that it’s implementing a project like this at Duke Chapel,” said Belle Farish, project manager for Duke’s Facilities Management Department.

Duke recently completed the first phase of a retrofit project that replaced lights in 14 campus buildings – covering around 1.35 million square feet of building space – with LEDs. That project cut those buildings’ lighting system energy use by 52 percent.

Lighting systems at campus landmarks such as Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium and Baldwin Auditorium have already switched to LEDs. Planning has begun for Cameron Indoor Stadium to do the same.

But shifting the lights at Duke Chapel presented a unique design challenge due to the building’s location in the heart of West Campus and its spire that can be seen for miles.

The LED fixtures were mounted in the same locations as the previous lights to illuminate the Chapel: two on the roof of the Brodhead Center, two on the roof of Rubenstein Library, two smaller lights on the roof of covered walkways linking the Chapel to Page Auditorium and the Duke Divinity School, and two mounted at the rear of the Chapel.

Switching out the fixtures, which was done earlier this year, was somewhat easy. But fine tuning the direction and color of the light took work and observation. Finding the precise shade of white to match light fixtures on Abele Quad and also highlight the Chapel’s 17 hues of Duke stone took a number of attempts.

“A lot of things can happen after light travels a few hundred feet,” said Ben Stephenson, electrical engineer with the Facilities Management Department. “It’s not always going to be as uniform as you’d like. So we want to be able to control the light.”

Now, when dusk descends on campus, energy use is slashed, and Duke Chapel looks as regal as ever.

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