LD+A Magazine: MN State Capitol Comes Around with LED Lighting

Of the myriad setbacks a government can endure, Minnesota recently faced one that, if ignored, would have brought politics as usual to a full stop: its capitol building was crumbling, and time for delaying the repair was running out. It took nearly a decade, circa 1905, to construct Minnesota’s State Capitol, a Beaux-Arts inspired American Renaissance building designed by architect Cass Gilbert, whose later credits included the U.S. Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. More than 100 years later, Minneapolis-based firms HGA and Schuler Shook were given about half that time to complete a $310-million rehabilitation of the St. Paul landmark, listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972.

“If the century-old building was to continue to serve the needs of Minnesota’s government, it was clear that a comprehensive overhaul of the building and engineering systems was needed,” explains Tao Ham, senior lighting designer for HGA. Chief among the concerns, Ham says, was the roof, which was nearing the end of its serviceable life and allowing water penetration to damage historic and valuable interior finishes and murals. Exterior sculptural features had also deteriorated to the degree that safety was in question. “Diminished building performance and archaic engineering systems fell short of meeting today’s standards for sustainability, code compliance and maintainability,” Ham adds.

HGA’s design concept was guided by three principles: preserve architectural integrity, increase functionality, and improve security and safety. Work on the lighting system was further inspired by another part of the capitol’s history—it was the first building in Minnesota to have electric lighting.

“The goal was to achieve a full LED solution,” Ham says. “As a lighting designer, this was history making. The capitol was created in the same era that the Edison lamp was created. The building was illuminated with the cutting-edge lighting technology of the time. Over 100 years later, we were renovating the capitol with the newest cutting-edge lighting of our time.”

Read the full article in the Illuminating Engineering Society’s industry journal LD+A Magazine.