ETC Helps Mass Mutual Boston Create a Forest in the City

Jun 2, 2023 | News, Professional Lighting

The lobbies of insurance companies are not typically the place you look for extraordinary, award- winning lighting design. A notable exception can be found in the Boston Mass Mutual building, whose five-thousand-square-foot lobby is closer to an immersive experience than a waiting room. With a design by Ben Strauss LC, IES, Assoc. IALD, Associate Principal and Josh Feinstein LC, Principal of Boston-based Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting with fixtures and architectural lighting controls from ETC, the lobby has been called “a forest in the city” thanks to its lighting offering “a stunning display of tunable white light and gobos.”

The design team won multiple IES lighting awards for their work, including a 2022 IES Interior Lighting Design, Merit Award and a 2022 IES Lighting Control Innovation, Merit Award for their use of ETC’s Paradigm architectural controls system to control the lighting.

Following the concept of the client, Strauss and Feinstein created a bucolic landscape complete with grow lights for indoor plants. Their ingenious design mimics the movement of sunlight as the day blends into night, using slow fades, shadows, and discreet gobos, filtered through the slatted ceiling pieces that dominate the lobby.

Ed Hyatt, Principal, and the team at BIG (Boston Illumination Group) facilitated the design and implementation of the ETC systems. “While playback scheduling and user interfaces are Paradigm, the heavy lifting was done using Ion for the designers to create precisely timed, subtle, lighting transitions, stored and replayed via an Ion XE remote processor. The Ion, designed for a programmer to quickly enter a lighting designer’s choices of fixture, color, intensity and fade times, made programming onsite much simpler,” said Hyatt. Located in the burgeoning seaport district, the Mass Mutual building is surrounded by tower blocks, allowing its lobby only 90 minutes of sunlight a day.

“We were part of the design process from the beginning. When we saw the wooden slats [that act as a decorative element in place of a ceiling] our first thought was – where are we going to put the lights?” said Feinstein. The challenge was to create scenes using shadows, filtered light, and gobos without what Strauss called a “cartoonish” effect. Describing the process, Strauss added, “Unlike a stage show, where the audience is at a distance, we had to create something that worked closeup and was subtle and not distracting.”

Working with a series of onsite mockups, facilitated by the BIG group, they settled on a grid of ETC’s heavy-duty track lighting solution, DataTrack Backbone. The added aluminum extrusion adds strength to the track, allowing larger fixtures with longer throws to be used while maintaining a clean, corporate aesthetic. “The system allowed us to move fixtures around in a way that would not have been possible with a standard pipe grid and gave an overall cleaner look,” said Strauss.

ETC also provided the fixture package, using 75 ColorSource fixtures and their five-colour LED array to provide a rich, tunable shade of white. The programming challenge was to create four separate and continually shifting lighting states from morning, midday, afternoon, and night.

“We also wanted to reflect seasonal changes, as in winter when the days are shorter, and ETC was able to create a custom algorithm for that,” said Strauss. Looking back on the challenges of the project, Feinstein summed up, “to avoid the cartoonish look and too much colour separation, it was quite an exercise to find the right positioning of lens, gobo, films, focusing and intensity – but I’m happy with the end result.”

First Published: