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Lighting the Way

The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center in Manhattan reimagines how medical school facilities look and function, day or night.

The defining characteristic of the VEC is a network of social and study spaces distributed along an exposed, interconnected vertical staircase that extends the height of the building.
09/01/2017 By Robert Nieminen

Embracing the paradigm that learning is often  a social exercise, the new Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center features casual, collaborative spaces  like this area with stadium seating. Part of what makes the VEC unique is the variety of spaces from formal, intimate, and social, where students can develop skills essential for modern medical practice. Inconspicuous lighting fixtures are a key design element, as the space requires enough output to shoot down from double- and triple-height ceilings. The VEC incorporates technologically advanced classrooms and a modern simulation  center to reflect how medicine is taught, learned, and practiced in the 21st century.

Today’s educational paradigm embraces the idea that learning is often a social exercise. To that end, the design of many schools and universities now includes more relaxed, collaborative spaces for active learning outside the classroom. 

A perfect (and stunning) example of this approach is The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center (VEC), a new, state-of-the-art medical and graduate education building in Northern Manhattan that opened its doors in August 2016. Designed by the New York-based interdisciplinary design studio Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in collaboration with Gensler as executive architect, the innovative medical and educational facility consists of a 14-story glass, concrete, and steel tower that incorporates technologically advanced classrooms, collaboration spaces, and a modern simulation center to reflect how medicine is taught, learned, and practiced in the 21st century. The design seeks to reshape the look and feel of the traditional medical center, as well as to create spaces that facilitate the development of skills essential for modern medical practice.

“The concept behind the project was to create a continuous space that facilitates collaboration and participation, as well as linking several different types of environments, whether they be more intimate or social,” explained Scott Baillie-Hinojosa, senior lighting designer and junior associate at Tillotson Design Associates, the lighting design firm of record. 

The defining characteristic of the VEC is the “Study Cascade”—a network of social and study spaces distributed along an exposed, interconnected vertical staircase that extends the height of the building and encompasses 100,000 square feet of high-tech medical and scientific facilities. The alcove interiors of the Study Cascade, designed to be conducive to collaborative, team-based learning and teaching, open onto south-facing outdoor spaces and terraces. 

The design takes advantage of sweeping views of the Hudson River and the Palisades. The building also integrates a range of sustainable features—including locally sourced materials, green roof technologies, and an innovative mechanical system that minimizes energy and water use—and the façade utilizes ceramic “frit” patterns that are baked onto the exterior glass to diffuse sunlight. 

Inside, the lighting design plays a crucial role in facilitating the operations taking place within the facility, while also ensuring the building blends seamlessly with the surrounding neighborhood, particularly during the evening hours. interiors+sources recently spoke with Baillie-Hinojosa about the VEC and the role that lighting played in this advanced medical school, and which products helped realize its dramatic, forward-thinking design.

interiors+sources: What was the significance of the lighting design in terms of the project serving as both a medical and educational facility?

Scott Baillie-Hinojosa: The building is actually located in a highly residential area. It was important for us to not make this feel too much like a foreign object and [we also considered] the fact that most people in the area would be experiencing this building from the street level, focusing on views upward into this building. You’re looking at a lot of ceilings, essentially. With that in mind, we wanted to keep the ceiling really quiet, but we knew that most of our lighting was going to have to be located in the ceiling. Our goal was to find a fixture that was very powerful, and have it be as inconspicuous as possible.

i+s: What criteria did you use to determine the lighting specifications?

SBH: [One] obstacle that we had to deal with that also helped us select these fixtures in particular was the fact that we had a lot of non-coplanar ceilings in the southern cascade area. We needed to have a certain level of adjustability of these fixtures so that we could make sure that light was aiming down to the floors where we needed them, not facing out into the streets and blinding people as they look up into the building. Additionally, considering we were very sensitive to the nighttime rendering of the building, we wanted to keep everything very simple at 3,000k [lumens].

i+s: Which lighting solutions did you choose to help achieve the project’s design objectives and why?

SBH: Prescolite [a brand of Hubbell Lighting] has two-inch LED fixtures; one is called the A2 LED—that’s the adjustable version—and then the D2 LED, which is the non-adjustable version. I think these fixtures were fairly unique at the time that we were specifying them because they were delivering a very significant amount of light. It didn’t have a housing [mechanism], so it was going to take up a lot less room in the ceiling, which was also an important factor for us because there were a lot of structural components that were going to be within the ceiling as well as other services. The adjustability factor was important in a lot of locations. The output was also important, again, because we have a lot of double-height and even triple-height spaces where we needed light. We couldn’t reach it from other adjacent spaces. We couldn’t fill in with lights in those really tall areas, so we ended up needing to shoot two or three stories down to cover the area below with these light fixtures. I think it was the size and the output that made the difference.  

Photography by John Muggenborg

See additional photography from this project at johnmuggenborg.com