Front and centre – lighting for arts and culture has a far-reaching influence on a venue’s identity.


We all miss live performance – the warmth, the sounds, and the spectacle of a bricks-and-mortar venue.

Collectively we rely on the energy of cultural venues and events to animate our lives and cities.  Our hearts go out to the artistic community on both sides of the proscenium – the performers, technicians, and operators who anxiously await re-opening.  Our team’s experience with live performance production has deepened our connection to what these venues mean to the community and the role of architectural lighting. Lighting design can make or break a venue’s atmosphere or “emotional appeal” – providing rich colour and material rendering, cues for movement, a sense of vibrancy and celebration.

Light is the one digital technology that broadens how architecture communicates with its context in a way that enhances, not distracts.  “We harness this technology to connect to a building’s vibe, to alter how we look at architecture in the evening” explains Paul Boken, Vice President of Mulvey & Banani Lighting. “Our lighting design mantra is to reinforce the architectural design and program narratives of a cultural building or place so profoundly as to elevate the very brand.” At the Canadian Museum of Human Rights (CMHR) for example, illuminated ramps light the path to enlightenment, up to the top of the glowing tower. From behind richly hued slabs of alabaster, the lighting creates a soulful atmosphere, not easily forgotten.

Performing arts centres in particular are called upon to be increasingly synergistic and multi-modal in nature, with the ability to accommodate all types of musical, theatrical and cultural productions and events. 

“The lighting schemes for such flexible centres must be as equally nimble to accommodate an ever-changing agenda”, says Paul.  At the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre (St. Catherines, Ontario), for example, the 770 seat Partridge Hall even hosts corporate presentations and annual general meetings. Here, a concealed dynamic, colour changing, side wall lighting scheme can tune the hall’s atmosphere at the touch of a button. The result is a signature space that speaks to the open spirit of the program. The team also considered how some of the interior lighting strategies could extend the venue’s presence outward to the community and adjacent School of Fine and Performing Arts at Brock U.  A theatrical lighting feature animates the entrance at the north corner, streetside.

Lighting for the FirstOntario advanced concepts first developed at the 774 seat Sidney Harmon Hall (Harmon Centre for the Arts, Washington, D.C.) and Toronto’s 2,071 seat Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. All three venues share a similar rethinking of the synergies between entertainment, culture, outreach, and education.  Introverted, ‘hush-please’ lobbies and other front-of-house spaces were reimagined as lively welcome zones and flex-event spaces, broadcasting their activity outward to the city beyond. Lighting design treatments leveraged daylighting and focused on perimeter curtain wall lighting to increase the transparency of these “lanterns in the city”.

The lighting for Assiniboine Park’s new “Leaf” will highlight the fusion of nature, culture and community.

Paul and team are now busy finessing the lighting design for the biomes at Assiniboine Park’s new “Leaf”– a garden attraction that will tell Canadian stories of cultural diversity through the world of plants.  Dynamic lighting schemes will playfully mimic nature’s diverse light patterns – moon phases, sunsets, and other such stunning sky conditions with an skillful arrangement of reflectors and light fixtures that wraps the central diagrid structure. The scheme is at one with the venue’s identity, yet and an attraction unto its own.

“In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary.” – Aaron Rose