Career Achievement – de Young Museum

Posted August 10th, 2010 in Career and tagged , by neil

It’s likely that my father worked on hundreds, if not thousands, of lighting projects over the course of his career. I remember him working at his drafting table at home, probably putting in extra time to get the work done. Every once in a while I would ask about what he was doing, and he’d stop to show me the drawings and take the time to explain to me how it all worked. Of all of these designs, there is one that stands well above all of the others in terms of being a career achievement: Lighting at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The original museum was damaged beyond repair in the 1989 earthquake. It was then was redesigned, rebuilt, and reopened in 2005.

When he retired and my parents moved back to California, he hung up a seemingly strange item in the garage at their home. It is sort of this shadow box frame that has a small portion of a lighting fixture in it, with a label beneath it that reads “de Young Museum”. I inspected it when I first saw it years ago, and thought that perhaps it was in an exhibit at a design museum somewhere. It wasn’t until I asked him about it recently that I understood how he was involved in working on the complex lighting design. He mentioned that there were very strict requirements from the architects and the team he worked on had to figure out how to light the interior spaces of the museum. The architects wanted unobtrusive, yet versatile lighting that could be fit into various areas with differently sloping ceilings. The team he worked on came up with a “slot system” design.

This slot system design allowed for the fixture to be placed anywhere and on any degree of slope as it was suspended from above to hang flush with the ceiling. This provided a very clean look and allowed plenty of light. Also built into the design was an ‘air handling channel’ and the ability to attach a pendant light to a track. I imagine that the air handling channel was designed to be used as an air return for the building HVAC system. The pendant light will hang plumb (or perpendicular) to the horizontal floor, which was a challenge if the fixture was installed on a sloped ceiling. If you’re interested in the details, you can see the patent here with lots of diagrams.

If you click on the images shown in this posting, you can see how the lights are flush with the ceiling and some examples of pendant lights hanging from a few of them.

Colleen Pastore, who worked with him at Lightolier, commented on a previous post and mentioned this project and how Horst was essential to it’s success. She pointed me to an online version of an article published in a trade magazine (Electrical Contractor). The article described the entire project that the lead contractor had to handle… which included the lighting systems. The PDF version shows a fairly good view of the fixture from below. Find it on page 3, next to the highlighted reference to Horst and the team he worked with on the design.

In writing back and forth with Colleen, I said that I am realizing something more now than ever… how humble he was. Colleen wrote back and said this:

It is so interesting that you use the word humble for Horst. As I was writing on the memorial site, that was one of his characteristics that I was remembering the most.  He truly was humble.  He was just such a great person to work with because of that and because of his talent.  He would always listen so carefully to what was needed, and always came up with very thoughtful solutions that addressed every concern.  He was a very special person.

I’ve never been to the de Young Museum; the new one nor the old. It is definitely on my list of museums and places to visit on our next trip up to the San Francisco bay area. I want my kids to see what their grandfather accomplished.

A special thank you to tsallam and caprilemon for allowing me to use the photos shown above.

4 Responses so far.

  1. Kiki says:

    It’s interesting, the word HUMBLE… not much in use nowadays, not of much use to most people, yet a firm fixture in our personal life.
    What I thought every time I had an exchange with Horst, was that he was so modest about everything… I think HUMBLE is more precise.
    I am very happy to read more about him and thank you and your family for bringing us so many more news. He continues to live within us and is very much missed.

  2. Linda says:

    I am still in shock about losing my friend on Flickr. Thanks for sending the info about his life, he was a very unique and talented man!


  3. Neil, thanks for continuing to share these stories about your dad. He was special to so many people in so many ways.

  4. dannie says:

    Thank you for sharing this information about our friend. I always thought he must have been a scientist or an engineer, since his images were not only always creative and beautiful, but were always notable for their technical excellence and precision. Did you notice that Horst’s lighting is very noticeable in the second picture in the Wikipedia link you provided? Beautiful work. I’ll have to visit that museum some day!