Behind the ʻIonic Structure of Glassʼ

Architect and designer Paul Haigh reviews the re-installation of this major work by Dominick Labino.

Visitors to the Ben W. Heineman Sr. Family Gallery of Contemporary Glass will enjoy a new installation focusing on the story of international studio glass. Tina Oldknow, senior curator of modern and contemporary glass, has emphasized in this exhibition the blending of design, craft, and art over a key period of 25 years (1975-2000). In working with Tina on this installation, the challenge of integrating many stained glass and backlit art works pushed the fixture lighting and design detailing into new territory.

Ionic Structure of Glass, Dominick Labino, 1979. (80.4.30)

Ionic Structure of Glass, Dominick Labino, 1979. (80.4.30)

One stand-out work in the new installation is Dominick Labino’s Ionic Structure of Glass, made in 1979. The date is of particular interest as it was commissioned for the opening of the Museum’s new building in 1980, which was designed by Gunnar Birkerts. Consisting of five large fused and cast glass elements, held in a metal armature, the assembly measures 60” in diameter and weighs in at around 350lbs. Until this relocation, it was firmly embedded, as an internal window, in the wall of the Birkerts building’s entrance, where it was intended to be the first work seen by visitors. Subsequent expansion of the Museum has left it out of view for the last 15 years. In the new installation of the Heineman gallery, it will again take a prime position, on axis with the busy landing that leads into the contemporary glass and historical glass collections.

The original wall space behind the artwork contained an array of tungsten floodlamps, which generated significant heat, causing the window to need cooling by a dedicated air-conditioning supply vent. Static dust buildup required regular cleaning and maintenance, and lamp replacement involved a tortuous climb through a mechanical equipment room.

View of Ionic Structure of Glass in new location

View of Ionic Structure of Glass in new location

Behind the glass seems an appropriate term for the complexity of re-installing an integrated work like this. Our challenge, as exhibition designers working within the existing infrastructure, is to achieve museum quality architectural detailing while integrating new LED technology into the backlighting solution. When complete, solutions should enhance the artwork and provide the viewer with the best possible interaction with the work.

Warren Bunn, the Museum’s collections and exhibitions manager, sees the relocation of the Labino window as part of a continuum at the Museum to incorporate LED technology into an overall strategy for improving lighting quality, fixture access, maintenance and energy reduction throughout the galleries. This new installation will see, as part of this strategy, a new LED display dedicated to a presentation of eight contemporary stained glass works.

Architectural wall section

Architectural wall section

Advancements in LED (light emitting diodes) technology are now at a level suitable for displaying museum quality art in glass. Color temperatures, heat emissions, lower energy consumption and slim fixture profiles have given LED the advantage over existing tungsten and fluorescent light sources. The LED fixture backlighting Labino’s Ionic Structure of Glass is a custom pair of semi-circular edge-lit LED acrylic panels known as a Rosco LitePad HO+. At just 3/8” thick, these panels are some of the thinnest light fixtures currently available, making them ideal for integration into wall sections and shallow spaces. One of LitePad’s most important technical attributes is the quality of light it produces, a soft even field of daylight perfect for glass with variable layers, thicknesses, color densities and translucencies. This even field of light avoids so called ‘hot spots’ associated with tungsten and fluorescent lamps and allows for localized diffusion layers to be added as needed to reduce glare and see-through at transparent panes.

Invention, of the type embodied in LED technology, would have sat well with Labino, who as an inventor and glass research scientist strived to create new colors and develop forms that expressed the fluid quality of glass. In the Ionic Structure of Glass these attributes are clearly expressed and visible once again by Museum visitors.

Support detail and cast glass depth

Support detail and cast glass depth


About Paul Haigh
Paul Haigh, principal of HAIGHArchitects + Designers, has designed a number of exhibitions at the Corning Museum of Glass including the Voices of Contemporary Glass: The Heineman Collection and Making Ideas: Experiments in Design at GlassLab.