Columbia University, The David and Helen Gurley Brown Institute for Media Innovation

New York, NY, USA

Located in the historic School of Journalism at Columbia University, the 4600ft² Brown Institute for Media and Innovation is a unique academic experiment devoted to the co-evolution of journalism and technology.


Buro Happold joined the project team to provide MEP (building services engineering), fire and lighting expertise. It was the latter that proved the most complex, as it was pivotal to the success of our client’s aim to shed light on new ways of storytelling. In addition, our design needed to be readily adaptable to suit the varied needs of the academic program, which can range from a classroom or workshop environment, right through to a film screening, concert or cocktail party.

Brown university lighting design
We developed a unique lighting design that uses LEDs embedded in pipework to create a flexible, intuitive yet low maintenance system. Image: Gabe Guilliams


We responded with a system of intertwined LEDs embedded within pipework on the ceiling, which can be used individually or together to build a network of ambient lighting conditions. To simplify maintenance, all the LEDs are the same long-life, off-the-shelf product, and they are held in place magnetically so they can be removed and replaced quickly.

Our engineers devised various lighting zones in response to the requirements of the program. During the day, wall panels at the side of the room can be opened to expose the windows and draw in natural light, while perimeter lighting reduces visual contrast between the windows and the walls to prevent eyestrain. If projections need to be shown, the wall panels can be closed, overhead lighting switched off and the perimeter LEDs dimmed.

Brown university lighting design
Shedding light on the art of storytelling in a digital age. Image: Michael Krisch


Working collaboratively with the wider design team, we developed a flexible and responsive lighting system that works seamlessly with other components to create a holistic and intuitive learning environment. Our concept is also highly energy efficient, contributing to the project’s overall LEED Gold certification.


IALD Lighting Design Awards, Award of Merit


Illuminating Engineering Society, Lighting Design Awards, Award of Merit


Illuminating Engineering Society, NYC Lumen Citation for Strong Execution of Concept


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