Sprawling across 110 acres in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains, Los Angeles' $1 billion Getty Center has opened its doors to the public. The Center is equipped with some of the most sophisticated, intricately designed, automated lighting control ever installed in an art gallery.

The upper level of the museum houses 22 skylit galleries showcasing the museum's priceless painting collections. Strategically located, the skylights allow natural light to illuminate the galleries and approximate the conditions in which the artists painted the masterpieces.

Although natural light is optimum for viewing the paintings, destructive ultraviolet rays pose a threat to the fragile, centuries old art. To minimize the damaging effects of direct sunlight, elaborate configurations of shades and louvers were installed throughout the galleries to direct and control the incoming sunlight.

Because of the unique combination of natural and electric light sources used in the design, three separate vendors were required to provide the different components of the overall lighting system. Through its Programmable Networked System, GE Total Lighting Control (TLC), Warwick, R.I., seamlessly linked and integrated the complex lighting features and building management functions to provide one centralized source of secure automated control over the three platforms.

Landis & Staefa, Irvine, Calif., provided the automated control of all gallery window treatments. Motor-driven, adjustable louvers are regulated by sensors timed to the sun's movement. Another system, designed by Lutron Electronics Co., Inc., Coopersburg, Pa., controls the light-dimming function. GE provided the communications interface that links the Staefa and Lutron systems. Photo sensors located throughout the galleries measure and monitor incoming light. When the sensors detect the sun's movement, they send a signal to the GE TLC system. The TLC system interprets commands from Staefa and in turn, cues Lutron to bring up the lights, then cues Staefa to close the louvers.

Starting with GE's basic Level Three lighting control system, then integrating 300 different components and some 200 lighting panels, the Getty installation quickly evolved into the second largest and one of the most complex projects GE TLC had ever attempted. It combines the power of networked, intelligent, lighting automation panels with the convenience of monitoring and control via personal computer. The system is equipped with enhanced, customized communications software that enables centralized control of the window shades and light dimmers in conjunction with the entire building management system. In addition, the museum had special security needs that GE had to build into the program.

At one point considered the largest construction project under contract in the U.S., the planning and design of the Getty Center was started some 13 years ago and was under construction for about eight years.