The North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) in Raleigh, NC, recently undertook a major expansion project to occupy 127,000 square feet (11,800 square meters) – enough space to host the permanent collection of over 5,000 art objects. The expansion was intended to transform the existing building into an exhibition center with administrative and educational offices, and combine these with gardens and outdoor galleries to create the nation’s largest art museum park.

The challenge:

In order to enhance visitors’ experience with art and help preserve the masterpieces hosted by the museum, the architect needed a system to filter UV rays and allow only a controlled amount of light to seep in. Architects Thomas Phifer & Partners were required to work within the artistic and educational guidelines of the project while maximizing the visual impact of the surrounding scenery. They approached Unicel Architectural for assistance in creating a vaulted roof that would match the neighbouring hills, while allowing controlled daylight into the buildings. The ultimate goal was to turn light into art with the help of technology.

North Carolina Museum of ArtThe daylighting solution:

For the NCMA sunscreen, Unicel developed a specially-designed blade to effectively control the amount of daylight that reaches inside the building. The blades were conceived to filter the UV radiations that could damage the exhibits and to allow only a reduced quantity of light to penetrate. Once it passes the sunshades, a system of vaulted ceiling coffers filters and softly diffuses the light into the galleries.

The result

The resulting sunscreen comprises 376 curved panels of 20′ x 6′ (6m x 2m) made of clear anodized aluminum that filters daylight while creating a stunning visual complement to the building’s exterior and surrounding landscape. Because of the number of panels, their shape and the daylight efficiency challenge, the NCMA daylighting project is an architectural milestone in terms of design and manufacturing.

Key parameters:

Location: Raleigh, NC
Gross square footage: 127,000 square feet (11,800 m2)
Sunscreen: 45,000 square feet (4,180 m2)
Completion: 2009
Program: Expansion, galleries, courtyards, public spaces


Owner: North Carolina Museum of Art
Architect: Thomas Phifer & Partners, NYC
Sub-Contractor: Super Sky
Solar Shading Manufacturer: Unicel Architectural