October 7, 2015 by: Heimsath Architects Staff

In the past, stained glass back-lighting has been quite difficult.  The fluorescent and incandescent light sources we had to work with created heat, were hard to access, and had color issues.  The stained glass never looked good compared to the natural lighting provided by sunlight.  However there are some new LED solutions that are making it much easier to have a beautiful installation without light from the outside.

Back lit stain glass with altarAt the recently completed Parish Life Center for the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, the Parish Administrator found an existing piece of stained glass that we felt would add the right amount of reverence to the new multi-use space we were building.  This was especially important because for the next year the congregation would be worshipping in the PLC while a new Narthex was added to the existing worship space.


Back lighting the glass panel provided a number of advantages.  First we could control how much light we would have by dimming the lights with the dimming system for the PLC.  Second the semi-circular arch top did not match the style of the existing buildings so we could have it inside here while the exterior windows could still relate to rest of the campus.  Finally, there is a covered walkway on the exterior of the building that would have created strange shadows, even if we had chosen to use outside sunlight.

What We Did:

First we had the framers create an arched-top niche that was about 5" deep--we couldn't be any deeper because of structure.  We then installed the Tivoli Illumiwall system in the shallow recess.  The system has a power bar that allows warm white LED strips to plug in 4" O.C.  The strips were then cut to length to match the arch.  This gave us an extremely consistent high-powered dimmable light source behind that fit within our narrow gap.

Another important part of the installation is the wooden stain glass frame has a translucent plexiglass panel behind the glass so the LEDs are diffused--other wise you might see the tiny points of light through the more clear sections of the stain glass.  The long life of the lamps allows for an install that does not rely on having to provide regular access for lamp changes.  However, the dimmers do need to be remotely mounted in an accessible space.


The Rough Opening


Tivoli Illumiwall Installed

The Stained Glass in the Space

The Stained Glass at Night

Church Design & Construction/ Liturgical Arts/ Technology