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Feature: Lighting Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Feature: Lighting Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Feature: Lighting Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Mexico’s largest cathedral relies on LynTec to power the LED lighting which highlights the Baroque details of the church’s historical façade

The main square of Mexico City, known as the Zócalo or Plaza de la Constitución, has been the gathering place for people since Aztec times. Today, it is surrounded by sites and buildings that echo its historic past, including the remains of the Aztec Templo Mayor, historical government buildings, as well as the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. One of the largest and oldest cathedrals in Latin America, Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral is built on soil holding a wealth of artefacts dating back to the reign of the Aztecs and the conquest and dominance of Spanish Conquistador, Hernán Cortes.

Impressive in both spectacle and history, the cathedral took almost 250 years to build. Each of the façades feature reliefs and statuaries that make the building a popular draw for tourists. Two years ago, the city and the National Institute for Archeology and History (INAH) wanted to spotlight the architecture and art of the building as part of a cityscape lighting project. The goal was to create a lighting design that would allow everyone to enjoy the heritage of the building, bring a feeling of safety at night and provide colour washes during events and religious feast days and celebrations.

Previously, the cathedral was lit by a combination of sodium vapour and metal halide 400W and 1,000W flood lights that had neither the ability nor the power to truly reveal the monumental architecture. Aleksandar Lalicki, principal consultant and lighting designer, won the two separate bids for the projects to light the southern and eastern façades of the building. Finding the best lighting and power control solution, however, meant tackling many obstacles – infrastructure, historical and power – within the design.

First, under the Zócalo and most of Mexico City, lay of the remains of Aztec’s capital city, Tenochtitlan, buried less than 1.5–2.5m down. For this reason, nothing can be built deeper than 1.2m, which can hamper construction and electrical projects. Despite this limitation, the installation still hit a snag early on when a grave of one of the first priests who served the cathedral in the 16th century was discovered in one of the locations. It halted the install for almost six months while the INAH excavated the site. In addition, metro lines and other wiring under the pavement further restricted the areas where wiring and lighting fixtures could run. Furthermore, lighting fixtures couldn’t be mounted on surrounding buildings or the roof of the cathedral. As a solution, the fixtures have been installed on custom-designed lamp posts around the church. However, since the distance for the light was between 32m and 75m, the number of lamp posts that could be used was limited. Finally, the city experiences frequent power fluctuations, which meant that the lighting system would need to be supported by a robust, compact power breaker panel with built-in power protection.

“With lighting, we wanted to really open visitors’ eyes to the beauty of the reliefs, statues and all the small details within the architecture,” said Lalicki. “It was very difficult due to the distances, the sheer size of the building and the budget.”

For this reason, Lalicki turned to GRIVEN LED architectural lighting. Chosen for the quality of light as well as engineering, they feature IP68 connections and seven different optics. The southern façade is lit by 114 fixtures, while the eastern façade has 47. The fixtures are mounted in pairs, two per level, each covering a specific area of the building, which Lalicki and his team defined during the project phase based on computer models. Using a mere 27kW of electrical power, Lalicki managed to illuminate the cathedral with levels around 200 lux for the main details and an average of 100 lux for the overall façades.

Although LED lighting provides incredible cost and lighting benefits, it’s essential they are well-supported and protected with an automated power control solution. Without it, fixtures that are left on will continue to draw standby power, burn up faster and be prone to lock-ups. With this in mind, Lalicki knew a robust power control solution that was engineered for the power control demands of lighting was key.

“I’ve always remembered what [the late lighting designer] Sonny Sonnenfeld told me: ‘Don't forget you have to shut down the power supplies. You can shut down with DMX. You can shut down the lights, but the power supply will keep working on idle. It will become warm, and then instead of 30 or 50,000 hours of working time, you’ll have maybe eight or 10.’”

For that reason, Lalicki turned to LynTec’s robust portfolio of lighting control solutions. He has relied on LynTec for many lighting theatre and cultural centre projects throughout Mexico, including the José Peón Contreras Theater and Palacio de la Musica both in Mérida. For this lighting design, Lalicki specified LynTec’s 42-circuit RPC341 Remote Control Breaker Panel.

“LynTec is the heart of my LED installations,” said Lalicki. “We used Lyntec’s RPC panel because it’s a solid, well-engineered product that’s easy to install, connect, program and protects LED lighting systems with multiple password-protected levels. Also, the control on distance and use of IP for that purpose made RPC panels our first and only choice,” said Lalicki.

Based on the G3 Powerlink hardware platform by Square D and engineered to simplify audio, video and lighting buildouts by accelerating the installation process, LynTec’s RPC power control panels decrease operating costs with simple wiring that allows electricians to easily complete installations and remove additional steps, costs and space needed to install a separate relay panel. Available with between 30 and 84 controllable breakers per panel, the power control solution provides additional circuit switching control capabilities in the same enclosure and grants flexible lighting control across multiple control zones and multiple control protocols, including HTTP, Telnet, sACN, DMX, RS-232 or contact closure control systems.

The web-enabled control and current monitoring option provides power and energy data on branch circuits and mains, giving the operator an accurate and intelligent vision of capacity, energy use and reliability. For monitoring and control flexibility, RPC panels are compatible with popular control systems. For the cathedral, Lalicki selected Enttec and Swisson DMX controllers. The RPC also features brown-out protection, automatically shutting down selected circuits during over- and under-voltage situations and powering up as programmed when voltage regains stability. For further voltage stability and protection, a SurgeX in-panel surge elimination was added to the RPC.

On the eastern side, the lighting fixtures are hardwired to the nearby concrete electric and control vault that houses the RPC panel and additional electrical and data equipment. For the southern façade, which is around 100m away from the vault, the control system is wired to the first lamp post. The other six lamp posts are then controlled wirelessly. With the LynTec panel and controllers working hand in hand, the system is able to completely turn off and on the whole system, deliver power supply protection and follow an automated schedule using an astronomical clock, so that the lights are never accidentally left on.

With the new lighting and power control system, visitors and citizens alike are rediscovering the cathedral’s grandeur and beauty. “For too many years, this building was neglected when it comes to its appearance during the nighttime. Now, this monument dominates the Zócalo and has become a beacon for the visitors from all over the world. It much easier to appreciate all the details on its façades under the LED lighting than it is under the harsh, filtered mountain sunlight.”

This feature appears in the September–October edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at

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