Blue Ridge Community Church Renovation
The set design team at Blue Ridge Community Church in Forest, Virginia is always on the lookout for new ideas, especially materials that work well with light. A group of volunteers with a flair for construction, they create innovative backdrops every 6 to 12 months under the direction of Andrew Hunt, Elder and Pastor of Technical Arts. One of the most successful was a light wall consisting of a ceiling in translucent thermoformed panels.
When one of the team members discovered Ceilume’s translucent panels online, an idea began to take shape: what if we hung translucent ceiling panels vertically, to form a backlit wall?
They found a black T-bar ceiling hanger grid at a local supplier and hung lengths of it vertically. The lightweight T-bars were attached at their upper ends to a stage rigging bar above, and then hung with their lower ends about 12 inches above the ground. The horizontal crosses of the grid were added while it was suspended. No additional frames were needed to hold it together and hung vertically.
Hunt selected Ceilume’s convex pattern, a deeply three-dimensional panel in the shape of a largely truncated pyramid that protrudes about two inches from the plane of the grid. For more visual interest, they installed half of the panels projecting towards the public and alternating inverted panels, pointing away from the congregation. The 24 ” x 24 ” ceiling panels fit into the vertical grid as they would in a horizontal ceiling application.
The wall was divided into five sections, the largest in the center measuring 14 feet wide by 18 feet high. Each section was populated with panels to form triangular peaks that suggest cathedral arches. The sections were separated by two-foot-wide black columns that had been built for a previous design.
The lights, placed on the back wall of the stage, included 25 EXA Hotboxes from Blizzard Lighting. The light wall hung about 12 inches in front of the lights. Even at this short distance, the translucent panels ensure a soft diffusion of light.
Backlit, the faceted panels look like a gemstone, and the wall becomes a light set of airplanes in different colors. On most of the backdrops, âwe’re wondering how to make the light shine from the back,â says Hunt, âand these tiles worked perfectly. The way they interacted with different colors of light across the entire tile worked really well.
The lighting system is controlled by DMX controllers, which can select the colors of the LEDs, and can be pre-programmed with full lighting configurations which can be changed on demand. The DMX can even sync the lights with the music, so that they pulsate like a disco lighting system, but the lighting in Blue Ridge has only been changed a few times during a service, usually by the slow fades at the end of songs. They also threw a headlight on the wall from time to time. While this did improve the cult, it was “not a super flashy light show,” says Hunt.
In a typical horizontal suspended T-grid ceiling, the panels are held in place by gravity. With the grille turned vertically, something had to be added to hold the panels in place. The design team came up with a smart solution involving 1 inch binding clips. They placed a panel in the grille, then attached a binder clip to the center tee fin on the back of the frame and pushed the metal handles of the clip forward so that they rested against the flange of the frame. ceiling panel. The panels are light and the pressure of the small clip handles was strong enough to hold them. (The team were unaware that Ceilume’s special retention clips, typically used to hold panels in rooms where there may be wind uplift, could have worked as well.)
Blue Ridge Community Church has a second campus that meets in a school gymnasium. To maintain continuity between the two sites, they built a smaller, modular version of the light wall that could be easily installed for Sunday and then tucked away the rest of the week. It consisted of six free-standing T-bar mesh frames, each two feet wide by eight feet high, containing translucent panels. The frames could be aligned to form a continuous wall or separated into individual light columns. The vertical tees were cut with an extra six inches at the bottom to serve as legs. The frames were standing and then leaning against a wall, with lights located in the corner of the space behind the frames.
Although the tiles are light in weight and quite flexible, they are extremely strong. âWithout the tiles,â Hunt recalls, âthe grid was very fragile. After adding the tiles, they were rock solid. Just as individual slabs nest together tightly (for efficient shipping), freestanding frames can be stacked nested when not in use. After Sunday worship, they were picked up and hidden out of sight behind the scenes for the remainder of the school week.
The wall installations at each campus have been used successfully every week for about a year. They were surprisingly durable, even the portable wall, which Hunt had expected to be destroyed by repeated movement. When the team developed a new scenography, the walls were still in excellent condition. The hanging wall has been âvery meticulouslyâ dismantled so that it can be reused. The Ceilume grid and tiles are reusable (and recyclable), and the tiles can be washed if they become dirty or stained. The dismantled wall was donated to a church with fewer resources in a nearby town where it continues to provide an inspiring light for worship.