Feb 1, 2022
The remains of a lumber warehouse are key ingredients at a new market in the old west
By Paul Tarricone

In Albuquerque, NM, a 21st-century urban marketplace place has sprung from the remnants of a 19th-century lumber warehouse. By leveraging what Jeff Mullikin, principal of AE Design, Denver, calls “the unique leftover features and materials from the existing structure,” the design team has whipped up an “industrial chic lighting experience” at the Sawmill Market that celebrates the warehouse’s past identity.

The designers had a treasure trove of history to draw from. Between the late 1800s and early 1900s, the location was an epicenter for industry along the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, first as agricultural land, then owned by the American Lumber Company, which employed more than 800 sawmill workers at the site. With completion of the adaptive reuse project in 2020, the once-abandoned 36,000-sq ft, one-story warehouse now serves as a community gathering hall, showcasing the beauty of New Mexico through food, diversity and art.

AE Design was responsible for both the exterior and interior lighting concept that seeks first to entice locals and tourists into the marketplace and then guide them through the different restaurants and shops within. As Senior Lighting Designer Addie Smith explains, the all-LED lighting plan required the design team—which included Islyn Studio and the client/architect of record Heritage Hotels and Resorts—to strategically “celebrate human moments,” as opposed to flooding the entire project in light. “We worked with the local architect to understand the existing building constraints and opportunities for lighting.” The objective was to “locate mounting positions that would allow lighting to highlight the building’s industrial materials and create moody vignettes, or pockets of light, for an experiential atmosphere,” she says.

The design team first homed in on the building exterior. “It was critical for the exterior lighting design to depict a welcoming, luminous building image with a unique identity that feels inviting and safe,” says Smith. At the entry, a repurposed dust collector is “artfully highlighted” as a sculpture using floodlights, Smith notes, while industrial shafts are backlighted in silhouette to reveal their form and historical relevance. Industrial finishes including brick, stucco and board-formed concrete are grazed with light, and the building’s painted signage is washed with industrial gooseneck sign lights.

The comprehensive exterior concept (ranging from 3 to 10 footcandles) also features festoon lighting in the patio dining area known as the “Yard,” RLM-style sconces and pendants, and surface-mounted downlights for the trellis, canopies and stage. The “curb appeal” also includes in-grade linear grazing uplight at stucco walls, and concealed linear tapelight at the board-formed concrete retaining walls.

Inside the marketplace, the lighting helps move customers in and around more than 30 eateries and shops. “The market is multifunctional,” says Steph Powell, senior lighting designer, “so the lighting solutions needed to be visually cohesive yet unique to each space, and flexible from daytime to nighttime.”

The strategy was to use a combination of decorative and concealed architectural fixtures within the market at large and in each separate venue. The lighting creates an ambient indirect wash of warm light on the wood ceiling to encompass the larger volume of interior space, while moody, intimate illumination at lower levels sets the mood for casual conversation and dining in the bars, tap rooms, et. al. Illuminance levels range from 15-20 fc in circulation areas, to 5-10 fc in dining/ lounge areas and 30-40 fc for retail. Says Powell, “With many activities going on under one roof, we created spaces within a space” for scale, hierarchy and wayfinding.

Three layers of light were designed to create this cohesion:

  • Linear direct/indirect pendants from salvaged lumber on-site march down the main circulation path for wayfinding.
  • Beam-mounted adjustable track lighting at the upper deck accents retail and artwork.
  • Surface-mounted downlights fill in gaps for general illumination.

With the exposed industrial and New Mexico motifs celebrated throughout, “we had to pay special attention to coordinating lighting details with viewing angles, mounting heights, ceiling conflicts, exposed conduit and decorative lamping,” Powell adds.

The design team also had to factor in how new construction would affect the lighting plan. “We worked with the architect to understand the façade alterations and additions, as well as new penetrations that were added to improve interior light quality through daylight,” says Smith. This required a review of glass samples for windows and skylights to understand their color and transparency, as interior glow was part of the exterior building image.

The controls system also accommodates the needs of multiple users. A building-wide wireless dimming system with automated preset scenes is provided for day-to-night transition, with manual overrides for flexibility within each restaurant/vendor space.

For the community, the food hall has been a welcome respite during difficult times. “Seeing people happy and using the space is the best form of validation that the lighting design was a success; a vibrant and buzzing space filled with people, during a pandemic,” says Smith.


Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone

Paul Tarricone has more 25 years of experience in association and business-to-business publishing, specializing in the engineering, design, construction and facilities management markets. Mr. Tarricone currently serves as Editor and Publisher of Lighting Design + Application,... More info »