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Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta

The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta is the largest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere with 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water and tens of thousands of animals. Therefore, upgrading the lighting for a venue that attracts millions of visitors annually demanded careful consideration.

What makes this aquarium unique is its presentation of ivory Beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, 12-foot manta rays and the only collection of giant whale sharks outside of Asia. Opening in 2005, the Atlanta aquarium is the brainchild of Home Depot founder Bernard Marcus, who donated the bulk of the funding to build and stock the facility.

Nora Lighting Georga  Aquarium
The mural on the ceiling was hand-painted by Italian artist Silvio Irilli. The colors come alive with help from Nora Lighting’s rail system.

According to Marcus, the aquarium’s conservation and environmental mission is equally as important as its status as an attraction. For example, the Georgia Aquarium works with universities and institutes from around the world to help save endangered species through educational and research programs while monitoring threats from pollution and infectious diseases.

California-based manufacturer Nora Lighting recently partnered with the aquarium’s facilities staff to illuminate two visitor areas – the main entry hall with hand-painted murals of sea life overhead and the Aquanaut Discovery Zone, an interactive hallway for young visitors.

The entry hall impresses marine enthusiasts with its life-like depictions of smiling Belugas, dolphins, and turtles cavorting overhead in a swirling blue sea. Several years ago, renowned Italian artist Silvio Irilli painted the mural much like Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel, working non-stop each night, as he covered the ceiling with his masterpiece. However, the true beauty of the colors and vibrancy of the mural wasn’t truly realized until the aquarium upgraded from a dimly lit lighting scheme to the new custom Nora rail system designed by Tony Hodge of Mahalo Inc. in Marietta, Georgia.

“Nora Rail was a practical solution to illuminate these technically challenging areas,” Hodge recounts. “The ceiling in the entry hall is multi-
leveled, so the system had to be totally adjustable to compensate for the various heights,” he explains. “The rail placement had to be fine-tuned during the installation so that the fixtures appear level throughout and [throw] bright, consistent
illumination onto the murals.”

The railing is field-bendable (even to a two-foot diameter circle) and has telescoping supports (from 49.75 to 96 inches) for easy leveling. The supports were adjusted vertically so the lighting fixtures could be positioned to precisely “hit” the target subject and make the murals come alive.

Since the Nora Rail system is line voltage, the runs could be as long as needed with no transformers, no additional connections, and no voltage drop issues.

“This system has all the lamping dynamics of a low-voltage track set-up without the need for costly transformers. We could accommodate up to 2,400 watts on a single run from one power point,” Hodge recounts.

The Mahalo team selected the manufacturer’s Belgium fixtures with E31 PAR30 LED lamps. Each Belgium produces just 9 watts at 3000K with 750 lumens and a 20° beam spread. The heads are fully adjustable with 345° rotation and 90° pivoting.

“We specified PAR lamps because they deliver better directional lighting,” Hodge comments. “The Belgium fixtures have a short neck and narrow beam spread, ideal for directing them toward the artwork, and their higher 90+ CRI rating displays optimal color rendition.”

The second installation – the Aquanaut Discovery Zone – also presented unique site challenges.
The long hallway has a series of interactive displays that lead visitors to several habitats, such as Coldwater Quest, Ocean Voyager, and Tropical Diver. Capped with a blue dome and support arches, the hallway was dark and uninviting and needed a site-specific solution.

The Mahalo team designed a Nora system with nearly 150 feet of rail and 60 double-mounted fixtures — all off one junction box. The ceiling connectors were situated four feet apart with four-foot extenders. The heads were placed opposite each other and close to the connectors to keep the rail balanced. The Belgium fixtures with PAR30 lamps (750 lumens) and stream-lined 20° beam angle proved to be the best solution.

“The entire hallway run has 720 watts of LED lamping and no forward heat, keeping the atmosphere very comfortable in this relatively tight space,” Hodge explains. “The Nora system was totally adaptable; the rails balanced perfectly, and the lighting spot-on.”

Since its completion, the newly installed lighting systems have added visual excitement to the visitor experience and help encourage exploration of the facility and its displays — especially among young visitors. 

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