Paul Gregory Puts the Salsa in Times Square's Latin Hotspot

A few years ago Manhattan-based architect David Rockwell was working on a theatrical dining environment for magician David Copperfield. But, like magic, before the large space at 49th and Broadway (just steps from Times Square) was completed, it vanished. Enter restaurateur David Emil, owner of Windows on the World, a New York dining institution that perished with the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center on 9/11. Emil asked Rockwell to create Noche, a tasty Latin fusion restaurant, using the same multilevel space where the new dramatic interiors now incorporate some of the design elements that were installed for Copperfield.

The most important of these scenic elements, built by ShowMotion in Norwalk, CT, is a large oculus, designed to look like a skylight at the top of a factory, as the original design concept for the space was of the post-industrial, Blade Runner school. The oculus is made of LUMAsite® (an architectural plastic that combines the look of acrylic with the strength of fiberglass), with one half-round white globe lit in the center. Part of an overall design that includes five faux steel arms and pillars (actually made of medium-density fiberboard and supported from above), the oculus is backlit to create rolling waves of color high above the diners.

“We used a very simple solution,” says Paul Gregory, principal of Focus Lighting, the New York firm that collaborated with Rockwell and his project designer David Mexico on Noche's lighting design. Above the oculus sit 40 Times Square PAR-38 fixtures (four fixtures per section in each of 10 sections) gelled for color-mixing with red (R26), green (R89), amber (R14), and blue (R80). But to make the color-mixing more interesting, slightly off-center hues were used to create intense shades of blue-green, red-amber, deep blood red, kelly green, and turquoise.

“The idea was to create the feel of a rolling ceiling but not feel like a disco,” says assistant designer Gwen Grossman, who programmed the color-mixing using the ETC Unison Light Manager system, which remains in place for lighting control. “The room looks different with each color change, and the diners might feel the change and eventually look up. The mood changes subtly throughout the meal.”

Noche's colorful “roof” is just the beginning of a bright palette that extends throughout the space. The ground floor bar (which opens onto Broadway in warm weather) has backlit decorative panels with colorful tropical collages on glass. “There are vertical fluorescent tubes along the back edge of these light boxes,” notes Gregory. “The idea was to make it look as if the sun was behind there coming into the space.” Some of the light boxes have louvered shutters in front of them, to add to the south-of-the-border ambiance reflected in Noche's menu of Latin-inspired American food.

“We needed to decrease the intensity without dimming the fluorescents,” explains Jeff Nathan, senior designer for the project. “We tempered the light output by using neutral density filters by Rosco.” Additional color in this bar area comes from mini-fluorescent strips by Hera Lighting under glass shelves with a white acrylic diffuser layer. These are gelled with deep amber (R21) and salmon (R30) to add to the tropical feel.

An elevator whisks diners to the upstairs restaurant, where tables are placed on multiple levels, with a blue-curtained stage at one end of the main floor. The original floors of the building had been cut away for the Copperfield project; Noche uses the same floor plan with dining balconies sweeping upward toward the oculus.

“Each level is intimate and feels special, with no more than two rows of tables on the balconies,” explains Gregory. Most of the tables are illuminated using Times Square AR-111 adjustable downlights (with very tight beams) clamped onto catwalk railings around the oculus. “They are gelled with custom pale peach dichro filters,” says Nathan. “They make flesh tones look great.” To light the tables in lower areas where there are dropped ceilings, MR-16 recessed downlights by Halo are used, with the same pale peach filters.

The basic lighting scheme in the dining room is a combination of hot, saturated red, blue, yellow, and orange, like a wrapper of color around the diners. Several of the walls are painted a rag-finish orange behind blinds of thin wooden slats. “This look was inspired by light coming through the slats of a tobacco-drying barn at sunset,” says Gregory.

These walls are then lit with cascades of orange light from above and below, with Litelab PAR-30 striplights and amber (R21) dichroic filters. “In order to create an emotional experience with light you have to remember emotional visual experiences,” says Gregory, whose visual Rolodex includes the tobacco barn at sunset. “You have to remember if the violet in the sunset is at the top or the bottom. Something you see becomes a memory if it's special.”

A contrasting wash of blue light (R68) in Altman PAR-56 fixtures in positions around the oculus adds to the visual experience of these walls. Front-projected patterns from Rosco in 24 Altman 360Q ellipsoidal fixtures add another layer to the light, “just to break it up a bit, and add texture and interest,” Gregory says.

Additional color comes from the main dining room bar area, where the ceiling is painted reddish orange and the barstools are covered in bright orange. The lighting adds flashes of hot pink and blue with two-lamp fluorescent strips with red gel (R26) in the ceiling coves and the top of the back bar. CSL Lighting adjustable downlights with blue (R68) dichroic filters cut through the red to illuminate the liquor bottles and scenes of tropical foliage sitting on and behind floating glass shelves. “These pull-down fixtures allow you to aim higher on the wall than would be possible with fully recessed adjustable accent lights,” notes Nathan.

The walls around the elevator shaft create a “flat chandelier” in which red, blue, amber, and yellow glass panels hang at different levels. The panels are backlit from wall niches with Hera Lighting mini-fluorescents to add a glow to the space and create one of the focal points in the restaurant. “When the room is at its darkest setting, and the lights are way down, the glass panels really pop,” says Nathan. “The elevator shaft walls disappear and the chandelier seems to float in space. This creates a great view particularly from the stage area looking back.”

To light the large blue curtain, 16 Altman PAR-56 fixtures with deep blue (R68) gel are hung on a custom fabricated truss unit in front of the stage. Gobos in Times Square MR-16 framing projectors add patterns in blue-green (R370). Decorative globes by LBL Lighting placed under the steps on the spiral staircase continue the blue theme.

“We wanted to make people feel enveloped in color, as if they were dining in the deepest part of a sunset,” says Nathan. “And you can't deny that people look great in this space. The red and amber of the bar is a great staging area to have a drink before going to dinner.” The no-holds-barred use of color makes Noche one hot tamale of a restaurant, with tropical flavor both on and off the menu.

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.