It's safe to say that Windows on the World is the pinnacle of fine dining in Manhattan. Aside from its reputation for upscale cuisine and lofty operating revenues since it opened in 1976, the restaurant is situated, after all, at the top of the world. Perched on the top two floors within one of the World Trade Center's twin towers, the renowned restaurant went on an extended hiatus after the terrorist bombing of the office complex in 1993. Restaurateur Joe Baum-who had engineered the concept of the original Windows-and partners won a competition to redevelop the space, and the new incarnation was unveiled last summer after a $25 million, 15-month renovation.
The 80,000-sq-ft. (7,200-sq.-m) restaurant complex has been reinvented by architects Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates as a modernist collage of colors and imagery cued by the views seen from the enclave's vantage point 1,314' (401m) above the city. With subtle illumination by Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design, the interiors enhance the dining experience without hitting the brassy notes of an overtly themed environment, instead framing the spectacular vistas and putting patrons in their best light.
For the New York-based architects and lighting designers alike, there were a number of daunting challenges to the assignment: a conservative budget, tight timetable, low ceiling heights, and the handicap of managing a construction project 107 stories off the ground. "Some elements of our design fell away because of the tight budget and schedule, but we were really starting out with the notion that anything was possible," says principal lighting designer Francesca Bettridge, IALD. "A lot of the design development evolved in committee with the architect, and Baum certainly has a well-developed sense of what works and what doesn't. There was a real feeling all around that lighting was to play a major role in the design."
The building's nondescript architectural shell presented no strong influences or sense of history, so principal architect Hugh Hardy and his team based interior details and palettes on abstractions of what was on view-clouds, celestial skies, water, topography, and aerial city perspectives. The revamped restaurant is more curvilinear and sumptuous than its circa-1976 decor by Warren Platner, and features an array of spatial arrangements, finishes, fabrics, and carpets that create a layering of detail. "We wanted to design a range of different rooms that have a distinct presence, but which don't dominate or overwhelm," says principal architect Hugh Hardy. "Obviously the trick in restaurant design is to make people look good, and lighting is crucial to that," he asserts.
"The ceilings are low and the spaces are vast, which puts a tremendous amount of responsibility on lighting and the ceiling plane within the design," Bettridge continues. "There are two acres (0.8 hectares) of floor space, but not many walls or changes in elevation to define the rooms. It was a challenge to make the spaces feel open and comfortable, and that's largely accomplished with the lighting and the materials."
Although the views were meant to play a prominent role in the dining experience of patrons, lighting also was required to take up the slack when there wasn't much of anything to see beyond the window frames. "The goal was to maximize the views, but there are quite a number of days when the views aren't so great," says Bettridge's associate Michael Hennes, IALD. "When it's cloudy or rainy or simply not so spectacular, the client wanted the restaurant to react to the changing environment, respond to the different colors and angles of light. The hardest part of the assignment was to make the interiors look attractive both day and night. When you're 107 floors in the air, the range of views and the intensity of the light by day versus the darkening sky in the evening is very dramatic. The rooms, materials, and the restaurantgoers themselves respond so differently whether or not the sun is streaming in or it's dusk over Manhattan."
One initial challenge for the team was to create a sense of arrival in the entry to Windows. After stepping off the elevator on the 107th floor, patrons are greeted in a space that in fact has no views. To create an impact, Hardy designed a floor that simulates Mercator's projection of the globe, with five values of Venetian terrazzo laid out in arcs changing from dark to light and divided by zinc strips. Punch-outs in the floor covered with translucent glass house Starfire fiber-optic uplights. A 38' (12m) curving wall, designed by graphic artist Milton Glaser, creates a focal point with a radiant mural simulating changing cloud patterns. A front curtain fabricated by Eaves Brooks Costume Company consists of more than 430,000 glass beads that form the images of clouds set in cool colors. The curtain hangs in front of a wall mural in contrasting warmer colors, and is illuminated with recessed ceiling- and floor-mounted Starfire MR11 strips. Lighting schemes are preset so that at different times of day, the light is directed from the top, bottom, or in combination. "The beads reflect the changing light and create the illusion of movement," Bettridge says.
The Promenade, which serves as a transition to the restaurant and bar, is defined by a custom carpet that is a composition of street grids from 16 cities around the world. The south wall is lined with a custom fabric of large-scale horizontal stripes, while the north wall is formed by a series of stepped planes painted in soft tones to act as a neutral backdrop. Near the stairs, a series of stainless steel ceiling coves each feature fascias of art glass, which are backlit by 5W G-lamps. "The fixtures work nicely because they light up the texture of the glass and there is also a sparkle from the reflection off the stainless steel," Hennes says. "They also are visible from only one direction, so the experience changes depending on the direction in which you are walking."
Called The Greatest Bar on Earth, Windows' expansive watering hole is a room meant to celebrate diversity. A complex mix of color and texture represents the cultural collision common to life in New York City. Each of the room's three bars has its own character with finishes of a variety of wood veneers and onyx backlit with 9W compact fluorescents. The floor is sloped, with a changing landscape consisting of black granite at the entry, two colors of terrazzo in the center, wood along the perimeter, and custom carpet in smaller-scaled lounge areas interspersed throughout the bar. The ceiling is also elaborate, with circular shapes defined by a suspended low-voltage rail system and recessed slots with low-voltage cove strips. The Translite rail system supports amber-colored glass uplight bowls housing bi-pin halogen spots. Accent halogen spots attached to the rail plus recessed Reggiani pinspots cast punches of light down on the bar. Serving as distinctive beacons in the bar are four tall illuminated sculptures by artist Dan Dailey. Fabricated of hand-blown glass, steel, and nickel-plated bronze, the pieces are internally lit with MR16s. "They create vertical interest in the space and help orient patrons to the layout of the room," Bettridge says.
Renewed with rich materials, atmospheric light sources, and abstract patterning, the renovated main restaurant now seems intimate yet grand. Employing water imagery, the architects used light blue-green to evoke waves. An origami-like ceiling floats above the main seating areas defined by wood veneer and metal balustrades. The lighting team used low-voltage Edison Price and Reggiani MR16s to highlight the individual tables and play off the geometry of the ceiling. Surrounding each circular banquette, a strip of Starfire 25W R14 lamps is used to uplight the ceiling. "There's a grille over it, so it's very well shielded," Hennes says, "and it produces a wonderful glow on the ceiling."
Set behind abstract latticework within niches framing the banquettes are two low-voltage strips at the horizon line-one with frosted lamps, the other fitted with a purple gel. "With a Crestron dimming system, we were able to create a whole variety of effects on presets," Bettridge says. "At different times of the day the lighting can crossfade into a different scene. During the day the look is cooler, becoming warmer in the evening. It's a theatrical look without interfering with the views."
The restaurant's signature room, the Cellar in the Sky, has been relocated to the building's perimeter to provide views of New York Harbor, and the floor has been raised so that the room seems suspended 107 stories over the city. A ceiling of light-colored stenciled wood is set within simulated arches, accented with an art glass frieze of grapevines by artist James Harmon. "The room was difficult to light because we had ceiling heights of less than 8' (3m) to work with," says Bettridge. "We decided to hide equipment in recessed slots, with framing projectors casting leaf patterns on the tables. The effect creates a tremendous amount of sparkle and dappled light." Times Square Lighting pattern projectors with 75W MR16 lamps are mounted between sections of Lightolier track, which support additional PAR-20 accent luminaires. The back wall, a wine storage area, and a tapestry-covered banquette niche have recessed compact fluorescent or incandescent wallwashers as additional ambient lighting.
On the banquet level one floor below, an egg-shaped arrival room has a silver-leaf ceiling set off by eight custom Baldinger torcheres designed by Bettridge. Clear A-lamps are set behind crackled glass cylinders circled by lotus-like geometric shades. "They establish a sense of arrival and create a soft glow of illumination," Hennes says. Additional PAR-20 downlights are tucked up in the ceiling. In two small rooms to either side of the arrival area, crystal-studded fixtures set with fiber optics are reflected in fractured mirror-paneled walls and a shiny black floor, creating a funhouse effect. "The rooms are meant to be follies for guests to wander upon," Bettridge says.
"Our lighting had to respond to the playfulness of the designs throughout the space, within the constraints of the building's shell," concludes Bettridge. "The ceilings in all the rooms are low, more in keeping with an office building. We had to be clever about where to place the lighting fixtures, so that the lighting enhanced the design but didn't draw attention to itself. It's a layering of light that easily adapts to the changes throughout the day."