Is GM on 5th a corporate trade show booth? An oversized museum exhibit? Or a miniature auto show? Actually, the Manhattan venue, which opened late last year, is a bit of all three--an automotive showcase where cars are displayed in scenes that evoke consumer lifestyles.

At the behest of General Motors and project coordinator GM Eventworks, which wanted to enliven its existing showroom, Haverson Architecture and Design PC of Greenwich, CT, developed seven separate automobile vignettes for GM on 5th, which encompasses 5,000 sq. ft. (450 sq. m) of GM's New York headquarters. Highly detailed and sophisticated, and including interactive audio/video narratives and realistic scenery, these vignettes are complemented by a comprehensive lighting design and extensive use of neon and color effects. Fittingly, for what is a kind of toy store for adults, the showcase is adjacent to FAO Schwarz, and GM and FAO Schwarz announced a promotional partnership just as GM on 5th opened.

Joe Kaplan Architectural Lighting of Los Angeles worked with Haverson principal Jay Haverson to create the individual environments and the sense of illusion that allows visitors to imagine themselves driving a car and being part of the scene depicted. Kaplan explains, "The big problem with the space was that it was big and flat, with seven or eight cars in it. It was boring to the point where hardly anyone from the outside had a desire to come inside. Understanding volume and shape influenced the ultimate design of GM on 5th; Jay realized that a series of raised terraces with cars displayed at different levels would allow them to be seen and add a level of excitement that would be visible from the outside."

One of the most interesting vignettes is the "reveal" area. New car introductions take place on a slowly rotating turntable located in the forefront of the showroom; this platform is hidden by a silver lame curtain, suspended from the overhead circular truss, that can be raised to reveal a new car. The truss also supports a large silver "GM on 5th" sign and numerous lights which accentuate the car and sharpen the excitement that accompanies new model introductions. Kaplan says, "Fortunately, we had High End Cyberlights(R) available in the showroom. We set the Cyberlights to scan through the space, as if they're searching for something. When the car is to be unveiled, the search is on the curtains and that focuses everyone's attention on the car." After the product introduction, special audio speakers encased in translucent domes, suspended from the truss and activated by sensors, provide detailed information on the new model.

Before GM on 5th was installed, the showroom already had lighting truss and many PAR-64s and ETC Source Four ellipsoidals. As Haverson's design was refined, "Jay and I started talking about how we might want to enhance car colors with backlighting andunderlighting, and what kinetic effects might be possible," Kaplan says. "We already knew we wanted to light the cars with ellipsoidals; what we wanted to add was color.

"Our idea was to use color filters on the PAR cans to intensify the appearance of the cars, but we didn't want them too cartoonish-looking," Kaplan continues. "The cars were generally illuminated by PAR cans with color filters, then we took the Source Fours and aimed them at the 'muscular' parts of the cars, particularly the wheel wells; this washed out the color filters and showed the true colors of the cars. We underlined them with warm white-colored neon; placed under each platform, the neon kind of floated the car away from the space below."

Another vignette showcases GM's luxury cars in front of a recreation of the facade of the Plaza Hotel (which is just a couple of blocks away from the showroom), complete with black and white terrazzo floor. Ornate brass multi-globed light fixtures--Alexander wall sconces, distributed by Fairfield Lighting--highlight the cars and complement the look of the hotel. Halo downlights with soft-focus lenses, equipped with General Electric 50W MR-16 lamps, are built into the marquee. These and other vignettes are the handiwork of scenic fabricator Showman Fabricators Inc. and scenic installer Gilbert Displays Inc.

Further down the road at GM on 5th, a "Route 66" scene, complete with backlit guardrails and highway signage, uses lighting to recreate a typical road scene. "GM on 5th is a perfect example of a blend of entertainment and architectural lighting and a good mix of the two," Kaplan says. The Route 66 billboard is actually a video display that can be easily changed as car models are updated. An AMX control system intersperses road scenes, with their accompanying sounds, with images of the prospective driver in the new car.

The sport utility vehicle area is surrounded by a simulated forest with trees; the lighting mimics dawn to dusk, and rays of sunlight filter through the trees. As in the other exhibits, a mix of ambient sounds, like crickets and birds chirping, surrounds visitors on the outside while specific vehicle information is heard inside the vehicle. "The trees are individually lit with Hydrel 9000A-P landscape fixtures, GE 120FLC-01/1275 PAR-30 lamps, and daylight blue filters to give a mystical feel to the environment," Kaplan explains. "Also, at any given time, each tree is lit softly, with one or two lit brighter than the rest. This changes slowly over time, like fireflies or a pulse--like a heartbeat." The setting is serene, and a welcome contrast to the other high-tech displays in the showroom.

Though seemingly out of place for New York City, the "Ready to Go" vignette depicts a suburban garage, with baseball gloves and golf clubs inside, and an actual, albeit oversized, open door. Detail abounds, from unfinished walls with exposed siding and concrete flooring to the video display showing a family preparing to leave home. "We used some of the existing downlights located in the ceiling. Through the use of a new frosted lens, the light comes down and creates a soft haze over this area," Kaplan explains.

The road trip through GM on 5th is highlighted by a massive recreation of the George Washington Bridge which links the various vignettes. It weighs in at over five tons and replicates the original in many ways, with metal grating, railings, and suspension cabling. Lumisphere X-24 festoon stringlight with 10W blue globes on the bridge and architectural uplighting for the bridge tower replicate a look typical of New York City bridges. Tower warning lights from Hubbell complete the realism of the scene. As in other vignettes, Kaplan used light to heighten interest in the cars. "The car is on a metal grating, so we placed a series of lights underneath the car that sequence from front to back to give the car an appearance of rolling forward."

The number of kinetic effects in the vignettes and in the entire showroom required a large amount of dimmers and extensive programming. "Project coordinator Chris Coe and I were both involved in figuring out the specific effects," Kaplan says. "As designers, it's our job to completely understand what the equipment will do. It's the job of programmers and technicians--Barbizon in this example--to know how to make the equipment do it. We had a lot of programming help and assistance from the installation team and this is evident in the various effects."

"We gave the programmers scripts written scene by scene and vignette by vignette, with day and night looks. It took the better part of an evening to program the board," says Coe. The NSI Colortran XL/2 Encore console was used for programming and to control the Cyberlights. NSI Colortran's Viewpoint architectural control provides the daytime and nighttime looks, as well as a full-on look. Through a wall box, the showroom manager can set different looks; otherwise the looks are preprogrammed based on a time clock, opening hours, or other criteria.

Viewpoint communicates directly to the NSI Colortran ENR (electronic noise reduction) dimmers used, and the looks are stored on memory modules within the dimmer. These dimmers operate via specially designed circuits that significantly reduce acoustic noise in lamp filaments, which can be very distracting in retail environments. In the ENR dimmer, only a portion of the AC sine wave is reduced, resulting in the dimming effect, while the other half of the wave is at the normal level. All of the architectural and theatrical lighting instruments are controlled via the ENR system. Individually programming each vignette on-site for optimal effect "meant using walkie-talkies, checking light levels and intensities. The sequencing took a lot of time to set the speed, direction, and intensity. We set everything by eye. Joe and I would be standing in the space giving directions, and representatives from Haverson were there giving their opinions as well," Coe says.

"The biggest challenge was getting done on time," he continues. "This was a unique project, not a traditional retail establishment, but not a corporate one-off either. The vignettes as well as the ramps were built off-site. The lighting and the wiring needed to be installed during fabrication and the tie-ins completed during installation. This was further complicated by working with two different unions that had jurisdiction over different aspects of the electrical installations. We had to do quite a bit of coordination to get everyone to work together." The result, however, is as finely tuned as one of the brand-new cars GM on 5th features.

Owner/Client General Motors Corporation

Project Coordinator GM Eventworks

Architecture/Interior Design Haverson Architecture and Design PC

Lighting Designer Joe Kaplan Architectural Lighting

Lighting Supplier Patdo Light Studio

Lighting Systems Integrator Barbizon

Audio/Video Consultant McGill Multimedia

Audio/Video Equipment Supplier Sony Electronics Inc.

Neon Fabricator/Installer Patrick Nash Design

Electrical Engineer MGJ Engineering PC

LIGHTING EQUIPMENT (80) PAR-64s with custom color dichroic glass lenses from High End Systems (24) ETC Source Fours (4) High End Systems Cyberlight CXs Bega pedestrian ramp uplights Hydrel wall and tree uplights Leviton backlights and grate uplights Hubbell warning lights Lumisphere festoon lights Celestial Lighting guardrail, transom, and canopy edge lights PAR-64 tower uplights Halo Lighting downlights Lightolier column uplights and flag lights Neon backlights, covelights, and billboard uplights GE lamps NSI/Colortran XL/2 console