Lighting the Ground Zero Viewing Platform

Thousands of New York City visitors and residents find themselves drawn to the devastation at Ground Zero and the large hole where the World Trade Center Twin Towers once stood. Some visit the site out of sheer curiosity; others go to mourn the loss of a friend or family member or to simply try to comprehend the terror of September 11. But it was hard for anyone to get an unobstructed view of the site until an official viewing platform opened late last December. Built to accommodate up to 400 people, the platform sits on Fulton Street between Church Street and Broadway, flanking the cemetery behind historic St. Paul's Church, and within view of City Hall.

Accessed by a 300'-long (90m) wooden ramp, the 30'-wide (9m) platform, built with raw wooden planks on steel scaffolding, stands 16' (4.8m) above the street. A group of leading New York architects including David Rockwell of the Rockwell Group, Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio of Diller & Scofidio, and Kevin Kennon, who recently left the firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox, collaborated on the design for the ramp and platform. An unfinished plywood wall along the ramp was designed so that people could write on it, or leave messages and photographs. The New York City-based Focus Lighting team of Paul Gregory, Gwen Grossman, and Brett Andersen designed the lighting.

“The goal was to simply light the wall. Of course, safety was also an issue, but more importantly, we wanted to show respect for the great sadness brought to the city by the events of September 11,” says Gregory, principal designer of Focus Lighting. “The mementos left on the wall were lit softly so that others could read them easily,” he says.

The long ramp leading to the viewing platform is flanked by a high plywood wall on one side, and a 4'-high (1.2m) railing with plywood panels on the other side. Centered every 8' (2.4m) along the railing side are Bega 1222 round stainless steel fixtures with 50W quartz lamps, integrated transformers, and a cross guard on the front. The flat, semi-recessed fixtures protrude only 1/2" (1.25cm) from the wall. “We chose the Bega fixture for its clean look and its white mask at the top of the lens which eliminates any glare,” says Grossman, who admits to hijacking power (with the City's permission, of course) from some nearby street lamps.

The majority of the 76 Bega fixtures are mounted to the railing. However, as the ramp approaches street level and the railing ends, the fixtures are mounted to the high wall and aimed in the opposite direction. “The placement of the fixtures was important,” comments Grossman. “We designed the lighting so that shadows would be cast on the wall by those passing through the light. The shadows create a gentle reminder of those who were lost.”

“I don't think any of us fully appreciated the importance this project would have to the friends and families of those lost in the attack,” adds Andersen. “The viewing platform provides a very real opportunity for all New Yorkers to find some measure of closure.”

The line of ticket holders waiting to reach the viewing platform sometimes stretches for blocks and blocks, even in the rain, or cold, windy weather. Actually seeing Ground Zero is a very emotional experience for many people, including the design team. “I think you need to be emotionally receptive to be a good lighting designer,” says Gregory. “This project was like emotional bombardment, but we were happy to be able to help in some way.”

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.