For many years, the venerable law firm of Davis Polk & Wardwell was housed in a Wall Street tower with commanding views of lower Manhattan. If you remember the final scene of the movie Working Girl, when the camera pans back from Melanie Griffith at her new desk to show her as one of many employees in the skyscraper's grid, she was sitting in the real law office's lofty enclave.
When the firm relocated to midtown offices near Grand Central Station, it gave up the sweeping views and abundant light in favor of more space and new interiors designed by the architecture firm Gensler. New York City-based Cline Bettridge Bernstein Lighting Design was retained to create lighting that enhances the interior design and presents a well-illuminated sense of place. "The firm was moving from a location with tremendous views at the top of a building to a space that was much darker on lower floors in a midtown building surrounded by very tall buildings," says principal lighting designer Stephen Bernstein, IALD. "We designed lighting to make the new space brighter, so there would not be such a drastic change in lighting levels from the previous offices.
"In terms of interior architecture, there is a use of very rich materials," Bernstein continues. "The space is transitional in style, somewhat modern, using very beautiful materials. We worked very closely with Gensler to integrate the lighting as much as we could into the architecture, where it was practical."
In the main reception room of the conference floor, A-lamp downlights are inset along the perimeter of the room, with MR16 accent lights in the center areas inset into ceiling coves, adding more punch to seating areas and the reception desk, according to Bernstein. "A bookshelf on the back wall is actually a sculpture that we were able to hit from those lights as well. We purposefully wanted the play of the downlights because it's a very patterned room: The beautiful wooden floor works in a kind of weave, and the same pattern is picked up in the rug. The scalloping of light upon the wood-paneled walls was intentional; we didn't want the walls to be just blank planes. We thought it would actually be a bit more intimate, creating a rhythm with the light, instead of being absolutely perfect with the wallwashing."
To frame the reception desk, the wall behind it is translucent, milky glass that is backlit. "We have some MR16 accent lights hitting it from the front, but there is also an entire room behind it that we've lit," Bernstein says. "We had the room painted white, and put wallwashers hitting off the back wall of the room, so the reflected light makes the whole panel glow. The glass panel is not just a flat, illuminated surface, but actually has tremendous depth."
Another prime example of how lighting helps to define space in the law firm's offices is in its conference floor corridor. "This is an unusual space, because the ceiling height goes from 10' (3m) on one side to 12' (3.7m) on the other side, and we needed to have some sort of ceiling treatment that would smooth that transition," Bernstein says. "It's the main corridor to the conference rooms and private dining on the left-hand side, punctuated by private phone booths. The telephone booths always have lights on inside them so that there is always a glow along the left-hand side. We asked the architects to create a ceiling cove in the corridor, and placed a track up there with wallwashers and accent lights to highlight the dark burled wood paneling. A row of downlights washes the art on the wall. The downlights also create a visual line, so that when you walk down the hall, you tend to walk down the line of illumination over to the right of the corridor. We used the lighting as a way to psychologically get you over to one side of the corridor more than the other." The accent lights and wallwashers are recessed Lightolier luminaires fitted with incandescent lamps.
In each of the law firm's conference rooms, the lighting designers used an indirect lighting system with fluorescent pendant uplights. Lightolier compact fluorescent downlights are set along the perimeter of the conference table, with Neoray Lighting pendants fitted with T8 lamps hung over the table. Bernstein and his team worked with the audiovisual consultant to integrate small microphones into the bottom edge of the pendants, to provide a clean surface on the tabletop.
In the multipurpose room, the designers employed a similar system of indirect illumination. The room can be broken down into very small rooms, or opened up for larger meetings. Here the Neoray Lighting pendants with T8 lamps are again fitted with microphones. At the back of the room is a food and beverage service area, with roll-up doors that come down to block off the service corridor if not in use. The lighting designers accented the service wall with MR16s.
On a typical law practice floor, "the reception area is the public space that is kept incandescent, while the offices and secretarial stations are illuminated with fluorescents," Bernstein says. "The goal for the secretarial areas was to keep the ceiling above the workstations as clean as possible. The client didn't want to resort to either recessed fixtures or hanging fixtures, so we created a ceiling cove at the very front of the secretarial area to produce ambient light. At the very back we have a parabolic slot running the length of the space, which lights both the art wall and the work surfaces below, so there is no glare on the computer terminals at all."
To illuminate the stairway that connects the firm's 10 practice floors, the lighting designers worked with Gensler to create custom pyramidal light fixtures that are set atop the staircase's newel posts (photo, page 51). Fabricated by Winona, the luminaires are fitted with compact fluorescent lamps. "The luminaire is constructed of perforated metal that has a translucent layer below it," Bernstein says. "The bottom of the fixture is flat, but the top is a four-sided pyramid. We created a lot of different mockups for this luminaire," he notes. "It was a difficult design for several reasons. First of all, it had to be ADA-compliant, so it had to be a certain height. It had to withstand the lawyers' 'swing test,' too. When the attorneys are briskly moving down the stairs, they tend to grab the posts as they move past, so the fixtures had to be structurally sound enough to withstand that. Also, we wanted a bronze finish, and it was very difficult to coordinate the coloration of all of the components."
The dining room on the second floor is graced with a very high ceiling but little natural light. "The client wanted us to try to make the ambiance as light as possible, so we used indirect uplights to fill the space with light. The fixtures are stock extrusions combined again into a square-reminiscent of all the other square patterns throughout the project. Between the rows of uplights we placed PAR lamps for punches of downlight. The seating area is divided by a colonnade, which breaks down the scale of the space and incorporates a cove illuminated with fluorescents. The room imparts an airy, open feeling, and it's mostly the result of the lighting.
"This project was a unique working arrangement in that the clients were very involved in the decision-making and very good about knowing what they wanted," Bernstein offers as his summary of the case. "They were willing to commission mockups during the design phase, so there were no surprises later during a smooth-running construction schedule."