One of the most glorious Art Deco buildings in the world is Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Home of the world-famous Rockettes, as well as a popular venue for concerts and the annual Christmas Spectacular, Radio City opened its gilded doors in 1932 as a glittering showplace for films and live entertainment. By 1999, much of the original glitter had faded, and the building was closed for eight months for a tip-to-toe restoration.
The New York City firms of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer architects and Fisher Marantz Stone (FMS) architectural lighting designers worked together to bring the building back to its former glory, through both renovation and restoration. "We first approached the lighting without a budget in mind," says Scott Hershman, who with Paul Marantz served as principal lighting designer for the project. "We came up with as many things as possible to bring the space into the next millennium. It opened as a state-of-the-art facility and we wanted to bring it up to state-of-the-art today."
As Hershman points out, some of the technical innovations in the original theatre were ahead of their time. These included "sunset coves" with changing colors out over the audience in the auditorium, as well as the General Electric Thyratron tube-based dimming system that was used right up until 1999. "By this time, they had to have tubes specially manufactured," Hershman says, noting that the dimmers werelocated in two "reactor" rooms that took up a lot of valuable floor space. A new ETC dimming system, as well as a new theatrical lighting package, was specified by FMS's sister company, Fisher Dachs Associates.
To update the architectural lighting throughout the facility, Hershman and Marantz "let [their] imaginations run wild. We tried to think of what innovations they would have done today," Hershman says. "We came up with a big menu and the owners picked the ideas they wanted to implement and those they could afford."
The goal they had in mind was twofold: to restore everything that was there, and upgrade it to meet modern-day criteria and expectations. "The light levels were really low in some places, actually less than 1fc," explains Hershman, as he points out that the use of some of the spaces has changed over the decades. The Grand Lounge on the lower level, for example, once had many chairs and tables with lamps, as well as floor torcheres. Over time, the furniture was removed and the practical lighting sources went along with it.
"We needed to provide more illumination without constraining the floor space," Hershman says. Since floor lamps and period table lamps are too fragile for the use of the room today (access to restrooms and concession stands), existing ceiling fixtures in this room were transformed and refabricated to incorporate a downlight with an R20 lamp, as well as compact fluorescent lamps for uplighting. While FMS basically avoided such "modern" sources, in this case they felt they were appropriate. "They are used to light a white ceiling and the source is completely concealed," he points out.
FMS also added small-aperture downlights to the promenade that surrounds the mezzanines. These fixtures use MR-16 lamps and have a 2"-diameter ceiling opening. They were manufactured by Iris (of Cooper Industries) and finished in the same Dutch metal leaf as the ceiling.
Over 250 of these fixtures were used throughout the project. "The idea was to integrate the lighting in the most discreet way possible, and make it look as if most of the light comes from the decorative fixtures," says Hershman. In the Grand Lounge, they were also used to accent restored murals that do not have much contrast against the dark walls on which they are painted.
Throughout, the architectural lighting was updated but with the same look as the incandescent sources that were used historically. "The halogen downlights are dimmed to warm them up," notes Hershman. "We looked at replacing some of the lamps with more modern, longer-life sources but found that the color rendering was wrong for the character of the project. There are a lot of reds and golds in the interiors."
Just as Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer worked to restore the original colors to the carpets, wall coverings, and finishes, the lighting designers also worked to color-correct the illumination. Where they couldn't use longer-life lamps, they relied on dimming to increase the lamp life as much as possible.
To restore the existing sconces, chandeliers, and other extant fixtures, extensive photographs were taken to determine what needed to be replaced, fixed, or simply cleaned. Many of the fixtures were taken down, packed up, and sent to Winona Studio of Lighting in Winona, MN, for restoration. "They had a very short turnaround time," Hershman points out. "The doors closed in February 1999 and reopened in September 1999. As soon as the doors closed they started pulling things off the walls and everything had to be ready to go."
Many of the fixtures that were sent to Winona had missing glass pieces, some of which had been replaced over the years with mismatched panels or simply with a piece of gel. Some of the glass had to be replaced altogether as the original style was no longer available, and the idea was to make all the fixtures in each public space look exactly alike.
In the auditorium itself, the lighting in the ceiling coves was no longer uniform in terms of distribution and color, as the glass lenses had been replaced in a haphazard manner as needed. Somesections weren't used at all as they were found to be too hard to maintain. To restore this dramatic lighting feature, all of the lenses were replaced in their original colors.
"They originally used long-necked A-lamps that had a 750-hour life," says Hershman, who explains that these had been replaced with PAR-38 lamps that needed socket extenders, but the result was "too spotty." The current solution uses Philips Halogena lamps which provide a nice, soft light and have an increased life expectancy of 2,000 hours. These are also a smaller lamp, so a new reflector was designed to house them. These were manufactured by Altman Stage Lighting.
Due to scheduling constraints, about half of the fixtures use the existing reflectors with a custom socket extender. "They had to put in certain reflectors while the scaffolding was still up in the theatre," explains Hershman. The new Altman reflectors are used with about 30% of the lamps, the ones in the lower ends of the coves which are easier to reach. "The Altman reflectors do work better," Hershman notes. "They have more light output, but to the audience I think they all look the same."
Another update in the auditorium is a new system that serves three separate functions: work lights, emergency lights, and lights for the daily tours of the building. "For work light there was just one 1,000W fixture hanging in the middle of the space. It wasn't concealed in the ceiling, it just hung there," says Hershman. To add a more flexible system (anything would have been an improvement), 10 PAR-64 1,000W long-life CSI lamps in Northstar fixtures were placed in a ceiling slot. These restrike immediately, making them usable for emergency lighting.
This new system also includes black PAR-38 LSI fixtures that are hung on a second pipe rail that has been added to the balcony fronts. "These look like more theatrical kit up there," says Hershman, who notes that they also cleaned and relamped the decorative fixtures under the balcony overhangs.
Other changes to the architectural lighting happened throughout some of the smaller spaces, such as the ladies' lounge on the second floor. Decorated with lovely floral murals and large circular mirrors, this room appears in historical photos that show internally-lit semicircular fixtures at the bottom of the mirrors. Yet other period photos show wall sconces on either side of the mirrors.
"We think the original semicircles didn't work very well and were replaced with the wall fixtures very early on," Hershman says. "But these were of a different quality than the rest of the project, and had just bare lamps in thin housings. We designed a new fixture based on themes found in the other lounges which is more in keeping with the room." The new substantial metal sconces made by Winona have heavy glass tubes to shield T-10 showcase lamps. In all the lounges, dimmers are used to increase lamp life.
One of the concerns in this project was the state of the original wiring. "There was some fear in taking the larger pieces down," says Hershman. Instead, the massive chandeliers in the Grand Foyer and other large decorative fixtures were restored in place, with a metal refinisher coming in to buff them up. The fixtures were cleaned and relamped, and as Hershman points out, extraneous lighting solutions that had been added were taken away.
For example, long wall brackets on the mirrors in the Grand Foyer had been relamped in the 1970s with multiple low-voltage lamps that looked like small separate points of light. "We tried to bring them back to their original look," says Hershman, who also opted for low-voltage lamps but added lenses and diffusers to make them look like one unified glowing source.
Also in the Grand Foyer, extra lighting was added in six new ceiling niches that were created with the permission of the Landmarks Commission. These contain four "curtain rakers" (LSI 250W PAR-38 accent lights) that wash the curtains on either side of the openings to the promenades, as well as four LSI PAR-56 fixtures which are focused on the floor, the balcony, and the concession stands.
Each of these niches will also contain four Martin Professional MAC 500 and MAC 600 automated luminaires that were specified but not included in the original bid (the building will add them at a later date). "We specified these for use at special events, and thought it was useful to have refocusable equipment as access is tricky," says Hershman, who found that employing theatrical stagehands helped them focus the job more quickly than might have been expected.
The niches are wired with DMX control from the ETC Sensor dimming system used for the theatrical lighting (the dimmers are in the same room as the new theatrical dimmers). The architectural lighting system also includes ETC Unison control, and an ETC Lighting Playback Controller for show control. An Expression II console is available for programming.
Hershman and Marantz also tackled a complete relight of the colorful neon marquee and signage on the exterior of the building. "We put a lot of effort into the marquee," explains Hershman, who found that it required some expensive maintenance, and that the owners weren't happy with the blue neon color. To solve the lamp burnout problem and increase reliability, the designers re-engineered the marquee to use smaller transformers, with fewer lamps per transformer.
The letter O in Radio has an outline, inner line, and central fill. "With separate transformers, if one fails you don't lose the whole letter," says Hershman. "The old clear tubes for the blue neon were not bright enough; specifying phosphor-coated tubes gave a higher lumen output and a lower-power transformer."
There were also what Hershman called "secret lights," because they literally could not be seen in a cove position. "We were unable to paint the cove, but by increasing the output of the lamps at least you can now see them at night," he says. "We also went back to the historic neon colors of the signs, such as Noviol gold."
FMS used the original specifications for the sign as a guideline for creating a new spec with the help of neon consultant Wayne Strattman of Boston, MA. "The key is to get colors you can reproduce if the lamps break," says Hershman. "We picked glass tube colors that exist in manufacturers' catalogs." FMS also made an illuminated model of part of the sign to check the colors. Broadway National Sign in Ronkonkoma, NY, won the contract to complete the refurbishment.
The goal of the architectural lighting was to integrate it into a landmark without it being intrusive. For example, new Edison Price fixtures were made to fit into existing ceiling cavities to accent the Fountain of Youth mural in the Grand Foyer.
"This is a fabulous building," says Hershman. "It was a blessing and a curse that it hadn't been touched since 1932. We wanted to bring it back to its former glory and meet today's requirements without imposing 1999 on it. The idea was to enhance it without taking away from its splendor."
Today, the building sparkles yet maintains the integrity and patina of its decorative heritage. "The enhancements either blend in or they look like they've always been there," Hershman concludes. "It looks like the fantastic Art Deco concert hall that opened in 1932. It's a beautiful new, old theatre."
ARCHITECT Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer
ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING CONSULTANT Fisher Marantz Stone Paul Marantz, principal in charge; Scott J. Hershman, principal designer; Andrew Thompson and Steven Heuss, design team
THEATRICAL LIGHTING/DIMMING SPECIFIER Fisher Dachs Associates
NEON CONSULTANT Wayne Strattman
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT RESTORATION Winona Studio of Lighting
SIGNAGE RESTORATION Broadway National Sign
LIGHTING EQUIPMENT Altman Stage Lighting reflectors Edison Price downlights ETC Sensor dimming, Unison control, Lighting Playback Controller, Expression II console Iris small-aperture downlights with MR-16 lamps LSI PAR-38s Northstar fixtures with PAR-64 lamps Martin Professional MAC 500s and MAC 600s (installation pending) Philips Halogena lamps