Over half a million people walk through New York City's Grand Central Terminal every day. Designed by architects Reed & Stem, Warren & Wetmore, and constructed during the years 1903-1913, the Terminal was a bold manifestation of the influence, power, and importance of the New York Central Rail Road and the role of railroads in the growth of the United States as an industrial and world power.

After World War II, the impact of railroads diminished, and travelers departed intercity passenger trains for the automobile and the airplane. The Terminal (so named since it is the start or end point for numerous trains, unlike a station situated on a particular route) survived decades-long court challenges over the validity of landmark preservation laws, with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a patron saint in the struggle against demolition. Exterior portions of Grand Central Terminal were landmarked in 1967, but the structure continued to deteriorate.

Greater governmental participation in railroad affairs eventually came to the rescue. Intercity rail traffic is now under the auspices of Amtrak (no longer available at Grand Central) and local commuter service at the Terminal is provided by Metro-North Railroad, a constituent agency of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). After these agreements were completed, MTA Metro-North initiated repairs and capital improvements, beginning with a $4.5 million replacement of the leaking roof and skylights in the early 1980s.

Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners (which restored Ellis Island), in conjunction with Harry Weese Associates and STV/Seelye Stevenson, Value and Knecht, were selected in 1988 to develop a master renovation plan for Grand Central Terminal. Almost 10 years passed from the start of the planning to the public rededication last October. Special partnerships with developers LaSalle Partners Inc. and William Jackson Ewing helped to implement the retail revitalization plan for the building, which was designed to draw customers and revenue to the Terminal.

In 1990, a $425 million master plan, including $160 million in utility upgrades, main concourse improvements, removal of large billboards, and structural repairs, was unveiled. The actual restoration, costing $196 million, began in 1996. Grand Central sparkles once more with its original splendor intact, and new amenities and easier access for commuters.

Almost a century had passed from the time of construction of Grand Central Terminal to its refurbishment. The Terminal was still being used in substantially the same way as originally envisioned by architects and engineers, though society and technology had changed. "People's expectations of lighting have changed, and the challenge was to restore the building with its grandeur, reduce glare, and increase overall lighting levels while retaining its historic features," says LD Richard Renfro, a principal of New York's Fisher Marantz Renfro Stone Architectural Lighting Design during the period of the restoration (he now has his own firm, Renfro Design Group Inc.).

When the Terminal opened, the public was still delighted by the miracle of electricity, and the exposed incandescent bulbs throughout the building were considered the height of modernism. Says Renfro, "We couldn't compromise that aesthetic, so whenever possible our design needed to consider alternatives that matched this design theme."

The modernization of the Terminal relied on extensive research, analysis, and mockups. Each public area had its own history, and its own challenges. The celebrated constellation ceiling above the 200'x120' (61x37m) floor of the main concourse is framed by a "necklace" of lights installed below a decorative cornice around its perimeter (see "Brightening the constellation," page 68). The 292 cylindrical containers with a porcelain socket attached to a stem that comprised the necklace were originally designed to use a 150W A-type incandescent lamp. The lamp was later changed to a 40W which, while effective for energy savings, lowered the brightness in the main concourse, and still had to be changed frequently (for many years, a full-time staffer was in charge of changing some 30,000 of the Terminal's lightbulbs).

After extensive mockups with 16 different compact fluorescent lamps, a Panasonic 25W self-ballasted CFL was specified and installed to boost brightness, retain the look of the incandescent, and maintain the perceived color of the light source. "Testing criteria included issues of color and the brightness of the lamp itself, as well as the amount of light introduced into the main concourse area from the necklace. The interior of each cylinder was painted with a warm white paint, similar to the color of plaster, to improve reflectivity. The socket support was shortened and all of the wiring was replaced. Besides substantial energy efficiency, the long life of a CFL is a big improvement."

Viewing the main concourse from any vantage point excites the eye. Ten huge chandeliers, restored by Historical Arts and Casting of Salt Lake City, UT, are suspended over large open areas adjacent to the space. "Each chandelier was taken down, dismantled, and shipped to Historical Arts. They were completely restored, including replating and reapplying the intricate decorative gold leaf," says Barry Citrin, Fisher Marantz Stone's project manager and designer and now a principal with the firm.

The scope of the Terminal renovation project allowed for additional innovations. Each chandelier, containing 112 exposed long-life 40W bulbs, was designed to be a focal point for the eye, besides providing general illumination. Sixteen pairs of custom-designed lighting fixtures with a PAR-16 60W narrow flood lamp were concealed within each chandelier for uplighting and to provide site-specific illumination. The PARs, for example, throw pools of light onto the floor of the ramp, an area available for public use now that temporary offices and ticket booths are gone.

Says Renfro, "the lamps are adjustable, so besides lighting the ramp, the PARs also light the chandelier. We reduced the glare and now the beauty of the fixture is there for all to admire." The effect can be compared to pieces of a bracelet, with the "pearls" being the bulbs. By using lower-wattage lamps and PARs, one can see inside the "melon" of the chandelier, and better appreciate the decorative ironwork. New motorized winches for the chandeliers provide for more frequent cleaning and easier lamp maintenance.

The Terminal's dramatic arched windows each measure 33'x60' (10x18m). Inside these windows are passageways for connection to MTA Metro-North Railroad offices; so as not to disrupt the passage of light, the floors are constructed of 6"-thick glass, more than 10,000 panes in all. Today, daylighting is sold to architects and LDs as a new concept, but its integration into the original building design was a centerpiece of Grand Central Terminal and remains so for all to admire.

Principal architect John Belle talks about the first day after the removal of the Kodak Colorama sign that blocked a direct view of the east windows. "The flow of commuters was pushing through the gates, as always. Into the concourse they came--and the sun was pouring in. The most remarkable thing happened: The people looked up. They even stopped and nudged each other and pointed. It was a wonderful thing for me just to stand there. Nobody knew who I was or what I was doing there. But I had gotten the seminal reaction to something we had done--I wish I could have bottled it!"

The windows and their beams of sunlight are so dramatic that Renfro also considered the impact of the windows on the main concourse when viewed at night. In the absence of daylight, the large windows appeared mostly dark and became a focal point by the absence of light. "The lighting of the passageways gives a little sparkle to the windows and keeps them from going dark at night," notes Renfro. This was accomplished by increasing the lighting of the many passageways within the windows, both by installing CFLs on a closer and more regular basis, as well as replacing the original incandescent bulbs.

Every visitor to Grand Central Terminal remembers its passageways; many are lined with small stores and restaurants, but all used to have a dark and closed-in feeling. The collaboration of the design team has resulted in significant changes. First, full-service restaurants have been relocated to the balconies surrounding and overlooking the main concourse. A large food court, coffee bar, and seating area have been constructed on the lower level. Through the efforts of the retail partnership, over 170,000 sq. ft. (15,300 sq. m) of shopping and restaurant space has been created on the main floor, the lower level, and throughout the passageways linking the Terminal to the surrounding streets. This is particularly true of the Lexington Avenue passageway, located under the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

The ceiling is low, and along the entire length are linear coffers (about 4' wide) situated perpendicular to the passageway. Renfro explains how lighting changed the environment. "Prior to the renovation project, every third coffer had a single bare lamp. To provide a more uniform ceiling plane, we located a fixture in each coffer--actually all of the coffers now have two. We knew that adding large quantities of light was not appropriate, so we developed a fixture using an opal glass shade that conceals a 32W 2700K CFL lamp. Winona Studio of Light fabricated these custom fixtures. Now, one sees the glowing glass, not the bare bulb. The upgrading of the retail spaces in the passageways included lease stipulations for the storefronts to be open [through the use of large panes of glass] and indirectly this contributes to the quality of the light and increases light levels dramatically."

Among the tasks involved in designing the lighting was conducting research to determine the type of fixtures originally specified for the various spaces. Ornate fixtures mounted on brass support arms outside the ticket windows in the main concourse area were custom-built based on archival photographs and other documentation. "Historically, the fixtures were made with blown glass, but for safety and security purposes, we proposed to use laminated glass. For ease in manufacturing the fixtures, we used an opal translucent plastic design and illumination is provided by a standard 100W 130V inside-frosted incandescent lamp. These lamps provide extended life expectancy, since operation at 120V is similar to a lamp being operated on a dimmer-controlled circuit," says Renfro. Essentially the lamp's life expectancy is increased by being operated at a lower voltage than the lamp's specified rating.

The standard fixture for a circulating passageway was an ornately tooled, four-arm bare-bulb unit. Over the years, the lamps used were increased in wattage, partially to compensate for the higher expectations of the public, and also to compensate for the dinginess of the corridors. But newer lamps did not improve the area of the passageway as a whole--instead, they accentuated the problem by creating brightly lit islands in oceans of drabness.

As in other areas of the Terminal, the solution was threefold. One, additional fixtures--exact replicas of the originals--were installed. So, in a space that may have originally contained four bulbs, there now are eight, with illumination provided by a 75W incandescent bulbs. However, some of the passageways had very high ceilings, so new fixtures with a PAR-20 downlight aimed directly at the floor were custom-built for the project. "Originally, there were four-arm fixtures with an exposed bulb on the bottom. We modified the five-bulb fixture to contain a PAR-type lamp that was concealed by opening the decorative ornamentation [petals] of the fixture," adds Renfro. The ceiling heights ranged from 16' to 25' (4.8-7.5m) depending on the passageway, and for some the angle of incline necessary to provide connections to other areas were situated at different elevations. "The goal was to reduce the contrast by spreading the required lumens over a greater number of light sources and to also light other surfaces." All of the four-arm fixtures were refurbished, and the newer units with five sockets are identical in appearance. Baldinger of Astoria, NY, and Historical Arts provided the refurbishing services and additional fixtures.

"It was a fantastic project, that I think worked out very nicely," says Citrin of the Terminal. "The building was cleaned up tremendously. Just doing the ceiling alone would have been a major achievement. The place is now restored to what it originally looked like, and we have more contemporary lighting in it--but Grand Central still retains its original character."

Owner MTA Metro-North Railroad

Architects (Original Construction) Reed & Stem, Warren & Wetmore

Architects (Renovation) Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners

Construction Lehrer McGovern Bovis Inc.

Lighting Designer Richard Renfro

Project Manager, project design and execution Barry Citrin, associate principal, Fisher Marantz Stone

Project Manager, master plan development phase Lynn Redding

Team Designer Sara McBarnetter

Fiber-Optic Project Design Tom Drew, president, Drama Lighting Adrienne Jaret, fiber coordinator


Historical Arts and Casting chandelier restoration and concealed fixtures, ticket booth fixtures, brass five-arm fixtures LSI floodlights Winona Studio of Light ceiling fixtures Baldinger brass four-arm fixtures Lumenyte fiber illuminators Lumenyte Sta-Flex fiber Drama Lighting Fiberwand fiber-optic fixtures Panasonic compact fluorescent lamps (for necklace) Philips MasterColor 100W metal-halide lamps

Grand Central Terminal's famed vaulted plaster ceiling, 120' (37m) above the concourse floor, is painted blue-green to resemble the night sky. The painted constellations are trimmed in gold leaf and framed by decorative and ornate lunettes located above the necklace of CFLs on the perimeter of the ceiling. There were numerous challenges involved in the restoration of this key space, reports John Belle of Beyer Blinder Belle.

How tough a job was it? Belle indicates a small rectangular area on the ceiling, located above the stairs on the west side of the concourse, that intentionally has not been cleaned and is nearly black in appearance, showing the decades of grime and neglect. This section of ceiling includes the painted plaster and the marble area, so comparisons can easily be made with the refurbished areas. Belle also adds that while raising light levels in the main concourse area was important, adding numerous lighting fixtures was ruled out both aesthetically and historically.

How, then, does light come into the concourse? Certainly the windows provide a substantial amount during the day, augmented by the cornice necklace and the chandeliers. But there is no direct lighting of the vaulted ceiling and its constellations by uplighting or other fixtures. Instead, Richard Renfro designed a scheme that uses modified LSI floodlights with Philips MasterColor 100W PAR-38 spots aimed at the plaster areas and lunettes above the necklace. The lights, aimed from across the concourse, are tightly focused to highlight the plaster areas. "These floodlights add light, and make the decorative details appear to be in 3D. The lighting is more dramatic, with more contrast and no glare. The LSI fixtures relamp from the rear, so they never need to be refocused," he says.

Most people admiring the constellation comment on the stars. Renfro says the original ceiling was conceived with the assistance of astronomy experts from the Hayden Planetarium. The present ceiling dates from the 1930s and was installed after the original ceiling deteriorated and needed replacement. "Some of the stars are painted and 77 are electrical. It was vital to maintain the order of magnitude found in constellations. The original system used 40W incandescent bulbs coupled with acrylic rods of different sizes to create the desired brightness for a particular star. Certainly the transfer of light from the incandescent bulb to the rod left much to be improved upon; it was also extremely difficult to locate the burned-out bulb in the narrow space above the plaster ceiling and below the roof. One of the main reasons for converting the illumination system to fiber optics was to allow for easier elimination of dead 'stars.' "

The new system consists of seven Lumenyte metal-halide illuminators with 150W 4000K metal-halide lamps and Lumenyte Sta-Flex SEL2000 end-light fiber; each tail is approximately 40' long (12m). The fiber-optic system was designed and installed by Drama Lighting of Buffalo, NY. A complete mockup of the system was built and examined. The criteria used in selecting the fiber included its ability to transmit light the required distance, and a desire for a bright white light that would resemble actual starlight. The custom-designed fiber-optic fixture, designed and manufactured by Drama, allows the order of magnitude to be created by changing the lens in the fixture, rather than varying the diameter of the fiber. For aiding in the color appearance of the star, two small neutral density filters are located within the fixture. A UV filter located between the illuminator and the fiber cuts UV transmission.

Renfro and Citrin say plastic fiber was selected mainly to satisfy a "Buy American" policy, and field installation and fiber cutting were not that important in the selection criteria. Regarding longevity concerns, Renfro says, "Just as the original rods yellowed with age over time, it's conceivable that the fiber system will need to be replaced in 40 to 60 years."