Paul Gregory lights Toys "R" Us's new flagship store

It's called the Center of the Toy Universe, and it's located at the Crossroads of the World: Retailer Toys “R” Us has opened a new 110,000-sq.-ft. (9,900 sq. m) flagship store in the middle of Times Square, at the corner of 44th Street and Broadway. It's a New York-scaled project designed and built by a group of New York City-based firms: architecture by Gensler; theming and retail design by J. Newbold Associates; audio-visual technology systems by Show & Tell Productions and Scharff Weisberg; construction by F.J. Sciame; construction management by Big Show; and lighting design by Focus Lighting. The centerpiece is a 60'-tall (18m) Ferris wheel, designed and built by Entech Creative Industries, that causes people to stop and stare, even in one of the world's most visually-congested areas.

The challenge, notes Paul Gregory, principal of Focus Lighting, is to compete with existing attractions such as ABC's Good Morning America studio and the facade of NASDAQ MarketSite, both of which feature enormous LED displays. As with all of his designs, Gregory is very concerned with that all-important first look. “When you see Toys ‘R’ Us, what image do you remember?” he asks. “First, an exciting exterior; second, a view through to the Ferris wheel.”

However, the Ferris wheel is not always visible, which is part of Gregory's design plan. “Rather than compete with the flash and glitter of Times Square, we decided to throw a large sheet over Gensler's glass box building, then take the sheet away and expose the interior of the store and the Ferris wheel,” says Gregory. It's a unique effect: 165 oversized color scrollers, manufactured by Diazit, were placed on the inside of the glass facade. Each scroller measures 6'x5' (1.8x1.5m) and contains six frames of polyester fabric. Each frame can be reprinted as often as desired. The images created by these scrollers result in what Gregory calls “the biggest billboard in the world, stretching almost 200' (60m) in length;” in fact, they function as advertising support for products and special events in the store.

To illuminate the images created by the scrollers, 51 metal-halide 1,000W Wide-Lite F-series arena-style floodlights, with custom mechanical dousers, bathe the exterior with light. The fixtures are cantilevered from the top of the facade. “The dousers are used when the scrollers go to clear,” explains Diana Ades, senior designer for Focus Lighting. “The scrollers are on the inside of the glass, yet they need to be kept dry, so there is a heating system to keep condensation from forming on the glass.” Show & Tell Productions engineered the programming of the scrollers, which can work in conjunction with a 9'-high by 48'-wide (2.7×14.4m) curved interactive SmartVision LED display that juts out over the sidewalk.

The main entrance to the store glitters with 50W MR-16 lamps recessed into the steel-and-chrome overhead canopy. The fixtures are by Liton, with GAM Products' GamChroics glass color filters in Toys “R” Us's signature colors of red (GD245), yellow (GD450), blue (GD835), green (GD680), pink (GD120), and orange (GD320), programmed to chase with three or four different sequences for a kinetic look. “The idea was to make the entry the most important part of the facade,” says Gregory. “The color patterns on the ground are visible day and night.”

One enters the store onto a floating glass-and-concrete bridge lit from underneath with blue, green, and pink neon tubes shining through glass roundels in the concrete. “The concept was to surround the merchandise inside the store with color,” says Gregory, whose designs include a three-story acrylic wall that flanks the escalators with a pattern of green, yellow, red, blue, pink, and orange Plexiglas panels backlit with fluorescent lamps.

The interior of the store is colorful, too, with high ceilings, or vaults, on the upper level painted blue on one side of the store and deep yellow, or amber, on the other. Decorative scenery ranges from 14 individually-themed cars on the Ferris wheel to a life-size version of the board game Candyland, animatronic versions of E.T. and T-Rex, a Cabbage Patch Doll adoption center, and a 4,000-sq.-ft. (360 sq. m) Barbie Mansion.

What the public doesn't see is the complex system that controls the lighting. The heart of this system consists of four Entertainment Technology Horizon playback controllers with eight universes of DMX that control 39 different zones in the store. One Horizon unit is attached to the Ferris wheel; the other three are found in racks in a basement room. In the same box with the Horizon PBC on the Ferris wheel is a wireless Ethernet receiver whose transmitter rests on the stationary leg of the wheel.

“This is the most complex control system I've ever worked on,” says Robert Bell of Entertainment Technology, who came to New York from Canada to work on the programming. His team included lighting designer Steve Shelley, and programmer Rodd McLaughlin of Prelite NY, as well as Michael Steinberg of Focus Lighting, who supervised system integration. The programmers used wireless laptops or Ethernet jacks placed throughout the store (some programming had been done in advance at the Focus office using Horizon software). The system also receives MIDI cues from the custom Show & Tell show control system, to trigger lighting cues that match the status of the window scrollers.

“There is not just one button to run a show,” says Bell. “There is an entire PC-based front end, with Windows applications, to drive the Horizon units which store over 1,000 cue lists, any number of which can be running at the same time.” Custom HTML pages, created by Focus Lighting, allow authorized personnel to choose pre-programmed lighting looks and override the ongoing time clock functions. For example, the store manager can go to the control room, key in a password, and go to the access button on the computer screen that represents the area he wants to control. He might want to change the lighting in the Barbie house or change the look and color of the Ferris wheel for a special event in the store.

Designed by Ades, and implemented by assistant designer Sepp Spenlinhauer, the lighting for the Ferris wheel includes 200 neon chevrons made by Entech, 420' (126m) of LED striplight by Tokistar, and 14 DMX-controlled strobes by Diversitronics enclosed in custom-designed star shapes. The strobes flash at 25% intensity, making them bright but not blinding.

One of Spenlinhauer's biggest challenges was to control the neon, as there was too much of it to use the standard magnetic transformer and remote dimmers, which would have added too much weight to the Ferris wheel. Instead, an opto-isolated gate switch receives a low-voltage on/off signal from a DMX-to-analog converter.

In addition, a DMX-to-LED controller drives the striplights, so that the lighting on the Ferris wheel has direct DMX control rather than using dimmers. The lights on the Ferris wheel are programmed to run on their own time clock, and can change quickly to special color chases, strobe patterns, or a uniform color. This happens via one of the custom control pages, while additional pages control the Barbie house, T-Rex, the entry bridge, and other areas of the store.

In all, the lighting for the store includes over 4,000 fixtures, 1,000 circuits without DMX, and 250 Entertainment Technology Capio dimmers. Distributed DMX (coordinated by Mark Miller of Focus Lighting) is used to control the theatrical-style lighting in the store (there are also DMX-controlled circuit breakers).

The theatrical package includes Wybron color scrollers (21 CXI color-mixing scrollers and 33 Forerunner color changers), 143 Shakespeare 575 ellipsoidals and 25 Star PARs from Altman Stage Lighting, and 10 Martin Professional automated luminaires (five each of MAC 250s and MAC 300s).

Many of these fixtures are hung on lighting maintenance support systems (catwalks) that run along the ceiling on the upper level of the store. Eight Martin fixtures are placed in the blue vault, focused on the World's Fair, an exhibit area for new product launches, where the automated luminaires add color, movement, and patterns to a series of large, cloud-like screens. The final two Martin fixtures are found in the amber vault, and are outfitted with Toys “R” Us gobos that spin cheerfully around the space.

To light the facade of the Barbie house, Wybron CXIs are used with the Altman Star PARs. “We used the Star PARs to get the punch we wanted, as they provide more punch than conventional PAR fixtures,” notes Ades. The CXIs add a full color range, from lavender to gold, to the primarily pink facade, picking up glitter in the paint. Inside the Barbie abode (which has a pumped-in bubble-gum aroma) are large flowers twinkling with MR-16 lamps, creating illuminated umbrellas over the displays of Barbie dolls and the Barbie line of clothing for real-life little girls.

Rosco Double Gobo Rotators are scattered throughout the upper level of the store, with Toys “R” Us gobos and breakup patterns used to add a feeling of animation. Rosco I-Cue mirror attachments on the front of Altman Shakespeare fixtures move the gobos around on the screens in the World's Fair area, which also has track lighting by Tech Lighting. Wybron Forerunners are used with additional Altman Shakespeare units to light T-Rex, E.T., and a display of motorized Hoberman Spheres, the clever expandable toy spheres created by inventor Chuck Hoberman.

At midnight the theatrical lighting is turned off automatically to help extend lamp life. Another energy-saving move involves running the non-dimmed theatrical fixtures on buck-and-boost transformers to increase their lamp life by running them at lower voltage.

The merchandise at Toys “R” Us sparkles under an output of 80-100 footcandles that helps the products pop out from the colorful interior. Much of the merchandise on the upper level is lit by 600 Amerlux Tranzformer T-100 fixtures mounted on the catwalks. Also on the catwalks are fluorescent fixtures by Mark Lighting that uplight the ceilings, with gel sleeves by Rosco (R22 to accent the amber, and R378 to highlight the blue).

Over 400 ComboLight fixtures from RSA Lighting are placed throughout the store in various formats including cable-mount (linear and rectangular), recessed linear, suspended cable-mount rectangular, and wall/ceiling arm-mounted fixtures. These elegant metallic steel fixtures use four PAR-30 metal-halide lamps when lighting the merchandise, while those providing aisle lighting use a combination of PAR-30s with custom glass color filters (in the same six Toys “R” Us signature colors) and fluorescent lamps.

Additional RSA fixtures are used in Animal Alley, where the stuffed animals live. These were custom-designed by Focus Lighting in conjunction with RSA, and feature telescoping arms and adjustable round ballast houses, with custom Aromat ballasts and PAR-30 metal-halide lamps. Wall-mounted RSA PAR-20 metal-halide fixtures with green glass filters uplight foliage panels. Animal Alley also has decorative lighting built by Themetech. “We call this electrified grass,” says Ades, describing upright plastic tubing with tiny green lamps glittering atop display units.

Low-voltage MR-16 track lighting around the perimeter of the store, as well as compact fluorescent downlights and recessed PAR-38 downlights, are all by Lightolier. These add another layer of light to the background that envelops the product.

The lower level of the store has a video-intensive environment called the “R” Zone, where kids can play with the latest electronic toys. The AV systems include Panasonic and Sony monitors, Fujitsu and Pioneer plasma screens, Extron video routers, Adtec playback units, and stereo sound. Strobes by Pulsar Light of Cambridge (supplied by Long Island-based Group One) pop against an industrial-looking black ceiling while orange crackle neon accents the Nintendo area. “Some of the vendors brought in their own accent pieces,” explains Gregory. Outside of the “R” Zone, additional RSA fixtures are used on the lower level to light non-electronic toys and games.

“The end result is sparkly and colorful,” Gregory adds. “The products are very visible. It's a very exciting environment.” Kids certainly seem to think so, as they line up to ride the Ferris wheel. With its flashing neon, this new corporate icon is also a beacon of light at one of the world's busiest crossroads.

Contact the author at elgreaux@primediabusiness.com.

TOYS "R" US TIMES SQUARE

Architect
Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning Worldwide

Concept Designer, Theming and Store Design
J. Newbold Associates, Inc.

Lighting Designer
Focus Lighting Inc.

Audiovisual, Technology Designer
Show & Tell Productions, Inc.

Construction Manager
F.J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc.

Technical Lighting Adviser
Hillman DiBernardo

Ferris Wheel, Other Specialty Features
Entech Creative Industries

Vertical Transport Consultants
VDA

MEP Engineer
FMC Associates

Structural Engineer and Curtain Wall Consultant
Gilsanz, Murray, Steficek LLP

Civil Engineer
Philip Habib Associates

Acoustic Consultant
Cerami & Associates, Inc.

Geotechnical Engineer
Langan Engineering

Curtain Wall Engineer
Glasswal Systems Ltd.

Code
Jerome S. Gillman

Zoning Counsel
Pillsbury Winthrop LLP

Owner's Representative
ProjectEye Inc.

Scrolling System Fabricator
Diazit Company, Inc.

Scrolling System Control Fabricator
LSI Controls, Inc.

Elevators and Escalators
Schindler

Curtain Wall Fabricator
W&W Glass Systems, Inc.

Signage
Sign Project Management