Domingo Gonzalez Associates circles the city with light

Over the past decade, the New York City-based architectural lighting firm of Domingo Gonzalez Associates has been creating a ring of light around the island of Manhattan, as it successively adds illumination to many of the portals and waterfront areas of the city. These projects include lighting the George Washington Bridge, the Holland Tunnel Vent Building, the Joie de Vivre sculpture at St. John's rotary, Queens West Waterfront, Battery Park City South Neighborhood Residential Area, relighting the New York Police Memorial, Tribeca Bridge, Pier 11 East River esplanade, JFK Light Rail System, LaGuardia Airport Exterior Redevelopment Program, a lighting master plan for the Hudson River Park, and developing lighting standards for Route 9A (previously known as Westway).

Ellen Lampert-Gréaux asked principal designer Domingo Gonzalez and Abhay Wadhwa, senior designer/project manager for the George Washington Bridge, to comment on three of their most recent municipal projects.

Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: How did you get involved in these various New York City lighting projects?

Domingo Gonzalez: Three projects, the George Washington Bridge, Holland Tunnel Vent Building, and the lighting of the Joie de Vivre sculpture at St. John's rotary, were performed for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey [PANYNJ], the owner and operator of all three facilities. Our office has worked on a wide range of projects throughout the metropolitan area with the Port Authority over the last decade.

ELG: What was the initial concept for the George Washington Bridge project?

DG: The initial challenge was to develop a lighting solution that would dramatize the bridge's presence while minimizing the negative impact of floodlighting such a large structure. Because of the proximity of residential communities on either side of the river flanking the bridge's location, we opted for an interior indirect floodlighting approach which would dramatize the internal structure of the bridge without resorting to externally mounted floodlights which could be construed as a source of glare.

Abhay Wadhwa: Completed in 1931, this is the busiest bridge in the world, with 104 million cars crossing the Hudson into Manhattan every year. Le Corbusier described this bridge as “so pure, so resolute, so regular, that here, finally, steel architecture seems to laugh.” Our lighting solution aimed at responding to the purity and symmetry of the bridge structure. As the only bridge between Manhattan and New Jersey, the 604' (184m) towers were lit from the inside, so that the glowing towers are seen as welcoming beacons to the city.

Made of cables and steel beams, the bridge gleams in the sky like a reversed arch between water and sky. You see nothing but the bent cord supported by two majestic steel towers. Conceptually, the lighting effort was directed towards celebrating the scale of the towers with one strong brushstroke.

It was decided to uniformly light the towers from within, so that they glow from the inside. The archways of the towers were uplit to emphasize the gateways that the towers create. Furthermore, the top sections of the towers were made perceptibly brighter to provide a visual crescendo to the structure. Our conceptual approach was conveyed to the client with a lighting rendering. After carefully reviewing and documenting the structural plan, several possibilities were explored and the need for a full-size mock-up was determined. A typical module was mocked-up for the client.

ELG: What were the design challenges and how did you solve them?

DG: There were numerous design challenges in this project. Among these were: How do we develop a lighting system that is cost-effective, low-maintenance, effective, and able to withstand the various stresses to which any fixture in or on the bridge would be subjected to, including snow, wind, rain, or vibration?

AW: The structure posed several challenges for locating the fixtures, such that a perceptibly uniform lighting could be achieved from most viewing angles. Ease of maintenance and accessibility was a determining factor while locating these fixtures.

ELG: How did you select the equipment for the bridge?

DG: After a rather exhaustive analysis of standard commercially available products, we opted for a family of 1,000W metal-halide sports floods by GE utilizing a variety of NEMA distribution types. A total of 779 1kW fixtures were used, 391 on the New York side and 388 on the New Jersey side. Fewer fixtures could be accommodated on the New Jersey side due to the storage of a large American flag that flies there on special occasions.

AW: To ensure visual uniformity using the 1,000W uplights, careful consideration was given to the changing plan of the tower and varying heights of structure at each level. The light distribution from each fixture and the quantity of fixtures were adjusted accordingly.

The fixtures were specified with a specular aluminum reflector, enclosed in a spun aluminum hull. The fixture housing was painted a matte gray, to match the color of the steel of the towers. The lighting fixtures and mounting details were designed and specified to meet the most stringent technical and structural requirements for wind, vibration, shear, and snow loads. The fixtures were located so that they were easily accessible for maintenance, and were specified with a unique aiming system, so that the aiming and adjustment of the lights are maintained over lamp and ballast changes. The light distribution was clearly painted on the outside of each fixture.

Stringent consideration was given to avoid direct or reflected glare from the fixtures for the vehicles and the public parks at the foot of the towers. Finally, after months of focusing, evaluation, and fine-tuning, we were able to portray the majestic glory of these towers with a simple and clean solution.

ELG: Why isn't the bridge lit at all times?

DG: Considering that the bridge uses well over 800kW of power, it was decided by PANYNJ to illuminate it for special occasions (Presidents Day, Fourth of July, New Year's Eve, Memorial Day).

ELG: What was the concept for the Holland Tunnel Vent Building?

DG: The idea was to dramatize a historic artifact of NYC's waterfront that had previously been forgotten. A great many lifetime New York residents did not know that these buildings even existed. They had faded into the background of the city, consistent with the public's perception of a crumbling waterfront. The idea was to floodlight this monument and bring it back to prominence. As in our efforts at the George Washington Bridge, there were similar concerns on the table with the Holland Tunnel Vent Building: lamp life, ease of maintenance, energy conservation, and durability given the stresses of wind, snow, vibration, and a marine environment.

ELG: What equipment did you use for this project?

DG: We utilized a combination of 1,000W metal-halide sports floods in NEMA 2, 3, and 5 designations to floodlight and accent the champagne-colored brick of the building's primary mass, along with 400W HPS floodlights to accent the building's concrete base.

ELG: Were there any particular design challenges there?

DG: The unique challenges of the Vent Building were to develop a lighting solution which would dramatize the mass and form of the building while still being energy-efficient, low-maintenance, and able to withstand the unique stresses and factors of the Vent Building's location at the end of Canal Street pier.

ELG: What special considerations does one give to lighting a large urban sculpture?

DG: Our concerns in lighting sculptor Mark DiSuvero's Joie de Vivre were to develop a solution which would be economical and dramatize the sculpture without being a source of glare to either surrounding vehicular traffic or local residents. Our approach to satisfying these criteria, and also addressing the color of the sculpture, was to utilize 400W sports flood luminaires lamped with deluxe (color improved) high-pressure sodium light sources. The 65CRI HPS sources interacted very well with the orange color of the Joie de Vivre sculpture.

ELG: What equipment did you use to light it, and where is it installed?

DG: The fixtures utilizing these lamps were weather-resistant 400W sports flood units located at the base of the sculpture itself (on grade) and shining almost upwards.

ELG: What role does this kind of lighting play in the making of a city?

DG: This type of lighting plays a very important part in the making of a city's nighttime sensibility. The lighting of public art, historic buildings, and large transportation structures serves as a reminder that the physical fabric of the city has a special life and place in our nighttime vision of the cityscape. The lighting of these structures serves to help New York City celebrate its world-class identity.

Photo credit: ©John Bartlestone.