Enhancing a Rooftop View06-12-20 | Feature

Enhancing a Rooftop View

A Harbor Spectacle

A residential rooftop garden overlooking the Charleston harbor, in Charleston, South Carolina, had undergone a significant landscape renovation when Moonlighting Landscape Lighting Systems was asked to make it a more inviting space at night without overpowering the view of the bridge and harbor in background.
To make the putting green functional at night, wall lights were used to define the wall and keep the light focused on the turf below.
Mature torulosa juniper trees anchored both sides of the rooftop and helped hide unwanted views. The design called for bullet lights with 4000K, 6-watt lamps to fully bring out their green textures and interesting character.
The other trees on site, olive trees and Japanese maples, are lit with 2700K and 3000K. The various plant species allowed for this array of lamps on site to really create a multi-dimensional lighting scheme.
As in most of Moonlighting's designs, the fireplace is not lit to allow it to create its own light when on.
There wasn't a lot of space to situate large lights in the raised planter with the juniper trees so two lights were designated for each tree to create a nice blanket of illumination.
Removable pavers on pedestals made for an easy process of running wires underneath them. The team also had good access to the raised planting beds and pots.
Ambient light from the interior, wall sconces, the chandelier and other sources help evenly illuminate the pavers and the columns.
One of the final details was sourcing a hanging outdoor chandelier over the owners' custom dining table. To withstand the gusts of wind coming off the harbor, it was fastened with a small chain on two sides.

For a rooftop outdoor lighting project located in Charleston, S.C., Moonlighting Landscape Lighting Systems was tasked by the residents to cultivate an outdoor lighting plan reflective of this unique space overlooking the Charleston harbor.

The space is the top floor of multi-floor home that essentially serves as the residents' outdoor living area. It is open, interactive and designed for entertainment, featuring a putting green that was to be used on a regular basis in the evening hours, raised planters with a wide array of trees to block some views and low-lying plants to allow views of the harbor, a seating area with a fireplace and an outdoor dining area where the new owners wanted to host dinner parties.

The Principals
The design for the project was put together by Matt Carli who has worked with the company for about 10 years and serves as its lead designer. Moonlighting was started in 1992 by landscape architect Mike Rollins with the sole focus of outdoor lighting design, installation and maintenance and currently employees about 16 people. Rollins is still very involved with the day-to-day tasks, especially in the commercial projects. And having worked with clients over the course of 28 years, many still seek him out as do a lot of professional partners.

Carli started in the landscape industry when he was about 14, mowing lawns and performing maintenance. After college, he returned to landscaping where he eventually was taken on by Moonlighting.

"I learned (lighting design) through Mike who I think is one of most talented lighting designers in the country," Carli recalls.

He also gets advanced training every year at AOLP and in fact this year, Carli received his COLD - Certified Outdoor Lighting Designer - designation and is the only one in his state to complete the 3-year program.

The Project

Lighting on the rooftop project was kind of an afterthought.

"We came into an established landscape and had to kind of navigate the area, which was a little difficult on a rooftop," states Carli. "We had to have a pretty good understanding of the site before we could really establish a design and get power everywhere we needed it.

The plan was to light it to create an inviting space that didn't overpower the view: to just enhance it by illuminating the plant material, the putting green and the backdoor dining area.

Some of the plants were low-lying, like fan palms and grasses, to facilitate the view but there were also large ones intended to be a natural buffer to hide commercial buildings and to make the area a more intimate atmosphere, like a private room.

For the putting green, wall fixtures were designated to define the walls and illuminate the green. With these lights shining down and other lights shining up on some key trees, the perimeter would be well illuminated so it is safe to use at night.

Every fixture is shielded and Carli was very mindful of the wattages he was specifying to avoid light pollution.

"We typically aim at the trees or the plantings instead of aiming straight up," he says. "Light is broken up by through a series of shielding and how it is aimed." Security was not an issue on this project because of its rooftop location, a guard on the bottom floor and no pedestrian access.

For the plant material, lower lying plants looking out to the harbor were softly illuminated to give full perimeter lighting. The mature torulosa juniper trees were lit with bullet lights with 4000K, 6-watt LEDs to really make them pop. There were three Japanese Maples, which because of their red color, were lit with warmer 2700K LEDs. The planting material also included vitex trees and olive trees, which provided the opportunity to have different light levels.

The Process
For the design, Carli started with a base sheet given to him from the landscape architect, Sheila Wertimer of Wertimer and Cline, one of the more prominent firms in Charleston.

"We worked very closely with them," explains Carli. "I also met with the client, walked through the space, observed the elements, discussed how they used it, how they navigated it and where their main entertaining spots would be, which was the putting green, outdoor dining area and seating area over by the fireplace. So we made sure those focal points were taken care of. Just knowing how they use it is a big part of how we design and luckily they gave us creative freedom and trusted us to enhance the space and make it more enjoyable in the evening for them."

Understanding wattage and beam spread was also a big part of the design - what is not going to overpower the space but instead what is going to enhance it to make it feel natural, make it
feel livable.

"We are a firm believer in less is more," Carli says. "If you can make it subtler, it creates a little bit more interest."

Jerry Poore Landscape was the company that implemented Wertimer's plan so the lighting team coordinated with them onsite, especially with the landscape crew's foreman to understand how they ran their irrigation lines because wiring for the lights tends to follow the same route, which would eventually help cut down on installation time.

Carli figures he was about an hour onsite plotting out the fixture placements and researching power locations. Then he went to the office and transferred his design from paper to a digital platform that they use. All told he estimates it was about a three-hour process for design and estimating and then a two-day installation, which Moonlighting also did.

"This is probably one of my favorite projects, just in terms of being able to work with the view that they had," concludes Carli. "The site had so much character. Being able to be a part of the process and creating a more interesting space for them was really gratifying and their excitement was pretty contagious. When we all met it was nice to walk around the site with them and see their reaction when the lights came on. That makes it all
worth it."