ADVERTISEMENT
04-19-21 | Feature

Simple Lighting on Dramatic Architecture

McCarter Switching Station in Newark, New Jersey
by Aaron Schmok, LASN

The McCarter Switching Station in Newark, New Jersey features 49 concrete columns standing 34' tall with weighted canopies at the top. The design of the columns and the adjacent wall turned an ordinary industrial electrical station into a civic pedestrian art walk. The site spans 174,000 sq. ft. and features work from local artists at various points.
The McCarter Switching Station in Newark, New Jersey features 49 concrete columns standing 34' tall with weighted canopies at the top. The design of the columns and the adjacent wall turned an ordinary industrial electrical station into a civic pedestrian art walk. The site spans 174,000 sq. ft. and features work from local artists at various points.
Each column is lit with two recessed ingrade LED spotlights on the north and south side of their base. Through testing different beam spreads, light placement, and direction, the team was able to keep the focus on the canopy with less light on the columns.
The columns create an enclosed space, and the canopies allow for some overhead protection from rain although the tops are sloped away from the center to have water flow towards the sides. The structures run next to the southern wall standing at 25' tall and made of precast concrete and perforated curved aluminum.
Each canopy has a somewhat narrow shape that leads to long ends on their north and south axis. Because of this design, the lights were positioned underneath the long ends, illuminating the entire bottom of the canopies. Artwork featured along the switching station wall, titled "Residents" was created by local Newark artist, Kevin Darmanie, and is indirectly lit by the ground mounted up lights.

The exterior of the McCarter Switching Station in Newark, New Jersey was completely redesigned by a team of Adjaye Associates, DW Smith & Associates, RL Studio, and Jingoli and Sons as the architects, Landscape Architects, lighting designers, and contractors respectively. PSE&G (Public Service Electric and Gas company) hired the team to transform the once industrial and non-aesthetic setting of the switching station into an outdoor gathering space decorated with public art.

The lighting designers with RL Studio had been contacted for the project to carry out the responsibilities of the lighting design services in this design and build project. Being initially hired by the contractors, all of the documentation and lighting ideas went through them as they communicated with the architects. They had sent the plans, renderings, and a sketch up model of the vision for the project in which RL Studio evaluated the goals and lighting opportunities and made a decision about the best direction on illuminating the columns. The architects, who were leading the project, had designed large columns with canopies placed at their top. Being strategically placed, the columns create a barrier for pedestrians who visit the artwork.

The architect's main objective with the lighting was for the designers to create a plan that would result in the canopies to be well illuminated for nighttime visitation while keeping the column segment dark.

img
 
Brent Shelly, lighting designer with RL Studio, elaborated about the process in saying, "that was their big thing, they created these columns with canopies on top and they wanted to light them. They were pretty specific that they didn't want to light the columns. So it was pretty tricky to find the right beam spread and get the right distance from the columns, so the light is only going on the canopy."

The team embraced the challenge set before them by the architect. Their approach had them trying a number of different variations to conclude the best way to achieve their goal. The lighting optic/position, distance from the column, beam spread, and other factors had to be tested to determine the best method to achieve their lighting goals.

"We didn't want a bunch of spill light to go into the sky, so it had to be narrow enough to just hit the canopy, and it had to be far enough back so that it wasn't grazing up the column," said Shelly. "We played with some different ideas and talked about having some fixtures halfway up the columns, mounted to the columns to uplight the canopy, because we didn't think we would be able to get the right optics from the ground, but we were."

The lighting designers provided two or three different options and completed photometric modeling and a lighting program which showed a near reality representation of what the lighting effect was going to be. The lighting designers considered a variety of different approaches with options of having the lights being a little closer or further, having more fixtures or less, either using spot or flood lights.

"I think we were in tune with what they wanted to do, with what their vision was for the project. We talked about maybe doing some catenary lighting between the poles, but we ultimately decided not to do that. We wanted to keep it simple and clean. The architecture was already dramatic, so the lighting just needed to support the architectural statement, and I think it did that well. It's concealed in the ground and lets the architecture be the hero which is what we typically try to do. I would say that if you go into a space and you notice the lighting, we haven't done our job."

The lighting designers faced another challenge in embedding the fixtures into the surfacing. The huge and heavy concrete columns required massive footers below the ground. In navigating this issue, the designers had to coordinate the ingrade lighting with the footers and, as a result, they had a housing for the lights custom made so they were shallow enough so that it would clear the footer.

"In the end, I think that the lighting really helps the architecture to create a bold and dramatic statement at night, which is what we wanted to do. The lighting is kind of the icing on the cake or the support of what the rest of the space is doing. We feel like we really nailed it when it comes to letting the architecture express itself properly."

As seen in LASN magazine, April 2021.

img

Sign up for
LAWeekly newsletter. Get exclusive content today.