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MONDO ARC

New 42nd Street Studios, New York City, USA

Issue 46 Dec / Jan 2008/9 : Architectural : Façade

Lighting Design: VORTEX LIGHTING


The New 42nd Street Studios, located between New York’s Seventh and Eighth Avenues, is a prominent rehearsal space for the city’s performing arts community.

In addition to three floors of office space, the ten-storey, 84000sqft facility features a total of 14 rehearsal studios, two of which can be used as function rooms. Owned and operated by The New 42nd Street Inc., it was set up as an independent non-profit organisation to assume long-term responsibility for seven historic theatres on the block.


The facility recently tasked its lighting designer, Anne Militello, of Los Angeles-based Vortex Lighting, with the revitalisation of the building, replacing the conventionally-lit extravaganza she had designed at the start of the new millennium, with a groundbreaking LED solution using Coemar fixtures — destined to blow a further hole through the dynamic signage and ad billboards of Times Square.


When the architectural firm Platt Byard Dovell originally conceived the New 42nd Street Studios, they provided a façade that would create abstract fields of changing colour, persuading New 42nd Street Inc to turn its back on the customary Times Square signage (in so doing they became the only building on the Square without posters — digital or static). The building combined plain and frosted glass with Venetian louvres.


On June 21, 2000 this $33.7 million project opened, with Anne Militello creating a largely halogen façade around four main light features that could be played like an instrument. It was immediately accoladed by the Illuminating Engineering Society.


But with the onset of the energy crisis the New 42nd Street Studios were forced first to reduce the functioning hours of the high energy consuming lighting, and then to contemplate either turning it off entirely or rethinking the concept.


Happily they chose the latter, and 18 months ago Anne Militello was reapproached. With the new generation of solid state LED lighting now starting to mature in terms of brightness and efficiency, she reconceived the project, knowing that she could not only enhance the scenic creativity but drastically reduce the energy cost by as much as 90%.


The designer pondered her options. “The first design had been from an era before LED fixtures came along. Now there were major companies like Color Kinetics, of course, but I knew there had to be alternatives — I wanted to look worldwide and tested products from everywhere.”


She eventually arranged a shoot-out on site with products from Canada, Germany, the US and Italy. “The Coemar ParLite LED was by far the brightest,” she said. “Another advantage was that they had a great representative in the US (Gary Mass, from Coemar’s US distributors Inner Circle Distribution) who worked closely with me and facilitated getting the fixtures.” She recalls that although the ParLite LED was compact and the output high, at that time it didn’t have a PAR housing.
However, the back plate could be changed to give it the higher IP66 rating for outdoor use. “We threw water on it, and when the PAR configuration came out it was even stronger — it was well able to withstand the brutal New York winters and the heat of the summer.”


The PAR housings were duly supplied, allowing the LD to replace 168 of the existing 600W fixtures with 36W fixtures — like for like. “The Coemar units responded beautifully,” she said.


Additional fixtures were requisitioned to achieve a wider overall spread of light. “I’m glad I didn’t cut down on the number of lights we used, because it wouldn’t have worked any other way.”


Where the ParLite LEDs are fixed directly to the building they feature on every floor — but elsewhere, since the building is of glazed construction, the architects built an armature which protrudes and supports stainless steel fins, which in turn resemble Venetian blinds.


“On each floor there is a catwalk in order for the windows to be cleaned; we placed the lights on these catwalks and pointed them up and away from from the building, and then adjusted the angle of the metal louvres so they would reflect perfectly onto the street.”


At the same time the façade was reworked, extending the troughs that held the Coemar units, which required the installation of new brackets.
With the focus in place Militello concentrated on the content and delivery. “Because we had the ability to do virtually anything with this control system I made a series of around 700 moving paintings — from a vivid zig zag or a soft wash in pink. With the Pharos (architectural control) system we could make videos in my studio, store them in Final Cut Pro and set them into the system to project any abstract — including the Empire State Building and World Trade Tower.”


Given the lo-res canvas, there was also scope for some humour. “We made portraits of ourselves in orange and turquoise and we even have birds streaking across the 70m tall building which is 20m wide.” In other words she has provided a fiesta of flowing, saturated colour.


The lighting is triggered daily from a time clock using two Pharos devices, distributed in the U.S. by ETC; these were programmed by the excellent Broadway freelance artist, Ryan O’Gara with an ETC Expression DMX controller (which would talk directly to the Coemar DMX fixtures). The show activates at dusk and powers off at 2am. The images are fed into the Pharos and different shows play every night of the week using pixel-mapping technology. “We stretched the console to the limits and made it do things it had never been asked to do before,” said Militello.


The design utilises the Coemar fixtures’ RGB mix while in the background is a fluorescent wall wash, with blue theatrical gels providing depth of field.


Working on one of New York’s busiest streets, Ryder Construction Inc. were given the task of managing the installation, along with equipment suppliers PRG. The project had to meet a tight, six-week deadline in order for programming to commence and the new work to be commissioned in September last year.


Anne Militello is delighted with the reaction to her stunning lighting architecture. “New Yorker Magazine has named it as one of the most important pieces of architecture in the last 40 years — and for me it has just been the most unbelievable experience. When I get off the subway at Times Square it feels like coming home.


“Nightclubs and live shows come and go but this gives so many people pleasure. I’m just so happy it has contributed to the landscape.”  


www.vortexlighting.com

 

New 42nd Street Studios, NY New 42nd Street Studios, NY
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