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Triple Bridge Gateway, New York City, USA

Issue 48 Apr / May 2009 : Architectural : Transport


Leni Schwendinger has helped to transform a desolate area into a destination.

After more than ten years of community planning, design and construction, the bus ramps above Ninth Avenue at 40th Street have been transformed into an infrastructural public-art illumination installation that is delighting residents, visitors, passersby and motorists. Created in collaboration with the Port Authority of New
York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) by the design team of PKSB Architects and Leni Schwendinger Light Projects (LSLP), a formerly desolate stretch of Hell’s Kitchen roadway - shadowed by exposed steel and concrete overpasses - now shimmers with colour-infused light.

Notes lighting artist and designer Leni Schwendinger: “Instead of a place to rush through, our team has created a destination - a dynamic urban oasis for the eye and a visual landmark for the community.”

In 1994, Community Board #4 convened the Triple Bridge Task Force. Leni Schwendinger joined in this volunteer effort to solicit neighbourhood input and create design guidelines for aesthetic renovation of the bus ramps. In collaboration with the PKSB team, Leni Schwendinger Light Projects LTD won the PANYNJ-invited competition to design architectural improvements to the overpasses. Recalls PKSB lead principal Henry Stolzman: “We saw this project as a rare opportunity to celebrate infrastructure and mass transportation – transforming both into art and architecture.”

As the job grew in scope, facades on both the west and east side of the street were incorporated - including replacement with titanium panels of the terminal’s brick façade, creating a new entry marquee and opening commercial storefronts to enliven the streetscape.
The design process for Triple Bridge Gateway began in 1996. A series of mock-ups and installations continued from 2001 through 2008. The design choices - metals, lighting and color pattern - were conceived as emphasis for the bridges’ I-beam engineered structure. A chain-link containment system wraps the sides and underside of each ramp. This highly-detailed stainless-steel metal mesh works to reflect and diffuse light, as well as providing full-time maintenance access.

The lighting fixtures were selected for their capacity to withstand vibration and extreme weather conditions. Unique mountings were designed to achieve site-specific effects from industrial fixtures. Multiple light sources illuminate the bridge structure and the area under the bridges without interfering with ramp-roadway lighting.
Linear fluorescents emphasise the I-beam webs and bolted plates. Metal-halide CSI sources graze the mesh scrim, and wallpacks wash the bridge coffers with light.

A sculptural addition creates ‘a luminous room’. Pendant-mounted, high-polish, adjustable reflector panels pierce the scrim. Metal-halide light sources on the east and west walls of the underpass focus onto the panels that, in turn, cast reflected light patterns onto the street. The reflections unify the existing lines and spaces of the bridges, and accentuate movement and animation as cars pass underneath.
A computer-sequenced illumination scheme brings this urban sculpture to life with a weekly rotating schedule of visual compositions:

  • Chambers of Colour - This formal composition focuses on the beam structure and corner shapes.
  • Spectacle - A bright and bold composition.
  • Reflections - Creates a connection of the street and the bridges’ underside through volumes of reflected light on the roadbed.


Wayne Berg, Kentaro Tsubaki, Henry Stolzman
Leni Schwendinger, David Lander, Jodi Geroux, Charles Cameron, Eric Chenault
ETC, Kim Lighting, Hess America, Holophane, Insight Lighting, Let There Be Neon, Lithonia, Thorn



Triple Bridge Triple Bridge Triple Bridge
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