Soaring to New Heights

May 18, 2021

CHALLENGE: Create a lighting system to denote special events at the Oculus in Lower Manhattan, beginning with a red, white, and blue scheme to honor veterans who have served.

INFLUENCE: The Oculus is the station house for the World Trade Center Transportation Hub — but it’s also so much more. Designed by world-renowned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, with original lighting design by Fisher Marantz Stone, NYC, the Oculus is a soaring sculpture, a memorial to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a retail center, and a transit hub meant to remove some of the stress of the commute through clear design and lighting. So, when the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey wanted to upgrade the lighting in the station to take advantage of LED, they knew they’d have to approach it with the utmost care.

SOLUTION: The Port Authority of NY/NJ and Constellation Energy chose FSG to re-design the lights for the Oculus based on a plan by Bernie Erickson,  and Mathle Leyes, both with New York-based lighting distributors FSG. Erickson’s plan called for color-changing LED fixtures, but they didn’t know of any fixtures that were up to the task. The dominant feature of the Oculus is its soaring atrium, defined by 166 rib-shaped columns, each arching more than 300 feet into the air before meeting at the apex. From the outside the sculpture is meant to evoke a bird taking flight. From inside the design has the size, scale, and grandeur of a modern cathedral. “The atrium is actually very high in the air and taller than you think,” says Erickson. “You can look into the atrium from street level and it doesn’t give you an appreciation for what is beneath there. You need a fixture with a lot of power to put light where you need it.”

The ribs were originally lit using recessed ceramic metal-halide fixtures that fit into small housings. Finding an RGBW LED fixture that was powerful enough to light the ribs all the way to their apex, while fitting into the existing housing, was a challenge met by Mike Aubrey at Clarté lighting. He developed the new PAR38 scale RGBW optical array in a matching retrofit kit and new fixture configuration.  “Optically we were only required to graze the outside of the columns,” says Erickson. “We’re grazing the outside of the columns, and lighting them inside and outside through the skylight, with a fixture that is smaller and has a lower profile than the previous metal halide fixtures. That’s quite an engineering feat that Mike can stake his reputation on.”

Once the fixtures were approved, deciding how to control the new color-changing capabilities became paramount. Aubrey recommended ETC, and its Paradigm architectural control system. The control system automatically dims or brightens according to a schedule or sensors, yet also has the ability to run custom looks for state or national holidays. With Touchscreen controllers Port Authority managers can dial in any preset look then immediately customize it with individual fixture control if they want. “This ability to have presets but still be able to custom control the lights individually and re-record presets if they wanted was important to the Port Authority. They wanted to maintain the dignity of the space and be a respectful neighbor,” says Sam Updike of At Full Lighting, the Paradigm installer. 

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