Early in the 20th century, New York City set the standard for the modern metropolis with its soaring skyscrapers and luminous skyline. At the opening of the 21st century the city has witnessed a renaissance in tall building design, with none more remarkable than The New York Times Building designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop/Fx Fowle and with lighting design by Jean Sundin and Enrique Peiniger of the Office for Visual Interaction (OVI). This monolithic tower of quiet beauty transcends the frenetic energy of Times Square and presents a technologically innovative, yet timeless icon for The New York Times and the city itself.

Lighting concept exterior
Renzo Piano has said, “The story of this building is one of lightness and transparency” and the notion of transparency and light runs throughout the design of the New York Times Building – from the ultra clear, low-iron glass and ceramic rods that compose the double-skin curtain wall to the carefully calibrated floodlighting that gives a delicate, warm glow to the exterior while allowing visual connection with the building’s interiors.
At OVI, concept, innovation and technology always work in tandem, therefore it is not surprising that OVI’s remarkable lighting program for the exterior of the New York Times Building began with the concept of lightness as well as the requirements of properly and efficiently illuminating the tower’s pioneering ceramic screens – the first of their kind in the United States. According to Sundin, “the setting out point for the exterior was the screens.” With the goal of articulating the soaring, lace-like quality of the screens, OVI developed a scheme where the floodlighting could be achieved with a single series of luminaires and a single lamp type. ERCO fixtures equipped with 250W Metal Halide lamps with an Fc2 base were paired with varying optical reflector systems to create the desired wallwash effect for the entire 260-meter elevation of the east and west facades. Narrow beam optics aimed to the top of the building provide a long throw of light, while narrow beams with spread lenses illuminate mid-levels and wide floods cast light on the base of the building. OVI chose metal halide lamps for their exceptionally long life of 10,000hrs+ and specified a warm, neutral white 3000K color temperature to complement the building’s signature off-white ceramic screens. As with many OVI projects, exacting technical performance is a fundamental part of the New York Times Building’s lighting program. For the finely calibrated floodlighting, luminaires with locking mechanisms allowed the necessary precision adjustments; while the optical design and integrated glare control minimize light pollution in the night sky.

Focusing the outdoor lighting
To illuminate extraordinarily large buildings or surfaces, you can simply use extraordinarily large luminaires and power outputs – or you can distribute the required luminous flux over a relatively large number of more compact luminaires. The latter not only has the advantage that you can fall back on standard, more economical lamps and luminaires, but it also allows a greater uniformity of lighting to be achieved – albeit only if you succeed in precisely aiming each luminaire such that the individual beams optimally overlap.
The lighting designers at OVI have already used this principle in many projects including, for instance, the plenary chamber of the Scottish Parliament and the US Air Force Memorial in Arlington. In the latter case, to achieve exactly the desired illuminance levels, OVI used laser sights for the first time, temporarily mounting them to the luminaires during focusing. Similarly, to achieve the desired uniform brightness progression of 1:3 between base and pinnacle, the projectors on the New York Times Building were also precisely aimed using lasers to map out the computer-calculated design and then locked in position.

Foyer and garden lighting concept

The story of transparency and lightness continues in the public areas of the ground floor of the New York Times Building. OVI translated these metaphoric qualities into three-dimensional space by finely composing light levels to visually activate and connect several distinct areas – the lobby, the central glass-walled enclosed garden, and the multi-use space of TheTimesCenter.

Describing OVI’s design process Sundin says, “We are composing an entire view and the challenging thing about that is, based on the transparency of this project, everywhere you look you have views. It has to look good from every vantage point.” The central glass-enclosed garden played a central role in anchoring these changing vistas and roaming perspectives, serving to guide the eye through the interconnected architectural volumes of the ground floor.

In order to achieve such a finely balanced composition for the public spaces, OVI simultaneously addressed both aesthetic goals and technical requirements. Recognizing the specific light levels necessary for such programmatic elements as lobby circulation, security, retail areas, displays and more, OVI began by mapping out a lighting master plan to determine how these needs could be fulfilled while preserving and even enhancing views into the garden. Peiniger says, “We were careful not to let one element dominate. We considered the space and views in terms of foreground, middle ground and background.” OVI was conscious of highlighting the garden as a focal point without pushing the lighting to an extreme in either direction. For example, too little light in the
adjacent areas would create a ‘tunnel effect’. However, “a blanket of same light everywhere” according to Peiniger, would greatly undermine the uniqueness of each element.


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