Results 1 to 4 of 4

Thread: Downtown Lighting With Hints of Jazz

  1. #1

    Default Downtown Lighting With Hints of Jazz

    July 24, 2003

    Downtown Lighting With Hints of Jazz


    New street-lamp styles on lower Broadway: glass tubes on 14-foot poles and the overhanging swivel-head lamp in the foreground.

    There are lights at the end of my tunnel. Fifty-four new street lamps, to be precise, lined up along Broadway in the financial district. That's enough wattage to give me hope that our great city may soon emerge from the spiritual depression that has gripped the design of street furniture in New York for the past two decades.

    The new designs really are new. They are a departure from the reproduced versions of cast-iron originals that in recent years have helped turn New York into a theme park version of what a few chuckleheads consider the city's better days. The present takes back the streets! Can the future be far behind? Eventually 111 new street lamps will light up downtown's Canyon of Heroes, and things will look even brighter.

    Designed by the New York firm Cooper, Robertson & Partners, the lamps are part of a smart collection of street fixtures commissioned by the Alliance for Downtown New York, the most creatively alert of the city's business improvement districts. Sign and traffic light poles, trash cans, bicycle stands, pavements and security bollards fill out the streetscape package. Though the program was begun before 9/11, its spartan design aesthetic suits downtown's sober mood. The entire city could take a lesson from this exercise in visual restraint.

    The program is not, I hasten to add, an exercise in cutting-edge design. The fixtures are, rather, a distillation of precedents, in which Bauhaus and Art Deco are the most pronounced. Some people, including myself, might prefer to see how hotshots like Marc Newson and Philippe Starck would accessorize a stretch of Manhattan streetscape. Still, there's a fascination in the synthesis of two early-20th-century styles once considered polar opposites. Functionalism sits in on jazz.

    Cool jazz, to be sure. Quiet chords in the night. Patrons of the Odeon, the classic TriBeCa restaurant, may experience a mild shock of recognition on seeing one of the two new street lamp designs. If you took the restaurant's tubular glass wall sconces and mounted them on 14-foot poles, you'd arrive at a fair approximation of Cooper Robertson's concept. This isn't the theatrical Art Deco that Donald Desky produced for Radio City Music Hall. It's upright Deco, in office attire, a low-key style that evokes the time when "downtown" meant business, not bohemia.

    A second lamp, cantilevered from taller poles out over the street, also carries a strong scent of the office, at least if you happen to work in architecture, for the fixture resembles a giant, all-weather version of the swivel-head lamps traditionally found illuminating drawings on drafting tables. Nice work if you can get it, in these lean architectural times.

    The silver bases of the street lamps are simple, refined versions of octagonal, standard issue New York City designs. They remind us that historical references need not be reactionary. Alex Cooper, who led the design team for the Downtown Alliance, co-designed the master plan for Battery Park City back in 1979. The lamp bases recall the hexagonal pavers of Battery Park City's esplanade. This is the usable, not the funereal past.

    The signposts are similarly quintessential. Rather than trying to fit street signs into some modular system, the slender poles defer agreeably to their function. Regulation signs are affixed to them by plain metal clips, without making a design moment.

    Black poles, silver bases, crowns and arms: the palette is deliberately Deco, the glamorous sheen of Gotham in glorious black-and-white. But the mise-en-scène could also be 1940's film noir. Blond sirens. Bad cops. Footsteps in the night. Along the pavement, News of the World provides the script: celebrities waving, crowds cheering, the air alive with ticker tape.

    In the Cooper Robertson design, each official parade is commemorated by a glossy black strip of stone, set into the sidewalk. Why, look, it's Marie, Queen of Romania! (Oct. 18, 1926). How long has it been since New York has paid major tribute to minor royalty? We've got athletes, astronauts, prime ministers and admirals, but where is our favorite majesty, Queen Leona Helmsley?

    In principle, I resist beautification projects like this. They are typically based on the assumption that uniformity is aesthetically superior to heterogeneity. That belief is alien to the New York I know. I accept that a uniform vocabulary can be useful when neighborhood identity is the goal. The risk is that identity will be achieved by sacrificing the unpredictable variety from which New York's beauty has long derived.

    Too, I distrust the privatization of public space by business improvement districts, even those as sophisticated as the Downtown Alliance has shown itself to be. Outsourcing city services like sidewalks and street lamps may be necessary nowadays. Still, the ongoing blurring of the boundaries between public and private space is not a welcome development.

    In the financial district, especially, the stakes are high. Pressure to turn the New York Stock Exchange and the streets surrounding it into an island fortress was mounting even before 9/11. The need to heighten security now is genuine. But so is the deep dependence of New York's civic identity on open city streets. Their accessibility is as integral to who we are as the wall was to cold war Berlin. If we start piling up our own barricades, terrorists can chalk up a win.

    Yet another struggle is going on in our streets, on the symbolic and aesthetic planes, and in this conflict the Downtown Alliance has come down on the right side. Some people still like to style this as a conflict between the modern and the traditional, and there was a time in the early 20th century when that description fitted well enough. No longer. The issue today is the efficiency with which a city uses its creative resources to meet the challenges of a changing world.

    Wall Street has no business imagining itself as anything but a pivot of global change. Yet we keep hearing about the exodus of the financial industry, as if this were not only inevitable but desirable, as if brokers were standing in the way of progress or at least the development of luxury residential conversions. Oh, wonderful. Bemused by rosy images of the happy-pappy 24-hour living community now being prepared by public-private real estate development partnerships, we're supposed not to wonder whether there isn't a possible connection between the loss of New York's productive industries and the retro styling of the city's public face.

    It is difficult to complain about the privatization of downtown when City Hall is occupied by a tycoon who made his fortune with the idea that leasing a specially wired computer terminal is the only connection to Wall Street a contemporary business really needs; when the city's Transportation Department, the agency responsible for the blight of retro street lamp kitsch, has its design gears stuck in reverse; and when community boards and civic groups are determined to reduce New York's design standards to the level of a neighborhood bake sale.

    Some ticker tape, then, is in order for this morning's ribbon-cutting ceremony in honor of the Streetscape program. The Alliance for Downtown New York has broken the mold, if not, as yet, the retro spell. This is a very big deal. A round of cheers for the group's design team. Besides Cooper Robertson, it includes Quennell Rothschild & Partners for landscape design; Vollmer Associates, engineering; Pentagram, graphics; and Harvey & Marshall, lighting.

    Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

  2. #2

  3. #3
    Forum Veteran
    Join Date
    Jan 2003
    Garden City, LI

    Default Downtown Lighting With Hints of Jazz

    Finally, been waiting for years. *Clean and fresh. *Looks good. *Like the idea, also, of having all the ticker tape parades "memorialized: in strips on the floor. *A little touristy to be sure, but also a nice way to recignize the streets history and place in NYC and US history. *Excellent.

  4. #4

    Default Downtown Lighting With Hints of Jazz

    Thankfully, a departure from the victorian retro. I think their popularity was a reaction to the ugly and inappropriate cobra lamps that started in the 60s.

    The white light is a good choice. The sodium lamps suck the color out of the night.

    The dark grey sidewalk concrete is a sensible alternative to
    pavers. It was used on the Greenwich St sidewalk widening, and looks attractive.

Similar Threads

  1. Study Calls for Adding Ferries to Link Suburbs to Downtown
    By Kris in forum New York City Guide For New Yorkers
    Replies: 12
    Last Post: March 11th, 2008, 04:47 AM
  2. Jazz at Lincoln Center - Time Warner Center
    By Edward in forum New York Skyscrapers and Architecture
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: October 16th, 2007, 01:47 PM
  3. 'The Downtown Bronx'?
    By Kris in forum New York City Guide For New Yorkers
    Replies: 19
    Last Post: November 14th, 2005, 06:30 PM
  4. Downtown Brooklyn, the Plan
    By Kris in forum New York City Guide For New Yorkers
    Replies: 31
    Last Post: July 3rd, 2004, 10:01 PM
  5. Memorials Proliferate in Crowded Downtown
    By Fabb in forum New York City Guide For New Yorkers
    Replies: 6
    Last Post: February 16th, 2004, 07:44 AM


Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts

Google+ - Facebook - Twitter - Meetup

Edward's photos on Flickr - Wired New York on Flickr - In Queens - In Red Hook - Bryant Park - SQL Backup Software