Wire and lighting combine in an impressive sculpture inside the lobby of an iconic Manhattan building.
Once known as the Pam Am building, this identifiable structure in the Manhattan skyline has history. Before it was built in 1963 and became the largest commercial office building in the world at that time, the site was originally called Grand Central City because of its proximity to the famous train and subway hub. Later that year, the building began offering helicopter service between Manhattan and New York’s three major airports until a fatal accident occurred.
In 1981, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (Met Life) bought the building from the namesake airline, although Pan Am’s headquarters remained there for the next 10 years. In 1992, Met Life removed the giant Pan Am sign, since the airline had ceased operation, and replaced it with the company’s logo.
A renovation of the lobby space in 1987 featured a highly ornate Egyptian motif conceived by designer Warner Platner. The lobby underwent another transformation in 2002, this time more modern in approach. Most notably, the Vanderbilt Avenue entrance features a gilded wire structure aptly named “Flight” and designed by American master Richard Lippold.
An immediate challenge lies in illuminating such an impressively large area that measures approximately 2,800 square feet and has double-height, 30-foot ceilings. The scope of this project was to make the space exist with the sculpture and “transcend its role of container,” according to Di Oronzo.
The very structure of the sculpture – a series of strung brass wires spanning the entire space both in width and length – demanded a carefully calibrated contrast between daylight coming through the large glazed façade and the artificial lighting.
“We created a lighting scheme that adjusts to accommodate the varying lighting conditions of the seasons and the daily cycle of natural lighting by writing custom software that modulates the levels of luminous energy, luminous intensity, and color temperature,” Di Oronzo explains. “Daylight is then part of the overall lighting scheme and not interference. In the summer, the photometric levels will accommodate the warmer hues of a persistent sun angle, while, in the winter, the software will, for example, warm up the color temperature to compensate for the coolness of daylight and lack of contrast.”
This special software operates via DMX controllers which instruct the LED fixtures to perform as needed all day long and throughout the seasons. The LED fixtures also vary in specification (i.e. angle of illumination, power, color temperature) to respond to the form of the sculpture. Complementing the main LED apparatus is a series of HID fixtures at the west side and crisscrossing fluorescent fixtures at the ceiling.
The ultimate design goal was to make light perform in the background and elevate the presence of the space through the creation of an intelligent lighting system that responds to the unique lighting conditions of the site.