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Revealing the City’s Character

In 1998 Carl Erickson, an architectural historian, returned home to Troy, NY with a mission after experiencing the visual image of Barcelona, Spain that lighting created at night. He enlisted Lynn Kopka, Policy Analyst for the Mayor of Troy, in a quest to light the treasure trove that is Troy’s historical architecture and marks Troy as a heritage destination. Mayor Mark Pattison authorized Lynn to propose the idea to the Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI). With a preliminary list of over 30 buildings, Russ Leslie, associate director of the LRC, was initially skeptical about committing to the city.

A diagram of the fixture location and aiming at the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel. Drawing by Peping Dee, Rohini Pendyala and Sumi Han.

The goals of the project became identified as: showcase the historical architecture in Troy, attract people to visit, and make those guests feel safe and comfortable during their time here. Now, in our third year of the project, LRC students have designed the exterior lighting for 16 buildings ranging from the new home of the Rensselear County Arts Center (five attached buildings) to the Burden Iron Works Museum and encompassing banks, offices, stores, museums, courthouses, and churches. This past December, students presented their design to the Rensselaer County Historical Society’s executive director Donna Hassler and soon a design will be presented to Gary Brown, owner of the Troy Pub and Brewery. Four more building/building groups are starting this winter semester including the first hospital, St. Mary’s.

One of the first two buildings to install and commission the lighting design, under the direction of student design team Kelly Miller and Eve Quellman, is the First Baptist Church. This congregation, first established in 1795, built the current structure in 1846. All white and with a spire that rises approximately 200 feet into the sky, this building stands out among the buildings of the skyline as a beacon announcing Troy Anyone approaching the city, no matter the direction, sees this building first. The Reverend Doug Thomson agreed to participate in the project even though he had no idea how his congregation would finance the installation.

The tower at the chapel showcases a dramatic lighting design. Photograph by Dan Dyer.

During the two-year masters program in lighting, rather than assigning only hypothetical problems, we encourage building owners to offer their buildings to the students. The Watts Up! program provides the lighting design to the building owner at no cost. Funding for these designs is covered partially through course participation and by grants jointly applied for by the City of Troy and the LRC. Once the students present a conceptual design, the building owner must fund the purchase and installation of the equipment. Other development costs might be required, such as the mounting arm apparatus required for the church steeple lighting. After the presentations, the students usually offer their continuing involvement through the construction process as a community donation. For the steeple, we even drafted the Troy Fire Department and their ladder truck for aiming the steeple lights.

To light the steeple, Kelly and Eve had to design a system that could cover the entire height of the steeple, ground the steeple onto the bell tower, and prevent sky glare. Due to the architectural style of the church and a desire to minimize shadows in order to achieve visual uniformity, they needed to light the bell tower and its base independently from the steeple.

This allowed them to locate four pairs of Gardco DFo7 fixtures with 70-watt General Electric ConstantColor CMH™ Metal Halide lamps at the edges of the steeple base. Each fixture pair consisted of one vertical flood to cover the 40-foot height of the bell tower and its base and one horizontal flood to light the width of the structure.

For the steeple, the team considered maintenance a key concern. After several options were considered, they decided to use four DesignPlan Gizmo Narrow Beam fixtures each with a 70-watt General Electric ConstantColor CMH™ Metal Halide lamp mounted at the main roof level to light the steeple. Two were easily mounted on the rear portion of the roof to light the ‘back’, but at the church front they needed to be mounted beyond the roof edge to avoid casting a strong shadow from the secondary roof. Together with the expertise of a structural engineer at Ryan-Biggs & Associates, P.C., they designed two retractable mounting brackets for the fixtures at the front of the church. With a beamspread of less than 8° and an aiming angle of approximately 70° (above horizontal) this means the main beam candlepower intersects the spire just above its midpoint and covers the entire steeple with virtually no spill into the sky.

Closeup of the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel’s front elevation. Photograph by Dan Dyer.

They completed their design with several ‘warm color’ lighting details to juxtapose the strong white form created by the metal halide. First, a 150-watt Philips Ceramulux ™ high-pressure sodium lamp in a 12-inch mini-prismatic RUUD fixture creates a glow from inside the bell tower. At the street level, two recessed adjustable Edison Price fixtures house Philips Ceramalux™ White SON high pressure sodium lamps highlighting the plaque above the ceremonial front door of the church and a decorative Arte de Mexico lantern welcomes neighbors to the congregation.

A more theatrical, yet simultaneously subtle lighting scheme has been designed for two side-by-side residential buildings from the 1800’s that comprise the Rensselaer County Historical Society. One, the white marble Hart-Cluett mansion completed for occupancy in 1827, serves as a museum depicting life in Troy during that time period. The second building, built for the Carr family in 1838, now serves as the offices, library, and archives for the Historical Society. These two buildings, with radically differing street appearances, stand as a testament to the quickly changing style and use of materials of early American Architecture. Yet, for this student design team of Patricia Rizzo and Jean Paul Freysinnier Nova, the lighting challenge centered on developing a scheme that would identify the difference in current-day purpose of the two buildings.

The design team and their professor (from left to right), back row seated Sumi Han, standing Francisco Garza, Brian Fuller. Front Row: Rohini Pendyala, Insiya Shakir, Peping Dee, and Janet Lennox Moyer.

Controls became a critical element in this design. The lighting concept includes a preset control program that changes the lighting on the façades of the two buildings for multiple purposes. On a nightly basis, when the Society is closed, the lighting will softly bathe both facades and accent important building features. For days that the Society has evening hours and plans to have tours of the Hart-Cluett home, other lighting scenes can be activated (refer to the rendering pair and the detail elevation). On these evenings, the Carr building façade will be more strongly lit to draw attention away from its more noteworthy neighbor. To further identify it as the proper entrance, the team plans to incorporate glittering light (maybe battery powered LED’s to eliminate the quandary of how to get power to this location….) inside its pair of wrought iron ‘urn newels’ (as they became known). Then, as curators take visitors out the front door of the Carr building to approach the Hart-Cluett mansion, as if invited guests for a party, the lighting fades taking the visitors back to the mid 1800’s.

Reminiscence from a granddaughter of the original owners, Betsy and Richard Hart, recalled the Harts looking at the glistening surface of the unusual façade material in the moonlight during the buildings’ construction. The tour begins, then, with a pattern projector, extended from the roof on a retractable arm, casting the blue tint of moonlight as if filtering through the street trees onto the building. As visitors approach the iron urn newels, the lighting intensifies on the façade bringing family life back into the home. Amber light from windows suggests first the oil and then gas lanterns that would illuminate the entry and other rooms. As guests pass a view to the back courtyard and the Carriage House, projectors will continue the moonlight effect and create a scene of people traveling in the horse carriage on the Carriage House walls.

From the Green Island bridge, approaching Troy from the west, the Baptist Church Steeple stands out amongst the surrounding buildings. Photograph courtesy of Janet Lennox Moyer.

This past fall semester of 2001, a team of six second-year masters candidates, Peping Dee, Brian Fuller, Francisco Garza, Sumi Han, Rohini Pendyala, and Insiya Shakir, lit the Oakwood Cemetery Chapel as the first project in their final design course at the LRC. They visited the site and interviewed Terry Page, President of the Board of Trustees. In less than three weeks they planned their design and installed a full-scale lighting mockup. They met this real challenge, as all designers do everyday, with the guidance of the LRC faculty.

The Chapel had never been lit since the building was completed in 1890, and this lighting dramatically announced the fund raising event held to start the process of replacing the deteriorating copper roof. The students’ design included gently grazing the deeply-textured granite facade to cohesively sculpt the overall architectural form and to emphasize the strength inherent in the Romanesque style. A series of Kim Lighting 120 volt stake mounted adjustable uplights using varying beamspreads of 50-watt halogen PAR30 lamps comprise the main ‘layer’ of light on the façade.

The First Baptist Church in Troy, NY celebrated the dedication of its new lighting design on News Year Eve 2000. The roof and steeple lighting plan for the church. Drawing by Kelly Miller.

Next, carefully-integrated lighting details acknowledge the depth of architectural form planned by architects Fuller and Wheeler. Accent lighting, from one Lumiere MR16 adjustable stake mounted (or vault mounted) fixture with a 35-watt 10° FRB lamp, on the lone gargoyle insists that this element, normally overlooked, become apparent.

At this mounting location, a second uplight with a 50-watt 10° EXT barely reveals the tower’s roof, completing its form. From the tower, a soft wash from Hadco wall mounted adjustable downlights with General Electric Constant Color 35-watt 40° FMW lamps reveals the rooflines. Hadco adjustable uplights with GE 50-watt Constant Color 15° EXT MR16 lamps inside the tower punctuate the rhythm of arches augmenting the tower’s height.

The image shows the front elevation. Drawing by Kelly Miller and Eve Quellman.

The chapel’s stained glass windows and the dormers above are lit from the outside to balance the façade brightness using 50-watt PAR 30 10° spot lamps aimed directly at the glass and pairs of cross-aimed 55° FNV MR16 50-watt floods to express the curved architectural detailing above. This front lighting illustrates Tiffany’s brilliant multiple glass layering construction technique. The students chose to also light these windows from inside the Chapel, using 120 volt Lumiere adjustable uplights with Philips 70-watt 10° 3000 Kelvin Master Color™ ceramic metal halide lamps, to bring out the depth of color and patterning inherent in Tiffany’s work.

The building owners are always amazed at the effects that can be created using so little equipment and wattage. The Baptist Church, a visible landmark by day has become a gentle jewel in the skyline each night. This design resulted in reducing the existing wattage that previously had partially lit only the steeple, and therefore reduced the operating cost, by seventy percent while lighting the overall structure and using only 15 light fixtures.

Right: These three renderings by Patricia Rizzo and Jean Paul Freyssinier Nova showcase the Every Day scene (top), the Moonlight scene (middle), and the 1800’s Tour scene (bottom), produced by a preset lighting control system for the two buildings that comprise the Rensselaer County Historical Society.

The Watts Up! Program proves a solid example of the City offering design students a chance to make a difference in the community. It shows how the university can aid the city through fueling Troy’s revitalization momentum. Each of the Watts Up! designs balances initial installation cost, operating cost, and annual maintenance cost with Carl’s ambitious vision for the City of Troy at night.

Oakwood Cemetery Chapel Design Team: Peping Dee, Brian Fuller, Francisco Garza, Sumi Han, Rohini Pendyala, and Insiya Shakir.

About the Author: Janet Lennox Moyer of MSH Visual Planners, Oakland, CA/Brunswick, NY and Adjunct Professor, RPI, is an Associate Editor for LASN Magazine.

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October 15, 2019, 10:46 pm PDT

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