Jun 23, 2022
The $1.2 trillion U.S. infrastructure bill promises to help deliver large-scale, well-funded projects for years to come. Five lighting designers told us what they’d do with a slice of the pie

Affordable housing in underfunded cities. Roads and bridges for essential workers. Better yet, improved public transportation for everyone. Following passage of the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in November 2021, lists of critical infrastructure projects—those that should be prioritized—began to pop up in nearly every publication. A quick Google search yields results broken down by region, price tag, type, impact…and the list goes on. 

So, LD+A took a different approach. Instead of asking lighting designers to point out the most critical infrastructure projects, we asked them to tell us about their dream infrastructure projects. With funds earmarked for upgrades to the nation’s power grid, airports, waterways, roads, bridges, rail systems and public transportation—as well as $550 billion allotted for new spending—we asked, “What infrastructure project would you light if you had the power of the purse strings?”

As it happens, our respondents still prioritized helping people. Nothing on the “wish list” that follows is purely aesthetic. However, a bit of ambient illumination here, a touch of daylight there or—dare we say—a whole lot of lighting style throughout, can certainly up a project’s ante. For the following five lighting designers, that effect is precisely what dreams are made of.

Samantha Schwirck

REBECCA MINTZ

REBECCA MINTZ

Associate, The Lighting Practice

As a longtime resident of the Northeast Corridor, I have been fortunate to have easy rail-travel access to go from city to city. The train is by far my favorite form of transportation. Rail travel used to be the main way to move around the U.S., so train stations were built as magnificent urban structures. Unfortunately, once the interstate system was built and air travel became more feasible, passenger train travel nearly disappeared. It only remains in a few key regions, while most stations fell into disrepair. 

My dream project would be to design the lighting for a new train station in a city that is receiving a passenger train for the first time or having passenger service restored after a long absence. In particular, I would love to work on a train station for my hometown area of Reading, PA. Though the Reading Railroad lives on as a square on the Monopoly board, passengers have not been able to reach Reading via rail since 1981. As part of the infrastructure bill, passenger train service may be restored to Reading.

Just as Grand Central Terminal in New York City and 30th Street Station in Philadelphia are monuments to the historic importance of train travel and Moynihan Station is a celebration of the continued relevance of railways, they are also centrally located buildings designed for use by all.

The ideal train station for Reading would be a building that reflects the best of today’s architecture and lighting styles, yet is designed to last. Sustainability would be a priority in this project, with the building construction being carbon neutral and net-zero energy. Its construction would create jobs for local workers and artisans. Once open, the building would offer services needed by the community in addition to those for rail passengers. Both daylight and electric light would feature prominently in the design to make the station an inviting yet distinctive place by day and night.

Reading’s new station would serve as the dot on the exclamation point of the expanded rail line and bring about a new era for a struggling postindustrial city. Being involved in its creation would be incredibly meaningful and rewarding.

Reading Railroad Train Station
Reading Railroad Train Station
MIDORY ESQUER

MIDORY ESQUER

Studio Director, elluminét

Back in 1998, when I had unpleasant braces and was crushing on a member of the Backstreet Boys, I was 99.9% sure that I wanted to be a psychologist. I wanted to help people and make their pain and problems go away, so I thought psychologists could do that. I eventually learned that my dreams of being a psychologist were not feasible since I was too empathic and cried along with sad commercials and contestant’s childhood stories on American Idol

In 2008 I dedicated a year of my architectural thesis to designing a development facility for children in an impoverished neighborhood. I learned the importance of space in the development of a child, both emotionally and physically. I became even more empathic during this year, and I realized that I wanted to protect and nurture the most fragile generation of all: children.

Fast forward to today, I want to use the knowledge I have gained throughout my career in both architecture and lighting design to impact a child’s well-being. I want to not only create a safe space for children and their families in difficult times, but also to enhance their experience in a positive way. So, when asked what my dream project would be, I have absolutely no hesitation—the lighting design for a children’s hospital or a center for children with autism.

One day, I want to walk down the hallways of a beautifully designed children’s hospital that immerses both children and their families in a positive space. A space that provides both safety and encourages imagination. A project that I can pour my heart and soul into and think, “Wow, I did do this in a children’s hospital.”

Children’s Hospital
Children’s Hospital
LENI SCHWENDINGER

LENI SCHWENDINGER

Leader, International Nighttime Design Initiative (NTD)

My dream builds upon hybrid principles: art and activism through lighting design and community engagement. Here, I propose a public housing co-design initiative. Envision smart lighting integrated with community participation. A theatrical approach to atmospheres made of color and intensity defines spaces. Community members research social and existing conditions, have input on design and learn by doing. 

Working alongside the design team would be a Citizen Advisory Lighting Corps (CALC). The CALC mirrors the subject area, including a variety of ages, local roles and diverse demographics. The involvement of partners and decision makers, such as municipal representatives and a university’s urban research or planning division, are instrumental. Community-based planning and design necessitates collaboration. Benefits include:

  • Spatial character is identified: existing and aspirational conditions
  • Capacity building: professionals and community members plan lighting scenarios together
  • Citizens are engaged in creative decision making—culminating in a sense of belonging
  • Community co-evaluation of lighting quality and local responses over time underpins future programming adjustments

The diagram (below) illustrates the end-result scenario for a typical New York public housing courtyard. Qualitative social research has already taken place through interviews, workshops and discussions. It is revealed that after dark, women are afraid to use the diagonal path although it is a practical shortcut to the corner grocery store. The basketball court, although it has functional lighting, is never switched on because of the nuisance: teenage noise and congregation. The plaza is empty of welcoming amenities even beyond quality illumination, such as greenery, comfortable seating, path paving and cultural amenities.

Programmed, connected lighting is agreed upon by CALC. After the new design is implemented, examples above and beyond threshold levels of safety are regularly evaluated and improved.

  • Path: After new paving and lighting are installed, path usage measurement and interviews during times of day and night are undertaken.
  • Basketball Court: Testing includes trial periods for illumination. The lighting is programmed and can be changed to more or fewer evenings and duration.
  • Poet’s Corner and Sitting Area: Other timed experiments are conducted for the Poet’s Corner and Sitting Area, with varied brightness, color and on-off periods. These characteristics are set after evaluation reports.

Community-informed public design generally requires a transdisciplinary approach. This pilot requires street and landscape design professionals, community engagement professionals and lighting designers. It is time to harness high tech in service to our lives on the ground. This is one challenging, yet joyful step, in that direction.

Community-Designed Public Housing
Community-Designed Public Housing
JOSE CENDEJAS

JOSE CENDEJAS

Associate, KGM Architectural Lighting

With the recent infrastructure bill that was passed, it would be great to see better public town squares or halls where people could gather. These civic spaces and service centers give cities a sense of pride, as well as a place where people can come together to voice opinions. These spaces should be warm and inviting, so people can use them as community resource centers and for possible outreach programs for those in need. In order to make these sites accessible to everyone, the proposition would be to build as near to the town center as possible. 

I would use this opportunity to create something with grandeur based on the way that the architectural elements and lighting interact. Large, open windows would create a glowing lantern for those approaching at night. In addition, large overhangs on the west and south side of the building would extend out over solid monolithic walls with some type of textured stone or concrete finish, giving an opportunity to light the wall by grazing it from the ground up. Taking advantage of opportunities to get light onto surfaces or planes would create a halo effect. Creating a clerestory along the building envelope would provide another uplighting opportunity and, in turn, make the building look as if it was floating, with the illuminated eaves and overhangs uplifting the project.

The use of strategic landscape lighting from the tree canopies would provide some leaf patterns on the ground, while low-level lighting from landscape areas would also be an opportunity to give a sense of scale to the open lawn areas. Bring the same sense of scale into the interior of the space with some decorative elements in the lobby and reception. Combined, these tactics would make civic spaces and service centers feel much larger and more inviting for the communities they serve.

Community Center and Town Square
Community Center and Town Square
ELIZABETH WILLIAMS

ELIZABETH WILLIAMS

Lighting Designer/Project Leader, Illuminart

This is an easy one, that I’ve had in my head for a long time. I have a background in theater lighting, and especially due to quarantine, it has been far, far too long since I have worked in a performance space. My dream project would be a highly flexible interior space that can moonlight as performance venue, combining my two loves, theatrical lighting and architectural lighting, so I no longer have to choose. There would be at least two separate spaces, including an entry lobby and a multipurpose space that can be used for performances. 

I just love grid ceilings, and I don’t mean ACT. I would specify an 8-ft by 8-ft truss grid ceiling in the multipurpose space. The grid would be structurally sound enough to mount anything from theatrical moving lights to ceiling clouds. Portions of the grid would have raise/lower capabilities, to hang set pieces, backdrops, projectors and wall partitions. All finishes would default black, for the sake of performances of all kinds: dance, theater, music, visual art. But the addition of drop ceilings, wall partitions, and furniture with lighter finishes added to platforms or suspended from the grid would allow the occupants to create highly flexible interior spaces that could be used for community gatherings, product demonstrations, even pop-up restaurants.

There would also be multiple control protocols baked right into the infrastructure of the grid—DMX, DALI, 0-10-V and Bluetooth—allowing whatever fixtures were installed, wherever they are installed, to connect and be controlled as needed. Speaking of controls, my project would have multiple production-grade lighting consoles, and remote and wall-mounted touch screens that allow the users to control the color (both CCT and RGBW tunable), dimming and zoning of the lighting, and the dynamic capabilities of theatrical moving lights.

The performance/multipurpose space would be closed off from the entrance/lobby, so that the configuration can always be a surprise to guests. The lobby would intentionally have the polar opposite aesthetic, an atrium with a two-story glass façade with smart window tinting to control glare. All finishes would be light and subtly textured, and every vertical surface (that’s not glass) would be washed with indirect light. All light sources would be soft, dimmable, and carefully hidden and integrated to eliminate glare and contrast from source brightness. The lobby would be voluminous and airy during the day, warm and glowing at night, and filled with plants and flowers that are illuminated with concealed accent lighting, controlled to maintain a healthy growth cycle.

Flexible Performance Space
Flexible Performance Space

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Samantha Schwirck

Samantha Schwirck is Managing Editor for... More info »