While New York City has long boasted a famous skyline, of late there has been renewed focus at ground level, specifically along the city’s riverbanks. The East River Waterfront Pier 15 and Esplanade, designed by SHoP Architects, is a recent part of this renewal. The 2-1/2-mile-long stretch—large portions of which lie underneath FDR Drive—is undergoing a transformation geared to revitalize activity at the water’s edge.

To make the esplanade safer and more accessible in the evenings, Tillotson Design Associates employed a variety of lighting interventions. First, to deal with FDR Drive’s hulking bridgework, the firm used concealed T5 fluorescent sources to wash the painted, east-facing girders in an ambient lavender glow that softens the otherwise obtrusive steel skeleton. Next, to guide visitors along the esplanade path, LED light slots were installed in the benches located at intervals along the new hard- and soft-scaped areas. And finally, to give the renovated stretch of promenade an identity, LED strips were added to the river-facing vertical handrail supports, making their soft purple light and that of the bridge girders appear as two ribbons visible from the opposite shore.

A new pavilion at Pier 15 is both a resting point for pedestrians and cyclists and a community gathering space. Linear fluorescents illuminate the pavilion’s soffit and roof deck, allowing light to cast a soft glow through the decking material. And all of these improvements are promising first steps, to draw eyes from the sky to the water.

Project: East River Waterfront Pier 15 and Esplanade, New York •  Entrant: Tillotson Design Associates, New York •  Owner/Clients: The City of New York; The New York City Economic Development Corporation; The New York City Department of Planning •  Architect: SHoP Architects, New York •  Lighting Designer: Tillotson Design Associates, New York  Team Members: Suzan Tillotson, Erin DeVries, and Megan Pfeffer •  Landscape Architect: Ken Smith Landscape Architect, New York •  Photographer: John Muggenborg / muggphoto, New York •  Project Size: 14 million square feet •  Project Cost: Withheld •  Lighting Cost: Withheld •  Watts per Square Foot: 0.2W (open esplanade walkways); 1.25W (under FDR structure) •  Code Compliance: ASHRAE 90.1-2007 •  Manufacturers: Charlotte International Partners; Electrix; Hess; Philips; Targetti Poulson; We-ef Jury Comments: Nicely composed. • Each lighting move is deliberate and purposeful. • The bench lighting detail is done particularly well.

In the video above, photographer credits are attributed incorrectly. The correct photographer credit is John Muggenborg / muggphoto. A.L. regrets the error.