Designed by James Carpenter Design Associates, the LED handrail achieves optimum performance, providing even illumination that does not interfere with a viewer's sight lines. To do this, the LED strips have a beam spread of 65 degrees and are positioned 20 degrees off the vertical within the aluminum extrusion.
JCDA Designed by James Carpenter Design Associates, the LED handrail achieves optimum performance, providing even illumination that does not interfere with a viewer's sight lines. To do this, the LED strips have a beam spread of 65 degrees and are positioned 20 degrees off the vertical within the aluminum extrusion.

Hoboken, N.J., is in the midst of reforging its waterfront from a derelict landscape of moldering industrial and maritime infrastructure into verdant parkland for recreation and leisure pursuits. The latest piece of this is Pier C Park, a playground and promenade designed by New York's Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates. Situated within the rectilinear footprint of the long-vanished original Pier C, the park, supported by a new platform of concrete pylons, simulates a barrier island. Set in the Hudson River and reached by two bridges, the park's curving boardwalks capitalize on views of Manhattan while sheltering the inner reaches—a sunbathing lawn for adults and a sculptural “play land” geared toward youngsters of all ages.

At night, the playful form comes to life by the delicate tracery of a customized LED handrail system from James Carpenter Design Associates (JCDA). “In designing the handrail we were trying to create a unique look that would frame and accentuate the sinuous profile of the park itself,” JCDA director and founder James Carpenter explains. “It really stands out against the formality of the esplanade along the Hoboken waterfront and the surrounding rectangular piers. We took it a step further by designing lighting into [the] handrail, developing a system that would provide the required amount of lumens on the pier to meet code, as well as wash some light down on the water.”

JCDA's challenge was to design a system that would adapt to the curvy form without the budget-busting consequences of customizing each piece to match that form—and then to integrate lighting. Of course, the system also would have to be extremely robust: vandal resistant and capable of holding up under marine conditions and exposure to salt water. Carpenter reassembled a team he had worked with for the base of 7 World Trade Center—stainless steel specialists TriPyramid Structures and filtration-systems experts Johnson Screens.

For the handrail itself, the team adapted a technology from the water-filtration industry—a spiral stainless steel wire tube with an automated manufacturing process and a high degree of precision—making it both affordable and pleasant to hold in the palm of one's hand. The hollow tube also allows for the easy integration of the LED system, a 4W-per-foot linear fixture from i2Systems, an LED technology company that specializes in a number of areas including marine applications. Each fixture contains one long run of 10 white LEDs wired in two series of five. The LEDs are encased between a black anodized aluminum housing and a clear acrylic optic bonded together with a UV-cured adhesive.

“Their longevity made LEDs the obvious choice for the project,” Carpenter says. “They also give a finer texture with little sources of light that you read through the handrail. In addition, the diameter of the handrail is too small to accommodate fluorescent tubes. Plus, fluorescent would be too omnidirectional, radiating up in the eye, or sky, or out in the river. We would have had to mask all that and then we wouldn't be getting the total benefit of energy we're using. LEDs you can focus.”

The LED fixtures slide in and out of the handrails as a complete piece for easy replacement. Each tube is capped at the ends with custom stainless steel pivot castings, allowing the straight sections of rail to link together and follow the curves of the pier. The pivot castings connect to stainless steel stanchions spaced every 4 ½ feet and which stand 54 inches tall. The fixtures' wiring runs down the stanchions to connect to driver boxes beneath the deck. The stanchions also support a balustrade of fine cable-net mesh stretched on stainless steel frames, which provide security with a minimum of visual impairment. The mesh also captures and reflects the dappled light bouncing off of the water's surface. During the day, light is provided by the sun. At night, the LEDs take over.

“We played around a lot with the spread of the lens and settled on a 65-degree beam angle with a wide lateral throw,” Carpenter says. “That gave us a good coverage of the deck, concentrating along the edge of the walkway, and casting some light down into the water where it rebounds onto the balustrade.”

In addition to being cost-effective—all of the handrail components, including the LED light strips, cost $1.4 million—and responding to the park's curvilinear site, the system has an added wayfinding benefit: It casts all of its light downward, near visitors' feet, so they can see where they are walking. This also keeps glare out of people's eyes, leaving the view across the Hudson to the twinkling skyline of Manhattan virtually unobstructed.

Details Project: LED Handrail System at Pier C Park, Hoboken, N.J.
Client: City of Hoboken, N.J.
Architect (LED handrail system): James Carpenter Design Associates, New York
Landscape Architect (Pier C Park): Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Project Cost: $1.4 million
Project Size (handrail length): 1,800 linear feet
Code Compliance: All fixtures are ROHS (restriction of hazardous substances) compliant (including lead and mercury free).
Watts per Square Foot: 4W per linear foot

Manufacturers: i2Systems (modified S-Line series LED luminaire with 150W E02 stainless steel power boxes); Johnson Screens (handrail welded spiral-screen tube and mesh infill); TriPyramid Structures (handrail parts fabricator)