Challenge: Transform a low-ceiling basement kitchen and lunchroom into an open, welcoming dining area for K–12 students.
Lighting Solution: On East 16th Street, in the heart of the Gramercy neighborhood in New York, sits the city’s oldest coeducational school, Friends Seminary. Educating students from kindergarten through 12th grade, this private day school subleases its site and buildings from the New York Quarterly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Totaling approximately 700 pupils, the student body is broken into three groups: the Lower School has grades K–4, the Middle School has grades 5–8, and the Upper School has grades 9–12.
Located beneath the school’s historic and landmarked Meeting House, the cafeteria had not been renovated in more than 25 years. In dire need of a facilities upgrade, the school contacted architect John Tinmouth of New York–based Tinmouth Chang Architects and lighting designer Peiheng Tsai of New York–based PHT Lighting Design to improve the existing space. The project renovation consisted of a brand new kitchen, an upgrade of the entire electrical and plumbing framework, integration of a new air conditioning system, and the creation of separate dining areas for the Lower and Upper schools.
The designers were constrained by the cafeteria’s location, which, because of its basement position, had small windows and very low ceiling heights. Existing joists and the need to hide the utilities limited the renovated space to a ceiling height of 7 feet 9 inches in the center, and 6 feet 8 inches at the north and south walls. This slope in ceiling height allowed for clever integration of air supply units at the room’s edges. Separating the two dining rooms is an existing structural brick wall. Linear fritted glass, framed in steel, fills in two existing archways, and provides acoustical separation while allowing light to filter through.
Seeking to create a more open, vibrant space with improved circulation through the serving line, Tinmouth settled on a U-shaped open kitchen layout. Three separate serving stations help hungry students pick up their food faster and more easily than before.
Above the kitchen area is an angled wood canopy, dropped to create the required smoke baffle that divides the kitchen from the dining area. Sprinklers, as well as additional air conditioning units and ductwork, were also concealed in the wood soffit. “We wanted to give the illusion of a taller ceiling and create a sense of warmth in the center of the space,” Tinmouth says. At the inside edge of the canopy, a 4.4W-per-linear foot LED strip in 3000K warm white emits a soft glow, warming the wood panels. Cylindrical pendants with 40-degree 50W MR16 halogen lamps, selected for their high-color-rendering properties and small fixture scale, are suspended above the counter, illuminating the food below.
For general lighting, shallow housing, semi-recessed, 4-foot-long 28W T5 linear fluorescent fixtures in 3000K are located in a non-linear pattern on the ceiling. This allowed for coordination with the other equipment also fighting for the limited ceiling cavity real estate. The seemingly random luminaire layout is mirrored in the floor with 4-foot-long strips of green and orange tiles, helping to tie the space together. Given the low ceilings and the east–west orientation of the fixtures, Tsai sought a fixture that would reduce glare when viewed from the side. Remembering a fluorescent fixture with perforated side baffles she had seen at New York’s Kennedy Airport, Tsai contacted the manufacturer to create a similar fixture for Friends Seminary. The perforated baffle helps to diffuse glare as well as provide a bit of dappled light on the ceiling surface. “The fixture pattern and the light on the ceiling help reinforce the liveliness” of the space, according to Tsai. Vertically mounted, 2-foot-long linear fluorescent wall sconces are shielded with the same perforated metal and provide illumination at the north and south walls.
This bright and colorful dining space offers the students a view of the food preparation and allows for greater flexibility and better traffic flow during lunchtime. Playful relationships between fixtures and materials enhance the lightness of the space and “allow for continued discovery” of design elements, explains Tinmouth. Through the collaborative efforts of the design team, this new student dining room serves as a revitalized and dynamic cafeteria.
Project Cafeteria, Friends Seminary, New York
Client Friends Seminary, New York
Architect Tinmouth Chang Architects, New York
Lighting Designer PHT Lighting Design, New York
Kitchen Designer DesignSmart, Charlotte, N.C.
Mechanical and Plumbing Engineer Stanislav Slutsky Engineers, New York
Electrical Engineer Forum Engineering, New York
Total Square Footage 4,825 square feet
Project Cost $1.9 million
Lighting Cost $44,500 (cost of light fixtures), installed cost not available
Watts per Square Foot 0.88
Code Compliance The Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York State 2010 and ASHRAE 90.1-2007 Manufacturers
Bartco Lighting Semi-recessed fluorescent fixture with perforated shield at ceiling and surface-mounted fluorescent fixture with perforated shield at perimeter wall
Sistemalux Ceiling-suspended cylindrical pendant at serving counter
Zaneen Surface-mounted decorative pendant with white blown glass