An entrance and a barrier; welcoming but protective. These are some of the dualities that exist in considering a very specific type of project—land port of entries (LPOE), commonly known as border-crossing stations. The security issues in this post-9/11 world pose new challenges. How does the United States construct an infrastructure of arrival points, where “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are still invited to enter, but that also serve as a line of protection? LPOE facilities are organized into a complex set of spatial geometries that are coordinated with a highly choreographed set of procedures. These procedures are in place, first and foremost, to protect customs and border agents who often have to make split-second decisions in determining if there is a potential threat.

Light plays a particularly key role here, not just in the experience of these places, but in facilitating an agent's ability to do his or her job. The demands placed on the lighting are somewhat contradictory: Deliver a great amount of light and minimize brightness and glare—all while meeting significant security criteria, energy-code requirements, and sustainable building practices as mandated by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). But it is not an impossible task. The GSA's Design Excellence Program, which oversees the construction of LPOEs, recognizes the need for design to be integral to a project's development and enables even high-security environments to receive thoughtful architecture and lighting. In the process, particularly with some of the most recent LPOEs, lighting criteria have been revisited and new guidelines have been created that meet the priority of security, but do so in a way that creates a better overall environment, one that is securely illuminated.


The land port of entry at Massena, N.Y., is situated along the U.S.-Canada border amid complex site conditions that include the St. Lawrence River, Cornwall Island (home to the Akwesasne Reservation), and a series of wetlands. Site, movement, and light, along with security requirements, contributed to Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects' (SMH) winning design scheme, the result of an invitation-only GSA design competition in 2000. After 9/11, the project was put on hold and did not start up again until 2005. In the interim, with new security concerns on the table, the project requirements were reevaluated.

The main building, which houses offices and anchors the passenger-inspection areas, is the first structure visible on the approach from Canada. Because this façade is north-facing and always in shadow, SMH wanted to integrate architectural details and light so that the building would emerge as a welcoming beacon on the horizon. Originally, supergraphic letters in a reflective-yellow highway paint spelled out the words “United States.” The signage, seen in the photo at the right, has since been removed, due in part to some security concerns, and SMH is now working on another solution. But SMH's original yellow wayfinding system is carried on throughout the site in other signage elements.

To meet energy-code requirements yet still provide the 100-plus footcandle light level required for security purposes, SMH relied on architectural forms and natural light for an indirect lighting solution at the passenger vehicle-inspection areas' canopies.

Extremely thin and devoid of any equipment so as not to interrupt the white planar surfaces, the underside of the canopy serves as a light reflector. During non-daylight hours, 250W metal halide uplights, recessed on top of the inspection booths, are aimed at the canopy underside and supplement the even wash of light across the inspection bays, preventing harsh shadowing. In the secondary inspection area, pole-mounted metal halide uplights allow the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers to perform their inspection duties. “It's a significant design challenge,” says architect Sean Gallagher. “Architecture can participate with the operations that are happening at the borders in a way that will make the port run more smoothly and the experience a little bit more sane.”

Details Project: U.S. land port of entry, Massena, N.Y.
Completion Date: Fall 2009 (completed ahead of schedule)
Client: U.S. General Services Administration
Architect: Smith-Miller + Hawkinson Architects, New York
Structural, MEP, Civil, and Security Engineers: Arup, New York
Landscape Architect: Quennell Rothschild & Partners, New York
Environmental Consultants: Barton & Loguidice, Syracuse, N.Y.
Curtainwall Design Consultants: R.A. Heintges Associates, New York
Lighting Designer: Claude R. Engle, Washington, D.C.
Environmental Graphic Design Consultants: Pentagram, New York
Project Cost: $54 million (bid $4 million under budget)
Project Size: 57 acres (campus); 24,500 square feet (inspection plazas—booths and canopies); 37,200 square feet (M-Bldg, administration facility); 6,700 square feet (S-Bldg, secondary inspection facility); 7,900 square feet (G-Bldg, broker offices); 7,700 square feet (N-Bldg, non-intrusive inspection facility)
Photography: Michael Moran

Peace Arch

Situated along a thin slice of land overlooking Semiahmoo Bay and the international Peace Arch Park, the Peace Arch U.S. Land Port of Entry (LPOE) is one of the busiest northern border crossing stations serving private vehicle traffic between Washington state and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The design is all about blending the new facility into the landscape. “The architectural challenge was to figure out how to incorporate this much-larger new facility in this very constrained spot,” explains Sergei Bischak, project architect at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

Because of the busy nature of this location and its 24/7 operation, the station could not be shut down for construction, so a phased approach was applied to demolishing the existing 1970s structure and erecting a new one in its place. Although there are now 10 lanes of traffic—two more than the previous facility had, according to Bischak—the project wasn't about “places for more cars.” It was about “facilities to support the processing.”

One of the most substantial developments resulting from this project was the creation of a new set of exterior lighting guidelines. As the team, which included Seattle lighting design firm Candela, began to work, it was clear that the existing GSA lighting guidelines were outdated and called for calculation methods that were not useful. Lighting designer Mary Claire Frazier, then a principal at Candela (she has since retired), spearheaded a request to the GSA to revisit the document. She proposed a tour of several LPOEs along the northern and southern U.S. borders so that Candela could analyze lighting conditions, interview U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents, and then make recommendations for new lighting guidelines.

After extensive review, the GSA accepted the new findings, which better address vertical illuminance, uniformity, transition and adaptation zones, and glare control. Also of note in the new standard is the stipulation to include an independent lighting designer on all design teams. “The guidelines are written from a lighting designer's perspective,” says Randy Fisher, who assumed project responsibilities from Frazier. “Security issues are met, but with an appropriate gradiance of light.”

Details Project: Peace Arch U.S. Land Port of Entry, Blaine, Wash.
Completion Date: January 2011
Owner: U.S. General Services Administration
Architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Seattle office
Structural and Civil Engineers: Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Seattle
Mechanical Engineers: CDi Engineers, Seattle
Electrical Engineers: Sparling, Seattle
Landscape Architect: Swift Company, Seattle
Lighting Designer: Candela, Seattle
Project Size: 15 acres (campus); 35,750 square feet (building); 55,000 square feet (site work)
Energy Code Compliance: ASHRAE 90.1-2004 Based on Candela's U.S. LPOE Design Guide Exterior Lighting Study, 289 fewer luminaires were used than the existing 2006 guidelines would have prescribed. The project also uses 16,773 fewer watts, a 22 percent reduction in total lighting load.
Rendering: Courtesy Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

San Ysidro

Lighting was a major element from the very start for the redesign of the San Ysidro U.S. Land Port of Entry (LPOE), just outside San Diego. When the Miller Hull Partnership (MHP) was called in for its interview with the GSA after making the short list of architecture firms, it was suggested to them that one of the five team members to include be the lighting designer. “We knew immediately how important lighting design was to the project,” says Craig Curtis, design partner at MHP. “Fortunately, we had already decided to team with Candela who we've worked with for years. And coincidentally they had just done a study of LPOEs' lighting design.”

As one of the busiest LPOEs in the U.S., there are a tremendous number of demands placed on this facility, and even more since it is a border station along the nation's southern border. An extraordinary number of people—102,000—go through this location every day, 25,000 merely on foot. “The design first of all had to respond to the demand for increasing throughput,” Curtis explains. “In addition to that, every architectural move we were making, we were trying to see what we could do in terms of sustainability as part of that same solution.”

Striving to be a net-zero energy building and targeting LEED Platinum certification, multiple conservation systems are being put into place. For example, photovoltaic panels will be incorporated into the roofs of the administrative buildings as well as the edge of the primary canopy, one of the project's main design features.

The 725-foot-long canopy is supported by four 100-foot-tall structural masts. The masts also allow luminaires to be incorporated so that light washes across the inspection areas, which follows the new GSA lighting guidelines. The canopy itself serves as a light reflector thanks to the translucent qualities of its ethylene tetrafluoroethylene material. As Curtis says, “We approached it [the project] from the very beginning knowing that we wanted this to be a beautiful structure, one that the U.S. is proud of as an entrance to our country.”

Details Project: U.S. land port of entry, San Ysidro, Calif.
Start Date: Broke ground March 2011
Client: U.S. General Services Administration
Architect: The Miller Hull Partnership, Seattle
Structural and Civil Engineer: Magnusson Klemencic Associates, Seattle
Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: Interface Engineering, Portland, Ore.
Lighting Designer: Candela, Seattle
Landscape Architect: AECOM, Los Angeles
Project Cost: $160 million for Phase 1; $577 million for all 3 Phases
Project Size: approx. 90,000 square feet (buildings); approx. 85,000 square feet (canopies)
Watts per Square Foot: Interiors are approximately 23 percent below code. 8.28W per square meter (current design); 10.76W per square meter, LPA (police/fire category); Exteriors are approximately 3.5 percent below code, including tradable and non-tradable spaces and including exempt lighting under the “Zone 3” category.
Energy Code Compliance: ASHRAE 90.1-2007
Renderings: Courtesy Miller Hall