Washington, D.C., our Nation's Capital, plays host to an impressive lineup of monuments and memorials that celebrate our country's history and recognize major milestones. While most people visit these landmarks during the day, the structures also are viewed at night as tourists and residents alike see them illuminated from afar, the handiwork of the lighting designers behind each project whose task it was to give each structure a presence at night.

Lighting designers face numerous challenges in designing for exterior conditions: the dreaded elements such as wind and water, wildlife (bugs in particular), along with safety and security issues. In addition, multiple voices are involved in the design and construction of monuments an memorials—including but not limited to fine arts commissions, monument committees, political appointees for the project, and the National Park Service—who can all weigh in on the design and maintenance of these built outdoor objects and spaces, further affecting the end result.

The lighting schemes for three commemorative structures in the Washington, D.C., area—the National World War II Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Air Force Memorial—each had a specific set of challenges and requirements. The result is a trio of unique design solutions that respond to the individual sites and programs for each structure.

Brett Drury

Brett Drury

The National World War II Memorial (top) sits on the National Mall and features 56 granite pillars (middle), one for each state and territory from that period and the District of Columbia. The Freedom Wall (bottom) emerges from the memorial's reflecting pool and features 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 American lives lost during WWII. Brett Drury

National World War II Memorial

Located on a Congressionally approved site on the National Mall—the Rainbow Pool at the east end of the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument—the National World War II Memorial was erected in memory of the 16 million Americans who fought and served in World War II. Composed of three main features—curving rampart walls, the Rainbow Pool fountain, and a "Freedom Wall" with its own reflecting pool—the memorial spans more than 7 acres. The lighting scheme—subdued, discreet and controlled—aimed to echo the memorial's sentiment: Darkness of global conflict and alight of freedom. "We wanted to reveal form in a different way and create simple, elegant lines," explains Barbara Horton of New York City-based Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, the firm responsible for the memorial's lighting. The client, the American Battles Monument Commission, wanted the memorial to evoke a warm feeling and as a result insisted on the use of incandescent sources. To keep light levels low and provide necessary control and dimming, low-voltage PAR36 and AR111 lamps were selected to obtain the desired effects. To provide a sense of animation at night, the Rainbow Pool is illuminated with PAR56 lamps with narrow beam spreads precisely aligned to follow the individual water arcs, of which the center ones spray up to 90 feet. Colored filters often are added for special events.

The Freedom Wall emerges from a reflecting pool with 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 American lives lost during the war. PAR38 lamps are used to enhance the golden color and create an iconic symbol of remembrance. The granite of the colonnade walls is illuminated from across the walking path with double-headed AR111 custom precision angled louvered luminaires. Respectful of the adjacent monuments, the lighting scheme was kept simple, as "a kind, gentle solution to balance our memorial with the others," Horton says. With very low light-levels, less than 1 footcandle on average, the overall effect is one of a soft glow as the below-grade plaza appears to emerge out of the ground.

The U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia consists of three stainless steel spires, each with a different arc and heights. The top third of each spire has an average of 15 footcandles, a requirement of the Federal Aviation Administration. Thomas Mayer The lighting design for the U.S. Air Force Memorial is calculated precisely so that each side of the structure appears to hvae a different level of brightness—similar to how the sun would interact with the arcing sculpture. This diagram of the fixture positions illustrates the intricacy of the process. OVI U.S. Air Force Memorial

Overlooking the Pentagon from high ground across the Potomac River sits a new structure to celebrate years of service from the Air Force. Designed by architects Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and completed in 2007, this memorial is composed of three stainless-steel spires that arc gracefully into the sky. Reminiscent of the precision "bomb burst" maneuver performed by pilots in flight, each spire has a different height and arc, providing a dynamically different view from every angle.

New York City lighting design firm Office for Visual Interaction (OVI), the lighting consultants responsible for the illumination scheme, wanted to enhance the architectural qualities of the memorial and give it the sense that the light emerged from within. As with the Washington Monument, the goal was to give the three sculpted forms shape and dimension at night, not to flatten them. To reveal the shape, each side of the structure must appear to have a different level of brightness—similar to how the sun would model the form during the day.

Three arcing, triangulated forms made of shiny stainless steel, each with a different shape in both plan and elevation, were difficult structures to illuminate. Additionally, because of the height of the piece, 270 feet at the tallest point, with the other two peaks at 231 feet and 201 feet, respectively, principals Enrique Peiniger and Jean Sundin were required to meet Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements for visibility. This would have required red beacon lights at the midpoint and peak of each arc. But rather than obscure the monument's sculptural form, OVI researched how tall steeples are illuminated and developed a design in which the top third of each spire maintains an average of 15 footcandles as required by the FAA, thus eliminating the need for the red beacons.

Using pole-mounted fixtures with 4000K 250W metal halide sources hidden behind granite inscription walls on either side of the memorial, OVI was able to precisely focus more than 25 fixtures with very narrow (7 degree to 9 degree) beam spreads onto the top third of each spire using a custom-designed laser aiming tool. Each fixture had to compensate for the sway of the spire, up to 18 inches in any direction. Careful planning of beam angles reduced the amount of glare off the stainless steel. Illuminating the top and bottom of each structure and allowing the light to fade in the middle, the three-dimensional shape of each spire is revealed.

The 555-foot-tall Washington Monument (top) was relit in 2005 as part of a security upgrade to the site following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Fifty flags surround the base of the monument (middle), representing the 50 states. On each of the monument's four sides, a row of 17 in-grade 150W metal halide fixtures uplight the first 150 feet of the structure (bottom). Photos: Mike Morgan

Washington Monument

Because of safety concerns after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Washington Monument was relit in 2005 by New York City-based lighting design firm Fisher Marantz Stone (FMS) as part of a security upgrade to the site. Originally illuminated by General Electric with massive floodlights located in four large vaults surrounding the monument, the new design aims to increase visibility of the monument from the surrounding National Mall and integrate the lighting fixtures into the landscape. Charles Stone, project principal, initially researched the lighting scheme for the St. Louis Arch because of project affinities and considered lighting the monument using a similar solution—an underground vault with an integrated grill and louvers that could be traversed. However, because of security reasons and the massive accumulation of bugs, it was agreed by both the designer and client that this solution was not feasible.

At 555 feet and 5 inches, the Washington Monument is the tallest structure in Washington, D.C. Designed by architect Robert Mills, construction of the monument occurred in two phases—1848-56 and 18760-84—interrupted by the Civil War and lack of funds. As a result the structure uses white marble from two different quarries; one in Massachusetts and one in Maryland.

The first variety of marble extends approximately the first 152 feet of the monument, while the second type of marble completes the obelisk. As this difference in stone texture and color is forever linked to the history of the monument, FMS chose two different methods for illuminating the structure. At the base, on each of the monument's four sides, a row of 17 in-grade 150W metal halide fixtures uplight the first 150 feet of the structure's surface. To hit the remaining 400 feet, four 20-foot "toadstools" or masts were erected at the corners of the monument site placed approximately 600 feet away, each with three 2000W, long throw metal halide floodlights that were donated to the project.

FMS sought to give the structure dimension in the darkness. After performing a lighting placement analysis, Stone knew "the adjacent faces had to be of a different brightness, to create balance with the other monuments, therefore it was decided that the Capitol and Lincoln [Memorial] faces would be brighter, and the north and south faces less bright." Additionally, by illuminating the north and south faces at a lower level than the east and west façades, the shape of the obelisk is revealed. The new lighting design eliminates the need for the vaults that originally were used, providing a clear view of the monument along the National Mall. In addition, the upgrade almost doubles the amount of light on each of the monument's four sides while cutting the energy consumption in half.

A Balancing Act

All the lighting designers associated with these projects sought to enhance and reveal the structures with light. In designing for exterior environments, it is beneficial for a designer to evaluate the entire setting and create a hierarchy of importance not only within the assigned project, but also in relationship to all other visible structures. It often is this sensitivity and an awareness of surroundings that assists and shapes thoughtful lighting design. DETAILS

PROJECT | National World War II Memorial
LOCATION | Washington, D.C.
DESIGN TEAM | Friedrich St. Florian and Leo Daly, Washington, D.C. (architects);Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, New York City (lighting designer)
PHOTOGRAPHER | Brett Drury, San Diego
PROJECT SIZE | 7.4 acres
MANUFACTURERS | Exterior Vert, Hydrel, Sterner Lighting PROJECT | U.S. Air Force Memorial
LOCATION | Arlington, Virginia
DESIGN TEAM | Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, New York City (architect); Offi ce forVisual Interaction, New York City (lighting designer)
PHOTOGRAPHER | ThomasMayer, Germany
PROJECT SIZE | 3 acres
MANUFACTURERS | Bega, EdisonPrice, Electrix, Erco, Kim Lighting, RSL Lighting

PROJECT | Washington Monument
LOCATION | Washington, D.C.
DESIGN TEAM | Olin Partnership Architects, Philadelphia (architect); Fisher Marantz Stone, New York City, (lighting designer)
PHOTOGRAPHER | Mike Morgan,Washington, D.C.
PROJECT SIZE | Approximately 50 acres
MANUFACTURER | Musco Lighting