The series of access bridges (three were built in 1950 and a fourth added in 1961) that link the Lincoln Tunnel with the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York have long created a dank and uninviting area along Ninth Avenue. But that now has changed, thanks to an inventive lighting strategy developed by New York–based Leni Schwendinger Light Projects in collaboration with architecture firm PKSB. Fifteen years in the making, the Triple Bridge Gateway project speaks to lighting's ability to transform neglected spaces and capitalize on the beauty of urban infrastructure. “The idea was to create a luminous room where once there was a dark abyss,” Schwendinger says.
The project's design dates back to 2004 (see “Urban Light,” April/May 2004), when lighting enhancements were integrated into an already scheduled rehabilitation of the 50-plus-year-old ramps. Schwendinger found inspiration in the urban environment, crafting the project as an homage to the city's industrial vernacular and incorporating the way that sunlight reflects off glass buildings. Her first step was to call out the bridges' infrastructural elements by coating them in different colors, making the spans visually legible to commuters and pedestrians. Since colored lights would have bled together, Schwendinger used white light from T12 linear fluorescent fixtures to illuminate the painted surfaces.
The lighting also works with the architect's solution to wrap the sides and underside of each ramp in a containment system of stainless-steel chain-link scaffolding. This containment system solves the problem of providing maintenance access and it also is used as a light scrim. In addition, a series of highly polished stainless-steel panels are hung beneath the bridge ramps, illuminated by 1000W metal halide lamps mounted on the adjacent buildings. Light skims the mesh and the panels, casting dappled reflections onto the street below.
The project also is mindful of the passage of time. An electronic control system creates compositions that range from a minimal illumination of the bridges' beams to an all-out spectacle of color and flash. Either way, the project stitches together a neighborhood that has long been divided.